Queensland drought
© ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols
Organic avocado grower John Tidy relies on the depleted Amamoor Creek for irrigation.
The Queensland Government has today declared the majority of the state's south-east is in drought.

Eight shires and councils including the Fraser Coast, Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast, Noosa, Gympie, Redlands, Gold Coast and Logan have joined 37 other drought-declared local government areas.

More than two-thirds of Queensland is now officially in drought, with only northern parts of the state and Brisbane drought-free.

The declaration came ahead of a meeting of state and territory agriculture ministers today in regional New South Wales.

Declarations brought forward

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development Mark Furner said he had accepted the recommendations of the local drought committees based on the significant lack of rain, depleted pasture reserves, and escalating concerns about agricultural water supply.
Queensland drought
© Queensland Government
Queensland drought situation as reviewed on 1 December, 2019.

"Local drought committees usually meet at the end of the wet season in April, but due to the deteriorating conditions since then, these committees decided to recommend the areas be drought-declared from December 1," Mr Furner said.

"In these regions, local drought committee members have observed extreme rainfall deficiencies, above-average temperatures, poor pasture growth, low soil moisture profiles, failed winter grain, forage and horticultural crops, little to no planting of summer forage and grain crops, and significant concerns about stock, irrigation and rural water supplies."

LNP member for Gympie and Shadow Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Perrett, has been pushing for the drought declarations for weeks and welcomed the news.

"This drought is relentless and we've seen it in many parts of the state for many many years and it's the gradual creep of this drought has moved towards the coast," Mr Perrett said.

"Certainly in the Gympie region we've seen our pastures deteriorate in recent times. We've seen surface water evaporate with these hot conditions. So that's certainly welcome news."

The declaration will give farming families, farm businesses and farm communities affected by drought access to a range of programs including freight subsidies for the transport of fodder, water and livestock, and the Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate which offers concessions for installation of water infrastructure, desilting dams and drilling new bores.

Low-interest sustainability loans of up to $1.3 million are also available.

Welcome news for growers

This could offer some support to organic avocado grower John Tidy, whose main water source of Amamoor Creek is running dry.

"That's fantastic, that's so good — I'm hoping we might get some financial assistance," Mr Tidy said.

He was forced to make the snap decision to harvest two tonnes of avocados early — for fear of losing his entire crop.

"It [the creek] is really, really low. We've never seen it this low, we've been here 16 years and it's really sad the way it's stopped flowing," Mr Tidy said.

Despite some welcome showers, the reliable spring-fed waterway has slowed to a trickle near John Tidy's Amamoor property and he says 150 people, licensed to irrigate, face an uncertain future in being able to produce food.

"I've had sleepless nights," Mr Tidy, who is also on the local water board, said.

"As a farmer you always like to be an optimist but sometimes things can get you down and I was really emotional and really struggling in the last couple of weeks."

Mr Tidy said it helped to talk to other people and hoped he could raise awareness in towns and cities about what farmers are experiencing.

"I don't feel as bad off as people in Stanthorpe and so many people out west and as much as I'm a small farmer, we're facing a big dilemma and I just want people to realise how hard it is to grow this fruit."

Gympie District Beef Liaison Group president Mick Seeney welcomed the drought declaration.

"It's about bloody time, that's all you can say, it's pretty bloody terrible out here in places — it's about time farmers got as much support as they can," Mr Seeney said.

"It's really getting into dire straits, even driving where we are in the Kandanga area there's cattle really struggling, there's very little grass.

"Water has become a really huge problem, people are running out of water."

Maryborough Canegrowers manager Cameron Watson said extra funding would be welcome.

"It's certainly better than sitting in a situation, knowing how dry it is and no support," Mr Watson said.

"Feral pests and weeds — when we're drought-declared there's actually some funding that comes into play there."

Call for action

Drought Minister David Littleproud has demanded that states and territories spend more on drought assistance, declaring they should put politics aside and support farmers.
Queensland Drought
© Twitter: JoshFrydenberg
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Drought Minister David Littleproud visited a drought-affected farm in Stanthorpe in October.

He has asked for a commitment to pay councils the rates of small businesses and farmers impacted by drought, remove payroll tax, and give Crown leasehold holidays.

Mr Littleproud said while the Commonwealth provides up to $224,000 dollars for each farmer a year, some states, including Western Australia, offer no direct assistance.

He will be seeking a commitment from all the states and territories to boost their support at a meeting in northern New South Wales today.

Queensland Agricultural Minister Mark Furner accused the federal minister of politicising the meeting before it has even started.

"[Since 2013] the Queensland Government has delivered over $745 million in drought assistance, and in this year's budget $74.4 million in terms of the next four years," Mr Furner said.

"So it'll assist them in terms of freight, water subsidies, electricity subsidies — a whole host of different suites available to primary producers.

"We'll be having discussions about some of those figures he's put on the table, the inconsistencies in them.

"But I must say it is disappointing that he's come out at this stage politicising this gathering before we even commence any discussions on this horrendous drought that's affecting our state and our country."

Minister Furner said he hoped the meeting in Moree would be productive rather than an exercise in scoring political points.

"I've also asked to put on the agenda — and I'm thankful for [Federal Agriculture Minister] Senator Bridget McKenzie for taking up my approach to have the dairy industry put on the agenda as well," he said.

"I was only up in the Atherton Tablelands last Monday and Tuesday speaking to farmers up there that are really doing it extremely tough, not only through the drought, but the price they're getting at the farm gate. So I've asked for that to be put on the agenda for discussion."