Producers brace for dry times

Farmers in Tasmania’s southern regions are bracing for what could be a tough season ahead.

With rainfall expected to be a likely 60 to 80 per cent chance lower than average from September to November and temperatures well above average, large parts of the state are already to facing some difficult conditions.

Owner of Bremley Vineyard and President of the Coal River Products Association, James Bresnehan said he is looking at different management regimes to combat what looks like a challenging year ahead.

His property located in Campania in South-East Tasmania has 13ha of vines which are expected to produce 50 tonnes of grapes this season.

Mr Bresnehan said they have started irrigating one month earlier than previous years.

“We typically wouldn’t be irrigating this early, but the profile soil is starting to dry out, so we’ve got to ensure the grapes and vines have got moisture to take up during bud burst,” he said.

Apart from the vineyard, Mr Bresnehan also farms cross-bred ewes which have just finished lambing.

“We’re not really geared up here to irrigate broad acre,” he said.

“We’re going into a very tight time, feeding wise, for the ewes and lambs. Unfortunately, at this point it’s been coupled with suppressed livestock prices.”

Mr Bresnehan said he sold last season lambs about two weeks ago and they were priced at no more than $50.

This time last year lambs were sold around the $120 to $130 mark.

He said the problem is two-fold with suppressed prices and not having the available feed to finish the lambs to the quality they liked to.

“There’s issues with the market and also with this dry season, we’re struggling to get the right conditions for the lambs,” he said.

“We’ve sort of just been hit with a double whammy.”

He said people need to just keep talking as this season might set some really big records.

“I think as a community we all just have to talk to each other and have good conversations with those you need to.”

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel and we’re all facing similar troubles.

“You’ve got to be proactive not reactive, I think this is that type of season.”

The South-East of Tasmania has only had 174mm of rainfall so far this year.

The region’s driest year was in 1954 when fell 304mm.

While it is difficult for livestock, Mr Bresnehan said the vineyard prefers a drier season.

“In those cold and wet years, the vines don’t want to grow as well as on a day like today.

“So on one hand a drier time could be beneficial but on the other hand, with the livestock, it’s going to be real challenge. It’s hard to watch stock struggling.”

Astrid Walters of Boomer Creek Vineyard is concerned about how the drought is going to affect their production in the years to come.

The 20ha family-run farm is located on the east coast of Tasmania in Little Swanport and has a 3ha vineyard block and 3ha olive grove.

They also breed breed fine wool Merino sheep, Hampshire sheep for the lamb market and Herefords.

She said this year they’ve only had 360 to 380mm of rainfall which is a long way from last year where they had around 1000mm.

“On average for an area like this, it should be around 500mm of rain,” Ms Walters said.

They have already started irrigating significantly earlier compared to last year when they started around November.

She said they have also started to look at different management practices like containment feeding for livestock.

“There are a lot of means and methods to be a little bit more prepared for when things are like this.”

“In particular with cattle, because they are quite heavy on your pastures and your water, obviously they consume and drink 20 times more than sheep.”

“The next stages for us here would be to put in a feedlot for our sheep so we can start to bring them in during those hot days for to feed. It’s so we can keep an eye on them and they’re not roaming around huge areas and consuming energy.”

Ms Walters said although they won’t be greatly affected by the dry conditions this year, it’s the coming years she is worried about.

“There’s lots of little factors that go into it. Even at the moment the lamb, wool and beef market has plummeted because it went so high. I think the interest rates are hurting a lot of people too.”

“It’s not this year I am worried about but the next few years to come and I think most people are too.”

“But now is sort of when we have to prepare because if you leave it too late, you move your stock on and prices plummet.”