Tash Johnston is in a large shed, hurriedly working alongside a team of volunteers.
They are packing boxes – lifesaving boxes – piled high with groceries, clothing, linen, molasses, dog food and hay. It is hoped these packages will make life just a little easier for the 800-odd families whose futures hang on tenterhooks.
The Drought Angels charity team is under pressure and I feel guilty interrupting Mrs Johnston’s concentration.
“We’ve got a group heading up to a little community located 200 kilometres north of Cloncurry,’’ she says.
“It’s bad. We know of five to six stations that have been wiped out. It’s the mum and dad operations that aren’t doing well.”
For more than seven years, Queensland cattle farmers have hung on to their livelihood by a fine thread. They fought back with resilience against the drought that ate away at our great land. Now unprecedented floodwaters have wiped out their cattle in a matter of days.
Heartbreaking images of rotting carcasses and the inland oceans that have caused the devastation have highlighted the seriousness of the situation.
Early estimations value this sea of dead cattle upward of $300 million. Farmers, many who also lost their homes and personal belongings, are now being forced to dig mass graves or burn their stock to ward off disease.
“You’ve got up to 7000,000 dead cattle,’’ Mrs Johnston says.
“There is one family we know of that has about 150 dead cattle around their house, and they have four kids. There is no help there for them. No army, no machines. They are trying to live with 150 dead cattle.
“And, that’s just one family.”
Mrs Johnston pauses to let a moment of raw emotion pass.
“Those cattle that survived are dropping dead. They are disease ridden. It’s heartbreaking. There are also cattle stuck on little deserted islands that they have to helicopter food to.
“Homes, sheds, livestock are all completely gone. It’s heart-wrenching.
“There are so many horrific things these people have gone through.”
She says what was formerly a river is now 70 kilometres wide and viewable by satellite.
In a bid to help, Drought Angels is offering primary producing farm families $3000 payments, but Mrs Johnston says more than money is needed.
“They need the mud army up there. They need volunteers up there, people to roll up their sleeves and help with the cleanup. To help with re-fencing.”
Last Friday, the Federal Government announced the establishment of the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency to help rebuild the industry through programs that will provide seed funding for on-farm infrastructure and to restock herds.
“I met families who had been on the land for generations building their herd. To see them washed away, lying in the dry mud, it’s just heartbreaking,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.
“Each farm is different and will need different assistance to rebuild. This is about farmers telling us what they need.
“This is not about compensation, it’s about rebuilding and reconstruction.”
The government is also changing the mandate of the Regional Investment Corporation to allow it to develop concessional loan products for farmers.
Special recovery grants of $50,000 are also available to assist businesses to rebuild, repair and replace stock and equipment.
Mrs Johnston says the flow-on effects of these floods will be felt for years to come and all Australians need to work together to overcome the devastation and ongoing risks to the industries.
“This is our backbone, this is our food bowl. Prices are going to go up. It’s going to affect people in the city in a massive way. People aren’t going to be able to afford meat.”
Sunshine Coast Food & Agribusiness Network (FAN) general manager Emma Greenhatch says there is little doubt the floods will impact the food industry, both nationally and globally.
“Queensland is a big supplier of beef. So yes, definitely we will see a shortage and rising prices,’’ she tells My Weekly Preview.
“That is on an economic impact level, but far more profound is the fact so many of these farmers have battled years and years of drought and then were literally wiped out with all this water. I can’t believe the resilience. The stamina they have, the passion for what they do, their connection to the land, connection to their animals, connection to their crops.
“As Australians we take that for granted. We need to keep buying. Keep buying what you can and buy Australian. From a consumer perspective, it’s important to keep buying the Australian product because that supports our food industry into the future.”
According to the National Farmers’ Federation, Australia’s farms underpin $155 billion a year in production and produce 93 per cent of the country’s domestic food supply. Each Aussie farmer produces enough food to feed 600 people.
The Sunshine Coast is a contributor to this figure. Our food and agricultural industry is worth $700 million, with plans to grow the economic contribution to $1 billion by 2022.
FAN, Australia’s fastest growing food and agribusiness group, aims to connect and grow the region’s industry through innovation, collaboration and promotion.
Ms Greenhatch says raising awareness of the importance of primary producers is key to a successful food industry.
“We need to change the culture around food so it’s not about the lowest price.
“We need to be mindful. Shop at your market. Ask where do these [products] come from? Connect with our producers. In our community there is such an amazing array of market opportunities and so many food businesses.
“It’s not necessarily going to be a whole shopping basket [of local product], but if you are looking to support local producers to some degree, then that’s important.”
Ms Greenhatch says study into the culture of the food industry indicates community connection and collaboration is the key to responding to future challenges.
“That’s what sets our region apart. The future competitiveness of the food industry is going to rely on collaboration. It brings increased market opportunity, innovative products and solutions. That’s what helps fast track the food industry.
“We are quite unique in this region. We are not just a wine region, not just a dairy region. We’ve got everything else and we do that very well. That diversity brings innovation and reduces risk in the marketplace. I think the ingredients are all there.”
There are about 85,681 farm businesses in Australia, 99 per cent of which are Australian owned and operated.
Each Australian farmer produces enough food to feed 600 people, 150 at home and 450 overseas.
As of 2016–17, there were 304,200 people directly employed in Australian agriculture. The agricultural supply chain, including the affiliated food and fibre industries, provide over 1.6 million jobs to the Australian economy.
The Sunshine Coast region’s food and agribusiness industry is valued at $700 million. More than 3000 people are directly employed by the industry.
Sources: FAN and the National Farmers’ Federation
The Sunshine Coast is humming with market activity. This is one way we can support our local farmers and food businesses.
CALOUNDRA COUNTRY & FARMERS MARKET – 17 Buderim Street, Currimundi, every Sunday, 6am to noon. Stock up on fruit, veggies, honey and eggs.
CALOUNDRA STREET FAIR – Bulcock Street, Caloundra, every Sunday, 8am to 1pm. Enjoy breakfast or a juice before picking up fresh flowers, handmade products and produce from this huge market.
CURRIMUNDI MARKETS – Currimundi Lake foreshore, Westaway Parade, Currimundi. Every Friday from 4pm to 8pm. Enjoy an afternoon of food, drinks and music by the water.
EUMUNDI MARKETS – 80 Memorial Drive, Eumundi, every Saturday, 7am to 2pm; Wednesday 8am to 1.30pm. Fresh food.
FISHERMANS ROAD SUNDAY MARKETS – Fishermans Road, Maroochydore, every Sunday, 6am to noon. Get all your green groceries done before picking up some plants and hunting through the bric-a-brac stalls.
HINTERLAND HARVEST MARKET – 7/9 Kiel Mountain Road, Woombye, every Saturday from 7am. Support hinterland farmers at this market that offers fresh fruit, veg and local produce.
KAWANA WATERS FARMERS MARKET – Sportsmans Parade, Bokarina, every Saturday, 7am to noon. Kawana offers a relaxed vibe with food stores and produce plus skincare, cheeses, breads, olives and seafood.
NOOSA FARMERS MARKET – AFL Grounds, Weyba Road, Noosaville, every Sunday, 7am to noon. Noosa’s famous market is a food-lovers’ paradise with fruit, veg, cheeses, bread, seafood, flowers and more.
SUNSHINE COAST COLLECTIVE MARKETS – Coolum State Primary School, School Road, Coolum Beach, second and fourth Sunday of the month from 8.30am to 12.30pm.
Keep an eye out for these local producers and businesses who are among the latest inductees in the Innovation Centre and FAN’s Grow Coastal Food Innovation Accelerator Program.
Earth2Plate – Convenient paleo, vegan, allergen-free bread and pasta options.
Electropops – Healthy natural fruit ice-blocks, full of electrolytes and made with real fruit juice.
Hum Honey – Pure, raw, cold extracted honey sustainably harvested using organic beekeeping methods.
Little White Goat Cheese – Lovingly handcrafted, fresh and seasonal goat, buffalo, camel and cow cheese.
Piggy in the Middle – Lamb, pork, poultry and eggs ethically farmed and unique products including bacon salt and bacon butter.
The Fermentier – Handcrafted, traditionally fermented food and non-alcoholic beverages.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Shop local – Support local supermarkets such as IGA and visit your farmers markets.
- Get your hands dirty – BlazeAid is a volunteer-based organisation that works with people in rural Australia after natural disasters. Visit blazeaid.com.au.
- Dig deep – Drought Angels is a small charity supporting our farmers. Donate to their flood appeal by visiting droughtangels.org.au.
- Buy Australian grown – Check the labels and support Australian farmers as much as you can.