Floods Strand Cows, Damage Crops as Wild Weather Hits Australia

By Keira Wright and Amy Bainbridge | January 9, 2024

Heavy rains and flooding across Australia’s southern state of Victoria has damaged crops and stranded cattle as a months-long run of wild weather on the nation’s east coast leaves a trail of destruction.

Severe storms have lashed Victoria since October, with parts of Queensland and New South Wales impacted over the following months, including a cyclone that damaged sugar crops in the country’s far north. The latest deluge has inundated fruit orchards and continues to delay the harvest of wheat and barley.

Simon McKenry, a livestock and wheat farmer in western Victoria, said he has already downgraded some of his crop to animal feed after multiple rain events, and has only been able to harvest just over a day each week due to the wet conditions. Growers typically start harvesting their grains from November.

The persistent rain has come even after the onset of the El Niño weather pattern, which usually brings hotter and drier conditions to Australia and prompts authorities to prepare for an uptick of wildfires.

Recent heavy rains has triggered flood warnings across parts of Victoria, leading to evacuation orders and floodwaters inundating homes, including in the small rural of Seymour on the banks of the Goulburn River.

“I know one farmer just out of Seymour who’s had to hire a boat so he can get out to feed his cattle,” said Victorian Farmers Federation President Emma Germano. “The water is over three meters at its deepest point, and there was some concern that some of his cows might have even been swept away.”

Cattle standing in water for long periods are also at risk of developing infection issues with their hooves, she added.

Some plum and peach farmers in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley have been forced to let damaged fruit drop to the ground and rot after rain over the weekend and Monday, said Michael Crisera, grower services manager at industry group Fruit Growers Victoria. That follows a devastating hailstorm a week ago which damaged 500 hectares of apple, pear and plum trees in the same area, he added.

‘More Bad Floods’

The spate of wild weather — which includes a tornado that hit the Gold Coast in Queensland on Christmas evening — is likely to lead to mounting insurance claims. Insurance Australia Group Ltd. said last week that it had received around 17,000 claims from events in December.

Parts of Queensland were hit with flash flooding again on Tuesday, with local media reporting water lapping at doors.

Neil Baker, a fourth-generation beef and pork farmer who lives on the banks of the Tweed River in New South Wales, is facing another cleanup from flooding — the fifth in seven years. His three farms were inundated by major floods in the region on New Year’s Day.

“We’re expecting that’s not even going to be the worst of it,” he said. “Over the next few months, we expect there will be even more bad floods.”

Top photo: Floodwater in Rochester, Victoria, Australia, on Jan. 9.

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