The Upper Hunter and Lower Hunter are battling a drought

DROUGHT: Cattle at Owen's Gap have no feed in the paddocks. They are being fed hay rations.
DROUGHT: Cattle at Owen's Gap have no feed in the paddocks. They are being fed hay rations.

The Hunter Valley’s crippling drought is even worse than we thought. 

Hay supplies across the region are all but gone.

One veteran Hinton farmer said it was “the worst I’ve seen in 50 years”. 

Farmers who have stockpiled are the only ones with hay left in their sheds. 

Those who haven’t are transporting it from interstate at exorbitant costs or selling their cattle.

They are being charged between $10,000 and $20,000 on single truck loads and from $20,000 to $30,000 on b-double loads. They aren’t able to buy only a few bales. 

To make matters worse, the rising salinity levels in the Hunter, Paterson and Williams rivers are making it impossible to irrigate. 

The farmers who were irrigating their lucerne and vegetable crops have had to stop as salinity levels, which should be under 400EC (electrical conductivity, the measurement for salinity), are ranging from 900 to 25,000. 

The crops have only been able to grow because of irrigation water and that has been alright until about three weeks ago when it started getting very salty. It can’t be irrigated on high tide. We specialise in vegetables and lucerne and even at low tide it’s too salty for the vegetables. The salt turns the lucerne yellow and isn’t good for it. If we can’t irrigate everything is going to die, and the crops are our only source of income,

Pitnacree farmer Tom Woods

The drought situation is even worse in the Upper Hunter, especially around Scone. A farm at Owen’s Gap, 25 kilometres west of the town, has been hand feeding stock since July.

Last week farmer Rachell Cox and her husband Arty sent 70 cows and 60 calves on agistment at Guyra.  

LEAVING: Some of the cattle left the property for greener pastures in Guyra.

LEAVING: Some of the cattle left the property for greener pastures in Guyra.

Some of the stock have stayed at home and are being fed rations. Meanwhile the dams have dried up and the water tanks are getting low. 

The former Tocal College student said the area was not classified as rain deficient and anybody only had to look at the trees – which are dying – to see how dry it really was. 

Some farmers in nearby Bunnan have taken their stock droving along the roads in search of food. 

Water is becoming a concern across the Upper Hunter region.  A water cartage business in Muswellbrook is carting 25 truck loads of water every day to properties in the area.

“Unless you are up to your eyeballs in debt and down to your last dollar, there is no help on offer,” Mrs Cox said. 

“Our last decent rain was March last year, we got about 250mm then. We haven’t had those wet winters that we need to replace the ground water and now it’s just dire.

DRY: A dry dam at Owen's Gap, near Scone.

DRY: A dry dam at Owen's Gap, near Scone.

“You’re spending all your money to keep stock alive and come next year we won’t have much to sell, so we won’t have much income.” 

Mrs Cox said it was impossible for farmers to still be drought-proof a year after the dry weather started. 

“If there had been a fire through here, or if we got flooded and everything got wiped out we’d get assistance but they don’t seem to think drought is a natural disaster anymore,” she said.