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Rain boosts Hydro, bogs farmers

Edition_177_Lake Gordon ... strong recovery from record low

Spring rain lifted Hydro Tasmania’s storage levels to beyond 45 per cent for the first time in almost three years, but the wet weather seriously disrupted agriculture and threatens vegetable and poppy shortages.

Farmers in many areas of the State struggled to get their crops planted before conditions improved late in October.

Most major rivers were on flood alert at some stage during the month, with many farms and some towns experiencing their second inundations of the year.

Hydro Tasmania was one of the few to benefit from the wild weather, with dams recovering more quickly than expected after sinking to a record low of 12.8 per cent in late April.

The State-owned generator announced a $65 million loss for 2015–16, partly reduced from a predicted $90 million by trading power generated by spilling dams.

The business had made a $62.3 million profit the previous year, but was forced by the conjunction of a 176-day BassLink outage and drought to spend $47 million running the gas-fired Tamar Valley Power Station and a further $64 million on diesel generation.

Hydro Tasmania does not expect to return a dividend to Treasury until 2019-20.

The rain that helped Hydro’s storages was not so welcome on the land, with many farmers struggling to get into their paddocks during the critical spring planting period.

The Chairman of Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association’s Vegetable Council, Nathan Richardson, told The Mercury conditions in early October had made life difficult for farmers across the State.

“I’ve had it said to me quite a few times lately that people just want 2016 to end,” Mr Richardson said. “It has been a shocking year.”

Mr Richardson, of Thirlstane, was one of a few farmers in his district who were able to plant potatoes in early October.

“These types of conditions do make it very challenging, not only when you’re trying to get crops in, but also for crops that have already been planted.

“There will definitely be some losses because of this.”

The prime agricultural districts of Cressy and Longford were among the worst affected, with some farmers unable to plant at all.

Even farmers with planted crops were facing challenges in getting on to water-logged ground to apply weed, disease and pest controls.

Latrobe dairy farmer Geoff Heazlewood, whose paddocks, house and dairy were inundated when the Mersey River flooded in June and again in October, said the spring flooding had been less traumatic.

“We moved the cows; and it was a fairly decent flood, but nothing like the last one. It didn’t come up near the house or anything,” he said.

“The river was right up, but there wasn’t as much debris floating past this time.

“I suppose that’s because the river had already been cleaned out by the big flood. This time it was just a lot of dirty water.”

An agronomist in the northern midlands, Craig Soward said: “I’ve recorded the rain for 10–15 years and I’ve never seen as much rain as this … how that’s going to play out for suppliers of fresh vegies come Christmas time and the New Year, I’m not too sure at this stage.”

A loan scheme put in place for flood-affected farmers had limited up-take because many businesses were not in a position to take on any more debt.

Image courtesy of the ABC

1 November 2016, Tasmania’s Stories Edition 177

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