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Crops abandoned: Livestock pick over a lost cause

Published on 22 August, 2006, Last updated at 00:41 GMT

By Riccarda Burley

Sressed Riverina grain growers in Australia, having given up hope their crops will survive the drought, are sacrificing them for stockfeed.

With some Border districts receiving only a sixth of their annual rainfall so far, optimism is fading fast.

"We may as well get something out of them," Oaklands farmer Bill Buntin said.

Mr Buntin, who lost his father during the 2002-2003 drought, has two properties west of Oaklands and is tired of record-breaking years.

"They said 2002 was a one in a 100-year drought but I reckon this year is shaping up to be worse - no one's had time to recover," he said.

"If we don't get decent rain, it will be a disaster as far as the grain job goes; now we're just trying to keep stock alive."

Mr Buntin is offloading all his old sheep next week and is bunkering down for what he expects to be a "hell of a summer".

"I've got some water left over from last year so I'll be watering a bit of crop and filling up some dams," he said.

"We're on the West Corurgan irrigation scheme and we've got zero allocation - I don't know what people will do who don't have any back-up water."

Roy Hamilton, of Bogandillan Station, between Rand and Oaklands, said his crops had seen only 70mm of rain during this year's growing season, a far cry short of his 295mm average.

"No one's doing terribly well but there's still time, there's still hope," he said.

"According to figures released last week, places such as Jingellic and Holbrook have received 55 per cent of their average rainfall and at worst, some areas are down as low as 40 per cent."

Mr Hamilton said he had hoped to have stopped feeding stock by now but could see no end in sight and confirmed he had heard of other farmers turning stock on to crops.

Landmark Walla agronomist Don Kirkpatrick said farmers in the Oaklands and Berrigan districts were in trouble with some just giving up.

"I've heard of people around there turning sheep into crops, while others are still praying," he said.

"Rand is hanging on but make no mistake, it's dry."



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