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Dry conditions bite into Top End, with NT’s ‘prime beef country’ selling off stock

By Katrina Beavan on 11 August 2018, on abc.net.au.

Lake Nash Station, like other Barkly properties, has had to sell off a lot of cattle due to dry times. (Supplied: Imogen Montgomery)
Lake Nash Station, like other Barkly properties, has had to sell off a lot of cattle due to dry times. (Supplied: Imogen Montgomery)

While drought-stricken eastern states continue to battle tough conditions, the ‘big dry’ is creeping into the Top End, with cattle stations in the Northern Territory’s Barkly Tablelands seeing one of their driest periods in decades.

After a disappointing wet season, the ‘engine room’ of the Territory’s cattle industry, a sector worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is running low on grass, and cattle are being trucked off.

Greg Browning, climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said that although the dry is not quite record breaking for the naturally flat, rolling plains of grassland, it is getting close.

“This dry that we’re seeing now is basically an extension of an early end to the wet season — that’s really indicated in the vegetation maps that we look at,” Mr Browning said.

 

Some cattle stations in the NT's Barkly region are experiencing their driest season since 1978. (ABC Rural: Katrina Beavan)
Some cattle stations in the NT's Barkly region are experiencing their driest season since 1978. (ABC Rural: Katrina Beavan)

Properties sell off stock

Further south at Georgina Pastoral Company’s Lake Nash Station, on the Queensland and NT border, the situation is similar.

“We didn’t really receive much of a wet season at all, the little bit that we did get did us more harm than good,” station manager Erin Gibson said.

“On the western side it’s a bit [of a] better picture than that, but it’s still not what we’d call a complete season I suppose.

“We’ve been pretty busy trying to keep in front of it and move cattle and juggle things around — we’ve definitely had to lighten up this year that’s for sure.

“We’re probably not quite settled on what we can maintain, but there’s been significant de-stocking going on there.”

Mr Gibson said he was thankful that the dry spell follows on from four or five years of good seasons.

“I think 2012 and 2013 weren’t great for us, they were pretty savage, [we had to] destock then,” he said.

“[But] since then we’ve had a pretty good run, you can’t be too upset about what you’ve received in that time.”

Cattle numbers revised

The effects of the de-stocking, in the Barkly and beyond, is showing in the nation’s cattle figures.

Statistics released last month by Meat and Livestock Australia showed a revised cattle slaughter forecast for 2018 of 7.8 million head — 9 per cent higher than the 2017 total.

MLA also said that Australia has exported 487,000 head of cattle in the first six months of this year — 23 per cent more than the same period last year.

Of that amount, nearly 200,000 were shipped out of the Darwin port.

Some stations in the Barkly have had to significantly destock after a very dry year. (ABC Rural: Katrina Beavan)
Some stations in the Barkly have had to significantly destock after a very dry year. (ABC Rural: Katrina Beavan)
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