New South Wales farmers are bracing for the drought to worsen, with the opportunity for autumn rain and significant pasture growth diminishing as winter closes in.
While some parts of NSW have received drought-breaking rain, the state’s south-east is still classified under “intense drought”, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Kannona dairy farmer Michael Shipton said decent rain in February had made the grass green, but had not made up for a lack of soil moisture in pastures.
“You probably think it’s all looking great, but we’re behind the eight-ball,” Mr Shipton said.
“We’ve had this bit of a green flush, but really the soil moisture, and our on-farm water storage, is pretty low.”
The Combined Drought Indicator produced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries illustrates which parts of the state are in varying states of drought, with the far west and north also experiencing a period of intense drought.
Autumn rain has brought a green tinge to most parts of the south east, providing a visual contrast with the burnt-out paddocks seen during the bushfires of Black Summer.
But Mr Shipton said it had not been enough to break the drought.
“I won’t be complacent in preparing for winter and spring and storing as much fodder as we can.”
John Jefferys’ farm at Delegate Station in the Snowy Monaro received an early bout of rain which has helped his wheat and canola crops.
“The rain in February gave us some confidence and ability to sow down wheat and canola crops,” he said.
Mr Jefferys has had to cut back on livestock in preparation for a potentially harsh Winter.
“I guess we are back on 30 per cent on lamb numbers we usually carry into winter,” he said.
“We’ll be right to get through to June, but then we’ll have to reassess stocking rates then.”
“Extremely worrying, bordering on despair”
The Bureau of Meteorology outlook suggests there is an above 60 per cent chance of above-median rainfall for most of the country for at least the next three months.
But Agronomist Stuart Burge said it was crucial rain fell now in order to promote pasture growth.
“It’s extremely worrying, bordering on despair,” he said.
Mr Burge has been soil testing across parts of the Snowy Monaro since March, but has largely found the first 10 centimetres of soil, which is a vital section for plant growth and nutrient uptake, lacked any moisture.
He said it was crucial the region received decent, drenching rainfall now before colder conditions set in.
“Unless we receive significant rainfall in very near future, and I can’t see that happening, I think it’s going to be a dreadful winter.”
“This drought will continue, and it can only get far, far worse.”