With emergency supplies of fodder finally making it to distressed herds in north-west Queensland – the last survivors of a millions-strong herd that came through more than five years of drought – AgForce is urging a focus on the future.
CEO Michael Guerin said courageous and collaborative leadership was required to ensure the long-term well-being of cattle producers in north-west Queensland and the rural communities who rely on them.
“There is no doubt that this is a disaster of unprecedented proportion,” Mr Guerin said.
“The speed and intensity of the unfolding tragedy makes it hard to believe that it’s just a week since farmers’ elation at receiving the first decent rains in five years turned to horror at the devastating and unprecedented flood that quickly followed.
“The latest reports confirm our earliest fears: this is a massive humanitarian crisis that has devastated an area twice the size of Victoria and is steadily expanding southwards.
“Although we won’t know the full extent of the livestock losses and infrastructure damage until the water fully recedes, it is certain that the industry will take decades to recover.
“Thanks to Rural Aid – whose donors range from major corporations to Australian families – all levels of government, and the many hundreds of donor and volunteers involved, the first hay started arriving in central stockpiles over the weekend.”
Mr Guerin acknowledged the work of the agencies and organisation at all levels now involved in helping the many producers and communities come through what remains a very desperate situation.
“Led by the Local Disaster Management Groups (LDMGs), the people on the ground are working through the complicate logistical considerations required to get the stockpiled hay delivered by chopper and, where possible, wheeled transport to save as many animals as possible,” he said.
“AgForce’s emergency fodder drop map is helping pinpoint where assistance is required to provide an opportunity for cattle farmers to access emergency fodder supplies.
“So far, more than 100 producers in the devastated areas have requested fodder to try and save more than 150,000 head of cattle.
“I implore governments of all levels, as well as other agencies involved in this mammoth undertaking, to put aside red tape, bureaucratic wrangling and patch protection, and understand the desperate situation of so many producers.
“The loss of hundreds of thousands of cattle after five, six, seven years of drought, is a debilitating blow not just to individual farmers, many of whom have lost literally everything, but to rural communities.”
Mr Guerin said that three years of rainfall inside a week has had a catastrophic impact on farmers and their livestock, on communities and towns, on infrastructure, and on the natural environment and wildlife.
“Some farmers have lost everything, literally everything, except an ever-growing debt, and our first priority is to make sure that they are OK,” he said.
“We thank governments and the Australian community for the support they have shown so far, but we need to ensure that farmers and the communities they keep alive are supported for the long haul.
“Even as we work through the logistical issues to get fodder to cattle with the assistance of the defence force and local volunteers – helicopter pilots, truckies, townies – we need to be deploying specialist well-being professionals in.
“The Royal Flying Doctor Service Mental Health team are on hand to now providing support to the many front line volunteers and from tomorrow, to all in the community.”