Bush battlers refuse to buckle
QUEENSLAND'S rural debt has surpassed $17 billion as drought pushes cattle producers to the wall amid fears an El Nino weather event will rob desperate primary producers of summer rain.
Total rural debt in Queensland is $17.2 billion, a rise of 1.6 per cent since 2011, according to the 2017 Queensland Rural Debt Survey released yesterday.
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the average debt per borrower was down 12 per cent to just under $1 million.
"Rural businesses operate in a dynamic environment and debt levels will continue to be impacted by external factors such as the current drought," Mr Furner said.
The beef industry, at $9.4 billion or 54 per cent, represents the largest proportion of rural debt in Queensland, followed by cotton ($1.3 billion or 8 per cent), sugar ($1 billion or 6 per cent) and grains ($0.93 billion or 5 per cent).
The productive Western Downs and Central Highlands region represented $5.5 billion or almost 32 per cent of the state's rural debt, followed by the Southern Curtis Coast to Moreton region at $4 billion (23 per cent), and the Eastern Darling Downs at $2.5 billion (14 per cent).
The quality of rural debt has also improved since 2011, with 95 per cent of the total value of rural debt rated viable with an "A" rating.
However, Traeger MP Robbie Katter said the debt survey revealed widespread and ongoing problems.
"If the Government thinks it can take a 'nothing to see here' approach to this rural debt survey, they are sadly mistaken,'' Mr Katter said.
"If the forecasts of an El Nino weather event are accurate for rural Queensland, which has already endured five years of drought, farmers and producers will suffer massive problems.''
The Courier-Mail yesterday revealed the Bureau of Meteorology had delivered an urgent briefing to the State Government about predictions of a 50 per cent chance of an El Nino event this year, which could seriously reduce summer rainfall. More than half of Queensland remains drought-declared.
'PEOPLE ARE JUST HANGING ON BY THE SKIN OF THEIR TEETH'
BRUCE Alexander and his wife Lisa have learned not to get too carried away with "green grass fever".
"You think the season has broken and it's going to come good, so you pile the stock on then it stops raining," Bruce said.
"It's been pretty ordinary for the past 18 years - hit and miss - we're not getting long enough consistent runs to get ahead."
The couple have lived on their 9300ha property, 90 kilometres south west of Blackall in Central Queensland for 21 years and out there, drought is nothing new.
They're down to 5000 sheep and with 2000 ewes about to lamb ahead of the predicted El Nino later this year, Bruce knows careful monitoring is key.
The El Nino will only add to the already too long dry spell taking further toll on feed and water supplies.
"There's a lot of people worse off than us, but it's hard," Lisa said.
"We're still running a fair percentage of stock but we haven't had any rain that runs water, so the dam's empty.
"People are just hanging on by the skin of their teeth."
Lisa now uses her skills as a photographer to do what she can to help boost morale in an area that desperately it.
Along with a friend, she started a project on Instagram called Better in Blackall.
"People contribute photos of where they live and what they like and we printed them in various sizes and filled the empty shop windows with them," she said.
"The community response was great. I think it's put an extra bounce in their step and the tourists thought it was fabulous.
"Then with funding from the council, we interviewed 40 people and I took their portrait photos.
"The renovated Bushman's Hotel has been closed for 20 years so we used it to display the portraits and interactive iPads to share their memories; what they love about here and about growing up."
She said the projects had instilled a bit more pride in the community and helped people realise "there was more out here than they thought".
Back on the land, Bruce keeps a close eye on the paddocks, the feed and the livestock.
He knows he needs backup water systems in place to manage the surface and sub artesian water.
"I've been trying to connect water sources with a pipeline," he said.
"There's so many improvements you could make, but if we did them all we'd never have any money at all or have anything to put it away for bad times.
"So it's priorities."
Like so many of her neighbours, Lisa gave up listening to weather forecasts a long time ago.
She says there's too much false hope and people are more tuned to the land and to nature to give an accurate prediction.
"I don' think they understand the impact it has on people's mental health when there's rain forecast and it never happens," she said.
"We've learned from the past, so you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
"People out here have suffered a lot, not just the drought but from wild dogs too."
- Christine McKee