AgForce Water Planning Comittee Chair, Kim Bremner on his property outside of Dalby.
AgForce Water Planning Comittee Chair, Kim Bremner on his property outside of Dalby. Sam Flanagan

Cotton, citrus production slashed as drought hits CQ

THE peak organisation representing Queensland's rural producers, AgForce Queensland, is standing behind Central Highlands growers.

AgForce Water Planning Committee Chair Kim Bremner said the low allocation was going to have a significant impact on citrus and cotton growers in the area.

READ HERE: CQ cotton growers face dismal water allocations. 

"It's very bad news," he said. "Unless we can get some decent inflows into the catchment during summer months, it's going to be very difficult.

"Because you plant annually, if you don't have water, you cant plant crops."

Mr Bremner said this was an example of the continuation of drought that was affecting most of the east coast of Australia.

As of July 2, the Queensland Government has not announced the Central Highlands region as drought-declared.

 

Middlemount grazier John Baker highlights the erosion on his property Booroondarra. 

  Photo Contributed
Middlemount grazier John Baker highlights the erosion on his property Booroondarra. Photo Contributed Sharon Howard - AgForce

The surrounding neighbouring local government areas of Barcaldine, Blackall-Tambo, Murweh and Maranoa are.

The Isaac region is 90.3 per cent drought declared.

A total of 23 council and four part council areas are drought-declared across Queensland.

These declarations represent 57.4 per cent of the state.

There are also 73 individually drought- declared properties in a further 11 shires.

READ HERE: Graziers forced to de-stock amidst CQ drought

"Now we are seeing the national dams drying up," Mr Bremner said.

"The longer it stays dry, the worse it is going to get.

"The Darling Downs is facing a similar situation, I don't believe there is a lot of water in the St George.

"It is widespread across Queensland and it continues to be fine and dry."

Cotton Australia predicted last month that planting for the cotton season beginning now was likely to be significantly down due to the depleted water supply across the nation.

 

Greg Hutchinson with his daughters Emily and Heidi in the cotton fields of Macander, Moura.
Greg Hutchinson with his daughters Emily and Heidi in the cotton fields of Macander, Moura. MICHELLE HUTCHINSON

Approximately 4.6 million bales was produced last season and it was predicted there would be a crop of $2.2million bales from this season.

READ HERE: CQ grower sees the best season in years

This means this year's production level would be down by 50 per cent.

"It doesn't just affect growers, it goes down the stream to the suppliers, the workers at the cotton gins," Mr Bremner said.

 

Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor Kerry Hayes.
Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor Kerry Hayes. Contributed

COUNCIL LOOKING FOR WAYS TO HELP

CENTRAL Highlands Regional Council Mayor Kerry Hayes is empathetic to farmers and growers given the current water situation and said council are looking to ways they can help.

Council has already received requests from residents asking if they can assist with water supply.

Cr Hayes said council has water allocations and they are looking at plans whether it be through the stand-pipe or water allocations they can share.

Given the dam has been steadily dropping for the past few months, Cr Hayes said those reliant on water would have been prepared for a low allocation.

READ HERE: Central Highlands irrigators in limbo with water allocations

"Because of the management now and the very accurate calculation, it is a big help to know some months prior they do have that lead-in for what crops they can plant," Cr Hayes said.

While the allocation is 6 per cent now, it is hoped it will increase down the track.

"The full impact of that allocation has not been fully absorbed, there is an expectant it could change in three to four months," Cr Hayes said.

"We have got into our traditional dry winter."

It is hoped there would be some significant rain and storms in spring around September and the allocations would rise.

Growers that did not use all of their water allocation will also be able to utilise their carry-over amounts.

"When you come to permanent tree corps, most of those growers would have pumped and stored water or are on high priority allocations," Cr Hayes said.

"In terms of the broader hectare and cropping, the majority of growers don't have the chance."

READ HERE: Cotton industry expert expect CQ to produce record bales

A major crop around the Central Highlands is cotton.

Cotton Australia reports that the average irrigation requirement for cotton is 7.8 mega litres per hectare. It is misconception that cotton growers use a lot of water.

Rice uses 12.6 mega litres, fruit and nut trees 5.6 mega litres and cut flowers and turf 4.9 mega litres.

Cotton is only planted when sufficient water is made available from rivers and groundwater sources through government regulated water licensing schemes.

Cotton is mostly grown in the 400-800mm summer rainfall zone, which means cotton crops receive most of their water needs from rain during the growing season.

When there's no water, cotton isn't planted.

Cr Hayes said the extended planning window now allows for cotton to be planted earlier or later.

"That still would be an option to plant in November or December," he said.

 

The Fairbairn Dam in 2011 in floods.
The Fairbairn Dam in 2011 in floods. Daniel Burdon

For now, it will be up to the weather gods to see if rain falls in coming months.

"In the short-term it is very daunting proposition, there is an expectation there will be a break in spring but it is not guaranteed," Cr Hayes said.

The last time the dam was this low in Cr Hayes' time was in 2007.

It was quite low throughout the beginning of that year and then it rained in October, flooding the entire town in December.

"So it can change quite quickly," Cr Hayes said.

"That's the love of a sunburnt country."



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