It is so dry in eastern Victoria that farmer Chris Nixon is considering selling an entire herd of cattle.
He is not alone. Many farmers in East Gippsland have sold off half their herds as they continue to battle extreme dry conditions.
The region is currently experiencing a 1-in-20-year rainfall deficiency.
Mr Nixon is a fifth-generation farmer and runs three farming operations: a beef farm and dairy farm at Orbost, and a 600-herd of cows at the Black Mountain Station in the high country.
He said the region was going through its fourth failed season, which had made conditions worse than the Millennium Drought.
“The Millennium Drought we could tick over, but water’s such a big issue now that our place up in the high country, we’ll probably totally de-stock in the next six weeks if it doesn’t get any run-off rain,” he said.
“We’ll run out of water totally. We’ve got some pretty big, major decisions to make now and it’s not fun.”
Mr Nixon has significantly reduced his beef and dairy herds.
“We’ve actually cleaned out 24 dams, we’ve sold 15 per cent of the dairy herd, 25 per cent of the beef herd, and the rest of the beef herd is on agistment in New South Wales. It’s pretty tough,” he said.
“We’re fifth-generation. Our family sent cattle to Queensland in the 1890s and my cattle are in New South Wales today.
“That’s probably the equivalent as far as our family’s concerned.”
To get a sense of just how bad it is, Mr Nixon said people only needed to look at the number of cattle being sold at the Bairnsdale saleyards.
“Nearly 10,000 calves sold in the last two weeks in Bairnsdale alone,” he said.
“People are now destocking in a major way and the ramifications long-term will be horrendous.”
Farmers applying for drought concessional loans
Gippsland rural financial counsellor Wayne Jefferis is processing two drought concessional loans from East Gippsland and expects that number to significantly increase.
He said more awareness was needed of the drought conditions farmers in the region were going through.
“Previously when it was dry the Government would declare a drought area, but the new methodology is with the rainfall deficiency report, which is always there,” Mr Jefferis said.
“There’s no declaration of drought as there used to be, so a lot of farmers might be unaware that they can apply for these drought concessional loans.”
Dairy farmer Royston Nettleton is Mr Nixon’s neighbour and said he would be applying for a loan.
“I’ll probably have to and two [drought concessional loans]. I think that’s only the tip of the iceberg because it’s getting bad; people will be seeking some help down the line,” he said.
“It’s the driest I’ve ever seen it. There’s not any grass pretty much on my place.”
Hill country runs out of water
At Jarrahmond near Orbost, beef farmer Peter Honey has sold nearly half of his stock since Christmas.
He said most of the hill country had run out of water.
“Usually the dams have got some water, but a lot of the dams are actually bone dry now,” Mr Honey said.
“Even if we get a lot more rain now we still aren’t going to get enough run-off to fill the water supplies, so I think a lot of people in the hill country will have to reduce their stock numbers.
“We’ve been caught out a little bit I think in East Gippsland.”
Heading into winter, Mr Honey said locals were not feeling confident about the season ahead.
“The local feeling is that grass stops growing here about the middle of May and doesn’t start growing again until the end of July, early August,” he said.
“We’ve only got a few weeks. We haven’t got a lot of time for a pasture base to fill up.
“I feel sorry for people who their finances are hurting. There seems to be a fair bit of despondency among people.”
By: Isabella Pittaway