Etheridge drought over but challenges remain

Drought-free Etheridge Shire faces long land recovery


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The drought declaration has been lifted in Etheridge Shire.

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The new drought map released on May 7. Etheridge and Mareeba shires are among those region's where the drought declaration has been revoked.

The new drought map released on May 7. Etheridge and Mareeba shires are among those region's where the drought declaration has been revoked.

The drought declaration over Etheridge Shire may have been lifted but a cattle industry leader has warned the nutrient-depleted environment will need to be handled carefully to recover.

Last week Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne announced the Gulf shire would lose its drought status, along with Mareeba and others in the northwest.

Gulf Cattleman’s Association president Barry Hughes, North Head Station, said lifting the declaration was the “right decision”.

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “There’s been a big change in the pasture volume and also ground cover associated with that. I think it’s very positive.”

Mr Hughes said while the region had received its best wet in seven years, the river systems had not been flushed out.

“The Gilbert River, one of major catchments in the Gulf, got to three metres this wet season, it’s highest run since 2010,” he said.

“But the normal flow here at North Head is five to seven metres on a number of occasions during the wet. While we have good grass rain we certainly haven’t had the rivers flushed out and that is impacting on vegetation within riverbanks.”

Mr Hughes said the region would need to go through a “period of consolidation”.

“The biggest challenge we face is not overextending stocking rates given we haven’t had a seed bed or ground cover to nurture a seed bed over the last five to seven years,” Mr Hughes said.

Drought-free Etheridge Shire. Photo Mel Bethel Photography.

Drought-free Etheridge Shire. Photo Mel Bethel Photography.

“We have to allow the seed bank that has been provided from this season to secure itself and deliver grass production looking into the next wet season. 

“If we go too hard, too quick with stocking rates we are going to undo any benefits that might be starting to flow back into the soil.”

Mr Hughes said restocking in a high market would also challenge graziers.

“While we are enjoying high prices the debt burden and cash flow crisis that our industry is facing is certainly going to hinder the ability for a lot of cattle enterprises to go out into the market and restock at the current price that we have to pay,” Mr Hughes said.

He said while drought focused on the negatives, there were positives to come out of adversity.

“We were very privileged to have had support from the state government and the federal government in a broader sense with regard to impacts of drought for example the Water Infrastructure Assistance Package,” he said.

“There is a lot of good stuff done in terms of drought proofing properties.”

Mr Hughes said there were properties in the southwest of the shire that would still be struggling with drought and it was important that they considered individual property declarations.

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