The devastating effects of drought... and five ways you can help

Aussie farmers have been doing it tough in Western Queensland with an unbelievable seventy per cent of the state in drought that has lasted for three years… and counting.

A little over 12 months ago, we spoke with Anna Hetherington from Mitchell Grass Meats in Longreach, who were forced to stop selling their grass-fed beef and lamb, and giving up most of their stock. Anna told us about the heartbreak and desperation of trying to rescue a calf bogged in a drying water hole. And how her daughter saved up all her hard-earned pocket money to buy her own cow. Sadly, Josie didn’t survive the drought.

While Ms Hetherington and her family have been able to slowly reintroduce cattle and start earning a living again, others have not been so lucky.

Penny Button’s family has been farming for more than 100 years and the veteran farmer has been forced to sell off the last of the her cattle with the prospects of yet another dry summer ahead.

This means the end of the continuous bloodline of Santa Gertrudis bulls and calves imported years ago by her father-in-law, Viv Button.

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“That’s 60 years of genetics gone – that will take years to get back,” Ms Button told Guardian Australia.

Outback Fence Line

It’s not the first time Ms Button has faced drought since she began cattle farming in 1971, and she known only too well what it’s like, the endless waiting for rain.

It’s a time when there’s not much to do but wait, wait and hope. Watch as your friends and community members leave, slide into depression or worse. You live on borrowed money and watch the sky, dreaming of the grass that will grow and working out how many weeks it would take until you could get your stock to market if it rained tomorrow, or next month.

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The Western Queensland drought has now surpassed the “millennium drought”, which ran for almost eight years up to 2009. Although that drought was longer, this dry is far more severe. No individual region suffered more than two failed summers, whereas this time round areas like Longreach are facing the very real possibility of their fourth dry summer in a row.

drought map

And the long-term forecast isn’t looking great as scientists predict we are heading into an el Niño weather pattern. While this doesn’t guarantee drought, it does have a history of prolonging dry weather, with seven out of ten of Australia’s driest years occurring during an el Niño phase.

As Ben Callcott from Charters Towers says, “This drought is different because it isn’t really about the drought. This drought is different because people don’t see a way back.”

Five ways to help farmers through drought

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Australians have a great track record of rallying together to help our fellow citizens when they need it most. Let’s not forget the man who travelled 2000 kilometres to spend two weeks helping a drought-stricken farmer build a wild dog control fence.

Here are five ways you can help the farmers of Western Queensland through this difficult time:

1. Buy a Bale
Send drought-stricken farmers something they can really use with the “buy a bale” scheme. The hay saves the farmers a few bucks, gives them food for their remaining stock and is delivered by an army of volunteer truckies. Visit the website here.

2. Stop and contribute
The Western Queensland Drought Appeal is calling on nomads and travellers to stop in drought-affected areas and spend a night or two. Tourism can contribute to the economy and keep businesses afloat. You can also donate to the appeal, details here.

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3. Volunteer with the Farmy Army
If you have some time and skills to spare, why not donate them to farmers in need by joining the “Farmy Army”? Find all the details here.

4. Give a farmer a holiday
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can register as a farm-sitter and provide people in drought areas with a much-needed break from their property. Some experience necessary. Register here.

5. Organise a fundraiser
Aussie Helpers is a grassroots charity focused entirely on helping farmers. You can make a one-off or monthly donation or, if you want to take it to the next level, organised a fundraiser. Aussie Helpers provides you with ideas and everything you need, you’ll find here.

Have you experienced drought? What messages of support do you have for our drought-stricken farmers in Queensland?