Devastated Hunter farmers count the cost

Devastated Hunter farmers count the cost


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Cattle caught in Hunter Valley floodwaters.

Cattle caught in Hunter Valley floodwaters.

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THE FULL toll of the Hunter area's agricultural losses will take months to work out as shell-shocked farmers count the cost of last week's floods.

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THE FULL toll of the Hunter area's agricultural losses will take months to work out as shell-shocked farmers count the cost of last week's floods.

Beef producers, dairy and oyster farmers, poultry sheds, wineries, horse studs and fishing boats were hit.

Not one primary industry was spared.

At least five fishing boats were lost in storms and many more damaged in the Port Stephens area.

Local Land Services (LLS) said there could be more than 500 cattle dead from the floods.

Early estimates of the costs run into the millions.

A major issue for beef and dairy cattle is the lack of pasture after floodwaters wiped out established and just-sown forage crops.

Farmers do not expect to have feed until October at the earliest and are contemplating a winter of hand feeding.

Hunter LLS general manager Brett Miners said the focus had now shifted to long-term pasture losses.

"Once plants are inundated for three to six days they suffer serious long-term damage," he said.

"For kikuyu pastures this will mean no feed until September or October, and for native pastures, October or November.

"Anything freshly sown was all drowned within the first one to two days."

The emergency response included dropping 14.3 tonnes of hay to feed 540 cattle, 114 horses and 12 camels each day.

"The emergency fodder drops wound down over the weekend and earlier this week, but we're still doing surveillance," Mr Miners said.

"We're still checking areas of standing water.

"There are still 7000 hectares under water, so we're really just doing the initial damage assessment now."

At least 417 stock carcases have been found, but the LLS believed the final number would be much higher.

"It's hard to know what the number is but if we've got 417 confirmed carcases, it could be double that amount," Mr Miners said.

"Of course we don't expect to find every carcase - many of them will be out in the ocean."

LLS crews have been working closely with producers to provide specialised gear to assist the burial of dead stock.

Last week, crews picked up 60 carcases across two days along Seaham Road.

"Onsite disposal on a floodplain in built-up areas can be a challenge, so we've had two sets of contractors and local operational staff co-ordinating the effort," Mr Miners said.

"Local waste facilities had limited capacity to take animals and we have to make sure that people who were doing their own disposal weren't showing up at those facilities and having nowhere to put their stock."

"As the floodwaters go down there are still reports of carcases, so if feasible, we'll help landholders transport them to a waste facility."

Last week's store sale at Maitland allowed producers to offload stock from flood-affected areas.

"Some people were able to sell early and get good prices, as well as getting stock out of the area," Mr Miners said.

He said some cattle unaccounted for could turn up on other properties.

"It's surprising the amount of distance stock travel through floodwaters and rivers," he said.

"Owners can contact us and we'll help track their cattle."

Dairy farmers also suffered, with those who lost power having to borrow generators to continue milking.

"We were really fortunate the dairy industry is very well-organised and there was a rapid response," Mr Miners said.

"There were a number of landholders who didn't have three-phase power generators but quick work involving dairy companies, individual farmers and groups like Diary NSW meant they could supply generators for those farmers who didn't have power."

It could take months to complete the full damage assessment for the Hunter's agricultural industry.

Mr Miners said the focus this week would be to make sure the damage to agriculture was rapidly and extensively assessed.

"There are varying degrees of damage," he said.

"Some areas have very extensive stock losses as well as major damage to fencing and infrastructure, while some landholders who had good flood plans in place and weren't too affected by overland flows came through relatively unscathed."

The story Devastated Hunter farmers count the cost first appeared on Farm Online.

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