Goulburn district rainfall brings mixed blessings

South East Local Land Services agricultural adviser Matt Lieschke checks on a soil moisture probe at John Klem's Bannister property this week. Here, the moisture level is 85cm at a 10cm depth and 64pc at 60cm. Photo: Clare McCabe.
South East Local Land Services agricultural adviser Matt Lieschke checks on a soil moisture probe at John Klem's Bannister property this week. Here, the moisture level is 85cm at a 10cm depth and 64pc at 60cm. Photo: Clare McCabe.

While farmers are broadly welcoming this week’s rain, some will benefit more than others.

South East Local Land Services (SELLS) agricultural adviser, Matt Lieschke said the drop, ranging from 24 to more than 53mm across the district, would have varying impact on soil moisture levels.

“Crookwell and Taralga are at higher elevations and have had enough rain this spring to get pasture growth. This will only add to that,” he said.

“But once you get to Goulburn and Gunning, particularly Gunning where the pasture has gone off, the benefit won’t be as great.”

But at least in those areas the drop would help replenish dams, which had been a big concern of late.

SELLS, in collaboration with Tablelands Farming Systems, installed soil moisture probes around the district in 2016 and 2018. They give valuable insight into growing conditions and allow farmers to judge feed availability.

Following this week’s rain, they showed that Bannister was faring best with 85 per cent moisture at a 10cm depth and 64pc moisture at 60cm. The area received 32mm on Wednesday. Taralga scored 53mm and had 61pc moisture level at 10cm but just 22pc at 50cm depth. Lake Bathurst received 25mm and while this reached the top 20cm of earth, it had little impact (5pc) at 60cm. (See graph below)

Although good rain fell in August it was followed by a dry September which had hurt areas like Gunning, Lake Bathurst, Tarago and Bungonia, already doing it tough. 

Mr Lieschke said beef producers had done it harder than sheep graziers. Sheep could more easily reach the shorter green pick but beef growers had forked out big money on fodder.

“They will offload cattle to reduce feeding costs towards summer but around Taralga and Crookwell, they may hang on to them a bit longer,” he said.

“...I think we will see a bigger reduction in breeding cattle but with sheep, the strong prices for mutton and lamb are helping to absorb the feeding costs. 

“I’m not getting a sense that there will be radical de-stocking of sheep. Producers see the value of hanging on to sheep for when the drought breaks because of the commodity prices. The only rider there is if graziers are forced into de-stocking because of water or labour  (shortage). But with cattle, the economics are not as strong.

Mr Lieschke said the healthy stock prices were the main difference between this drought and the last when producers “couldn’t give sheep away.”

Goulburn has received 414mm this year, 164mm less than the yearly average to November, according to Weatherzone.

Meantime, the Bureau of Meteorology released its summer outlook on Thursday.

Manager of long-range forecasting Dr Andrew Watkins said it showed most of the country had an 80 per cent chance of exceeding normal temperatures over the next three months.

"Summer in Australia typically brings hot temperatures for many communities and the outlook indicates this summer will be no different," he said.

"We've already seen extremely hot temperatures through parts of north and central Queensland in recent days and this should act as an important reminder of the kinds of conditions we can get during an Australian summer.

"In terms of rainfall, the outlook shows a drier than average three months is likely for large parts of Western Australia, Queensland and the Top End of the Northern Territory. For the rest of the country there is no strong push indicating wetter or drier than average conditions.

"Having said that, locally heavy rainfall events similar to what we have seen in NSW in the last two days are always a possibility during summer, no matter what the outlook is showing."

The Bureau predicts there’s a 70pc chance of an El Nino forming in 2018,  “roughly triple the normal risk.”

An El Niño typically brings drier and warmer conditions to eastern Australia but the rainfall effects tend to be less pronounced in the south during summer months, the Bureau says.

The moisture probe levels measured on Thursday morning around the district following Wednesday's rain show that Bannister is in a healthy position while Wheeo and Lake Bathurst are doing it tougher. Image supplied.

The moisture probe levels measured on Thursday morning around the district following Wednesday's rain show that Bannister is in a healthy position while Wheeo and Lake Bathurst are doing it tougher. Image supplied.

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