Shocking figures show true cost of drought


HUNDREDS of millions of dollars could be wiped from farm gate production value this financial year as prime agriculture areas in Queensland grapple with the drought.

The Courier-Mail can reveal that figures from the State Government's yet-to-be-released AgTrends report will show reduced values for primary industry production across the state.

The report, expected to be released in coming weeks, is forecasting a 5 per cent fall in the gross value of production of Queensland primary industry commodities at the farm gate - from $14.65 billion to $13.94 billion.

The report also forecasts a similar 5 per cent drop in the total value of Queensland primary industries, a measure which looks at the total gross value of production and first-stage processing. It is forecast to fall from $18.54 billion to 17.8 billion.

Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier.
Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier.

Other notable businesses assessing the drought's impact on farm output include the Commonwealth Bank, which has estimated the impact across the eastern seaboard was as much as $12 billion, with distinct possibility of food price increases.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland chief economist Dr Marcus Smith said another indicator of the dire outlook was slaughter rates for cattle, which have increased as feed becomes a major financial challenge for farmers.

"Beef exports from Queensland hit an all-time high $9.476 billion over the year to June 2019, which is indicative of farmers trying to move more stock out of the paddocks," he said.

"The multiplier effect is distressing in terms of job losses and the falling levels of economic activity, meaning, of course, businesses across the regions will continue to navigate an incredibly difficult economic outlook.

"The export numbers across the state reveal that regional Queensland is seeing reduced levels of activity across rural communities and increasingly major centres."

The shock figures come as The Courier-Mail continues its "Back the Bush" series highlighting the stories of drought and calling on Queenslanders to lend a hand to those affected.

The Granite Belt Growers Association surveyed a range of members earlier this year and found $100 million in reduced spending and wages in the local economy due to the ongoing drought.

Association president Angus Ferrier said that figure would only have increased since the poll in July.

"In reality, the lost production has probably increased," he said.

"What has also happened is the increased effort our growers are putting in to keep producing."

Mr Ferrier said that extra effort could include carting water to keep fruit trees alive or shifting whole farms 100km away to land where water was available.

"I know capsicum and tomato growers who are definitely going the extra mile by relocating to continue supporting their customer base," he said.

"As well as apple growers carting water to keep trees alive."

Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce secretary Amanda Harrold said it wasn't just agriculture industries impacted by drought with the widespread effects one of the main reasons it lobbied to get a new dam built in the area.

"The flow on effects go across the whole town, right down to the number of kids at the school, for example, which is linked to the number of families who have confidence to stay in town," she said.

"Every business is in a sense an agriculture business because if the farmers aren't employing, people aren't spending and it trickles down to things like the sponsorships businesses can give to community or sporting clubs and how much backpackers spend in shops."