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Nature's fury -

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Nature's fury

Broadcast: 07/12/2010

Reporter: Paul Lockyer

As rain continues to fall on the Australian wheat belt farmers are bracing themselves for the
harvest from hell - with many crops either completely destroyed or downgraded in value.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: It's the heartland of an export industry worth more than $5 billion a
year, but in many areas of the Australian grain belt, it's being called the harvest from hell.

What began with so much hope after drought-breaking rains finally arrived in Eastern Australia is
now being washed away by widespread floods, while swarms of locusts take to the wing, and drought
claims much of the crop in Western Australia.

The Federal Government's economic forecasting agency ABARE, in its latest report, still holds high
expectations for crop yields, but every day the weather takes a huge toll.

And more heavy rain is forecast for saturated areas of the wheat belt in Eastern Australia in the
next 48 hours.

The national economy could take a big hit if the disaster deepens.

Paul Lockyer reports.

PAUL LOCKYER, REPORTER: Every day the flood spreads still further through the New South Wales wheat
belt.

(to Jock Laurie) And in some areas you can't see the crop for the water.

JOCK LAURIE, NATIONAL FARMERS FEDERATION: No, it's- Some of those places they'll be a complete wipe
out and I think we're starting to see now some properties where they won't be any stripping done at
all, or what's left certainly won't be taken off simply because it's too wet and there's just been
too much damage done.

(Sound of thunder and rain falling)

PAUL LOCKYER: This disaster began unfolding weeks ago as storm clouds gathered over Queensland and
north western New South Wales.

Central Queensland was hit first.

BRUCE ESTENS, HARVESTING CONTRACTOR: We started in Queensland. Before we even started to harvest,
we had 7 days of rain, Paul. It rained for seven days straight and it destroyed every crop in
Emerald. There's nothing survived it.

PAUL LOCKYER: Harvesting contractor Bruce Estens moved south into New South Wales but the rain
followed.

BRUCE ESTENS: We'll have a 60 kilometre or 50 kilometre storm cell coming our way. It's just a
tragedy. It's just a tragedy.

(Sound of helicopter whirring)

PAUL LOCKYER: Headers were left sidelined in sodden paddocks for days on end.

When they could harvest, the crop lived up to all expectations, the wheat, bowed over by the weight
of the grain in the heads. After a long drought, here was the promise of a bumper crop.

In some areas, the biggest ever grown.

BRUCE ESTENS: The sad part is, we dream about these crops. Every farmer would dream about getting a
crop like this once in a lifetime.

Well, we got the crop, we grew the crop but whether we get it's another matter.

PAUL LOCKYER: Storms were followed by flooding rains sweeping all the way south through the
remainder of the wheat belt.

The Federal Government economic forecaster ABARE is still predicting record yields in most areas
but wants to wait and see the full extent of the damage.

Many crops will be lost. Others will be downgraded in quality because of water damage.

KEITH PERRETT, GRAINS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CORP: That means where you could be looking at a
prime hard quality wheat down to a feed wheat, you could be losing one hundred dollars a tonne,
which is pretty significant especially after a few difficult years for a lot of growers.

PAUL LOCKYER: Grains industry leader Keith Perrett has seen the drought in Eastern Australia push
many growers to their financial limits.

KEITH PERRETT: A lot of growers were looking to this year as the get out of jail year to really put
some dollars back in the bank account.

PAUL LOCKYER: It's a cruel twist to follow the drought.

JOCK LAURIE: It's adding pressure everywhere...

PAUL LOCKYER: Jock Laurie, the president the National Farmers Federation, is worried about the
emotional fallout from the floods disaster.

JOCK LAURIE: The emotional impact it's having on individuals, on families, and certainly on rural
communities has been quite staggering. And I think the pressure that they're feeling now in some of
those communities that are through the winter wheat belt now and seeing all this rain is just
really knocking the guts out of those communities.

PAUL LOCKYER: How quickly things have changed.

For much of the past decade, Burrendong Dam, near Dubbo, in the Central West of New South Wales
looked like this... stark testimony to the drought.

(Shot of dry dam)

Now it's overflowing - a dramatic transformation in the space of just a few months.

JOCK LAURIE: We all know that we need to get water flowing through the system and the only way that
can happen- or the best way that can happen is by rain events like we're having now. And that just
refreshes the system and gets it going again.

PAUL LOCKYER: Now it's Western Australia that's in the grip of drought.

In many areas, the crop is barely worth harvesting.

Ross Stone won't even cover costs from this crop on his farm at Quarading, east of Perth.

ROSS STONE, WHEAT GROWER: If we can continue on this will take years to recover from the amount
we've lost this year. It's a very substantial loss.

KEITH PERRETT: They've produced 14 million tonne of winter crop in the past. Estimates are absolute
best 5 million tonne. Some are even suggesting a 4 million tonne crop at the max.

(Man whistles to sheep dog)

PAUL LOCKYER: Sheep helped Vincent Hadlow through this drought year on his farm near Dangin in
Western Australia but he fears the worst is to come.

VINCENT HADLOW, FARMER: See when you're chasing a few dollars next year and they're not there from
this year, you know, it's... It's going to be shocking.

PAUL LOCKYER: And if it wasn't shocking enough in the sodden wheat belt in the eastern States,
there's this to contend with -

(Locusts crackle)

..the biggest locust plague to come out of Victoria in 75 years.

They won't eat the ripened grain but will contaminate it when they're swept up by the header. And
they'll devour any patch of green they can find.

JOCK LAURIE: Having been wiped out by locusts, I can tell you, there is nothing worse than sitting
there watching them fly in and just take your crop and go away. It is an extremely frustrating
feeling and there's nothing can you do about it.

It really tests your emotions, I can tell you.

PAUL LOCKYER: But in the expanding flood areas, it's the weather forecast, not the locusts causing
most concern, with predictions of more heavy falls to come.

JOCK LAURIE: They're talking about potentially up to another 100 mils, which would be four inches
back down on some waterlogged country.

We're seeing the water run around now. If we got another dump of four inches on some of that
country, it'd really throw some water round the place.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report from Paul Lockyer.