Drought in the Lower and Upper Hunter

Farmers in survival mode: Hunter battles awful drought | PICS, VIDEO WATER SHORTAGE: Dams on the Stork family property are in crisis. Four out of the five dams are empty.
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DROUGHT: Farmer Danny Stork stands on the family property at Glen Oak pondering the landscape. Pictures: Belinda-Jane Davis

DRY TIMES: Brown grass everywhere.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Farmer Danny Stock in the creek bed that should be full of water.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Farmer Danny Stork in another dry creek bed.

DAM: A dam that is almost dry.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape at Glen Oak.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Another dry creek.

HOPE: Some green grass shoots among the dead grass. They will also die if there is no rain soon.

BROWN GRASS: Farm dogs take a stroll on the grass.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

VEGGIE GARDEN: Pumpkin crop is looking for water.

VEGGIE GARDEN: Pumpkin crop is looking for water.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: Corn crop looking miserable.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DAM SUPPLY: The water level in the dam has dropped significantly.

DAM SUPPLY: The water level in the dam has dropped significantly.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle at Glen Oak.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle step into the shade to cool down at Glen Oak.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle step into the shade to cool down at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: View across the paddock at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: View across the paddock at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: Dry creek bed.

SHADE: Cattle sitting in the shade.

SHADE: Cattle sitting in the shade.

SHADE: Cattle in the shade.

DRY TIMES: Cattle are being fed with forage to survive.

DRY DAM: A dry dam at Glen Oak.

DRY DAM: A dry dam at Hinton.

WATER SHORTAGE: A dry lagoon between Phoenix Park and Largs.

TweetFacebookBelinda-Jane Davis reports

HUNGRY: Cattle are looking for food at Glen Oak. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

It’s strange to look around and the leaves on the trees are the most vibrant object on the horizon.

Drought isn’t a scenario we encounter often in the Lower Hunter.

I’ve lived on the land my whole life and I’ve experienced way more floods than droughts, but here we are battling a crippling drought that resembles the dry times of the early 1990s.

HUNTER DROUGHT: 33 per cent of the region is in drought, 39 per cent is at the onset of drought and 28 per cent is borderline and could slip into drought or recover. Picture: NSW Department of Primary Industries

The further you travel into the countryside from Maitland the more the landscape dramatically changes.

There are barren pastures, dry dams andhungry cattle.

Already two Slow Food Earth Market Maitland farmers are totally out of water and another is relying on suitable salinity levels in the Hunter River to keep vegetable and lucerne crops alive.

Vegetable growers Tom Christie and Dominique Northam, who have a farm near Dungog, had been using a dam to irrigate their crops until it went dry. Now they are praying for rain.

Dams are drying up and cattle are hungry across the Lower Hunter.Somefarmers around Dungog and Gresford have already run out of water and been forced to sell their cattle despite prices being right down.

Read more:How you can help Hunter farmers battle the drought

Read more:Dairy farmer paying $100,000 a month to keep his herd alive

As more cattle hit the market the price declines, and right now farmers are losing $200 on an average animal.

Take a drive west to the Upper Hunter and things are just as dire–the landscape looks like a desert. Farmers are hand feeding, dams are dry or drying up and winter, which will bring even more challenges, isn’t far away.

Read more: Everybody’s looking for rain

ARID LANDSCAPE: Farmer Danny Stork stands among the dry pastures at Glen Oak. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis.

Maitland has recorded its driest January since 1932, with only 6 millimetres of rain.Paterson has done little better with 10 millimetres of rain –it’s lowest January rainfall since 1903.In Cessnock things are not quite as dire, with the driest January in fifteen years recorded after only 6 millimetres.

“The dams are dry everywhere around here,” Ms Northam said.

“We haven’t had decent rain since autumn last year,” Mr Christie added.

Oakhampton farmer Austin Breiner has lost most of his crops because of a lack of water and is carting water to the property to keep some tomatoes and eggplants alive.

WATER SHORTAGE: Tom Christie and Dominique Northam pictured at the Slow Food Earth Market in Maitland during better times last year. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

Matthew and Liam Dennis are closely monitoring salinity levels in the Hunter River so they canirrigate their crops.It’s the driest Matthew has seen it since he moved to East Maitland 28 years ago.

After months with little –or no rain –the land isscreaming out for it.

Unrelenting hot weather during January has also burdened farmers, ripping moisture out of the groundand forcing the grass to die more quickly.

BIG DRY: The hot weather helped killed off pastures more quickly. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

While it often brought storm clouds, and lightning shows on the horizon, there was precious little rain and on the rare occasions when it did fall, it wassporadic.

When grey clouds formed this week hopes went up, but there is barely any rain predicted.

It’s a frustrating situation for the Stork familyat Glen Oak -29 kilometres out of Maitland – who desperately need decent rain.

Five of their six dams are dry and the many creek beds are barren.

WATER SHORTAGE: Five of the six dams on the Stork property at Glen Oak are dry. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

The paddocks are scorchedand there are only 20 bales of hay left in the shed.

Their 100 head of cattle are being hand fed light rations in the hope that rain will come soon.

If it doesn’t, and they run out of water, they’ll be forced to sell the entire herd.

If their water supply holds on they can buy in hay, but that’s a very expensive, short-term option.

Farmer Danny StorkEveryone’s in survival mode waiting for that good fall of rain. We have to get a break in the weather and we have to keep our eyes looking to the sky and hoping. We want 100 millimetres pretty much straight away. We usually get a break in February so let’s hope that happens,

Tony Bowe

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