BY MICHELLE MAWHINNEY
As I sit here in the first days of Spring 2022 looking at my garden it’s hard to believe that not that long ago, we were in the grip of one of the worst droughts in living memory. As a teenager in the eighties, I can remember driving from the Hunter Valley to Dubbo, another time of terrible drought.
When I started in my role with the Tamworth Livestock Selling Agents Association (TLSAA), my job was to “find a positive story” – every sale. In good times that was exciting. But, as the drought continued, it became increasingly tough.
It was heartbreaking to see our clients selling off their breeding stock, the last resort, as they struggled to make ends meet and fill hungry mouths. The headlines from that time told the terrible story. 2019 conditions were hotter and drier than any other NSW drought in the last 120 years (industry.gov.au).
Livestock prices plummeted and there was the constant worry about what would happen when it did eventually rain again. How would we rebuild the herd? How would farmers meet the spiraling feed costs? How much longer could everyone cope? Most of the time I had to switch off and not think about it. The worst day was in early March when we had our biggest prime cattle sale ever with 4500 cattle sold – many of them breeders.
But with a pay still coming in every fortnight, and living in town, I was acutely aware that I was in a fortunate position. How could I really understand what farmers were going through?
But drought doesn’t just affect those on the land. While our clients were sending their stock to slaughter, there was little respite in town. Even for those of us with rural roots, and the foresight to install rainwater tanks and conserve water for the next dry spell, the impacts were relentless.
Town people were talking constantly about rain. Some, who were “smart” enough or obviously “wealthy” enough were finding loopholes to buy water to fill their swimming pools and water their lawns. This “townie” felt frustrated and angry by this greed and lack of empathy.
I remember driving with my family on the New England Highway, just north of Bendemeer, barely able to see the taillights of the car ahead because of the massive dust storm. In the middle of the day. Or the huge dust storms rolling across Tamworth, bringing with them the topsoil – and livelihoods – from the farming country further west, making the headlines across the nation. Or the Friday afternoon drive to Somerton just to be reminded of the reality of what was happening. It was depressing and constantly on your mind.
Then on April 1st, 2020, our headlines started to change – “Thank Heavens for Trevor” – with the tail end of tropical cyclone Trevor bringing the best falls in years. It certainly was “one day closer to rain”.
Now the same paddocks are a sea of green with fat animals and new life. Livestock prices have soared since they started to improve in early 2020 as producers rebuild their herds. As with the property market, that’s goof if you’re buying and selling in the same market but can also be a big barrier to restocking. Despite this, the mood in the saleyards is optimistic.
In all of this, there is one constant. Mother nature ALWAYS has the upper hand. We will have another drought. We will also have floods and fires and famine, and all sorts of challenges thrown at us. I remember driving on the New England Highway north of Bendemeer. It seems so long ago. But it was less than 2 years.