SA pastoral areas remain dry

SA pastoral areas remain dry


The pastoral areas of the state have had a very dry start to the year, with many regions receiving well below their average rainfall so far in 2019.


While farmers across the southern agricultural areas of SA welcomed long-awaited falls during the past month, it has been a very dry start to the year for the pastoral areas of the state, with many regions receiving well below their average rainfall so far in 2019.

The north-east pastoral area has been particularly dry, with Pastoral Board member Andrea Tschirner, Boolcoomatta Station, saying there had been almost no rain in the area so far this year.

"There have been a few isolated showers but they've been very small, and not enough to make any difference in terms of plant or pasture growth," she said.

Ms Tschirner said the start of last year was also dry, but rainfall late in 2017 meant the lack of falls in early 2018 did not have a severe detrimental effect.

"This year is far worse because we haven't had that carryover from summer rainfall," she said.

Yunta in the north-east region received 27 millimetres of rain in the first five months of the year, compared with a usual average of 95.9mm in the same time period, while Marree in the state's north has received just 6.2mm so far in 2019, compared with an average of 77.4mm.

To the west, Roxby Downs has received 27.6mm this year, as opposed to its average of 63.8mm, while Tarcoola received 11.4mm, compared with an average of 68.6mm.

A lot of people got down to their minimum breeding base last year and are well and truly past it and down to a half or quarter of their females. - COLIN GREENFIELD

Livestock SA northern region chair Colin Greenfield said most areas had experienced a dry start, with only patchy falls being recorded around the Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta areas, as well as some across the south-west of the pastoral areas.

He said the lack of rain and minimal feed meant many pastoralists had destocked heavily.

"A lot of people got down to their minimum breeding base last year and are well and truly past it and down to a half or quarter of their females," he said.

Mr Greenfield said destocking was particularly unfortunate for Merino producers who had been holding onto stock in the hope that wool prices would rise.

"(Prices have) finally been good in the past 18 months, and having to sell large numbers of their flocks is pretty disheartening," he said.

Related reading: Warmer and drier than average winter likely for most of Australia

Keith Slade, Moolooloo Station, Blinman, said 47mm of rain had fallen on his property this year, which had "brightened some bush up", but more was required.

"You need a lot of rain to make a difference, the feral (animals) mow feed down as quick as a wink if you only get a little bit," he said.

Mr Slade has about 3000 sheep on his Moolooloo station, and has not joined them due to the dry conditions.

"That's probably going to benefit the sheep in the long run, but it's not going to benefit our cashflow situation later on in the year, and next year when we're shearing," he said.

Mr Slade has moved another 2000 sheep to a property he has bought in the Mid North, near Murray Town, where the conditions have been slightly better.

Of these 2000 sheep, he has sold off about half of the flock, and left the other half on the property to lamb.

"If it does rain I've got the opportunity of bringing some of those lambs back up to (Moolooloo) to increase numbers," he said.

But Bureau of Meteorology senior climatologist Darren Ray said there was little rain on the outlook for the pastoral regions for the rest of the year, due to a strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole impacting SA and the NT.

"(The IOD is) a June to October and November influence. It has a wet negative phase - we saw that in 2016 - then there's the dry positive phase which is looking like it's going to be quite strong through this coming six months," he said.

In a win for drought-stricken pastoral areas, the Flinders Ranges Council and Outback Communities Authority have been listed as eligible regions to receive $1 million as part of the Drought Communities Program, but Mr Greenfield said he was unsure if there would be widespread benefits of the provided funds.

"It's perplexing about how we're going to be able to best spend $1 million in an area that's 1000 kilometres by 1000 kilometres," he said.

"If you build something at Oodnadatta it's going to be of zero use to someone who lives at Yunta."

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