Weather costs high but crops also thrive
Slow-moving ex-cyclone Oswald has left the biggest damage bill from Australia's summer of extreme weather, leading to floods across southern Queensland and the mid-coast of NSW.
The hit to the Queensland economy from the floods alone will be about $2.5 billion, according to the state's Recovery Minister, David Crisafulli.
That storm and last week's floods also set NSW back at least $84 million, while bushfires - stoked by the nation's hottest summer on record - left agriculture damage of another $52 million, the state government said on Friday.
Insured losses across Australia this summer, including for fires in Victoria during December, total $942 million, with claims still coming in, the Insurance Council of Australia said.
Still, farmers in other regions prospered from the summer's vagaries.
"We've had a bumper crop," said orange grower Beverley Fisher, from the Tranquil Hills farm near Cobram on the Victorian side of the Murray River. "The flooding in Queensland has knocked out some of the crops", helping to support prices, she said.
Good prices were crucial because weeks of scorching heat forced Mrs Fisher and her husband to spend thousands of dollars pumping extra water to keep trees watered as the mercury climbed to 45 degrees.
Days of "stinking hot" 48-degree weather also threatened the cotton crop at Darling Farms near Bourke in western NSW, farmer Ian Cole said. Ample supplies of irrigated water meant growing conditions were otherwise ideal, he said.
Even better, floods reaching Bourke and the Darling River from heavy rains three weeks ago in Queensland are filling the region's dams after a long dry spell. "We're going to have another good year no matter what happens," Mr Cole said.
Rice farmers are also banking on a bumper crop. "Our rice loves hot weather," said Ruth Wade, executive director of the Rice Growers Association.
The 1.1 million tonnes of rice expected will be the best since 2005 - when water buybacks are taken into account - and help make up for "10 horrible, dreadful years", she said.
While much of the country endured exceptionally hot and dry conditions - Victoria had its driest summer in 28 years - the availability of water for irrigation from two relatively wet prior years means consumers aren't likely to see a spike in food prices.
Michael McMahon, a southern Queensland citrus grower, said the late-January floodwaters in the Burnett catchment west of Bundaberg rose so swiftly that nearby farmers didn't even have time to move their tractors.
"It was like a tidal wave, almost, coming down the creeks," said Mr McMahon, who heads up the family's farm, Abbotsleigh Citrus.
The river inundated about 50,000 of Mr McMahon's 63,000 lemon, orange and other fruit trees. He should be able to rescue much of the crop from remaining fruit trees - once conditions are dry enough for the pickers. "We've still got plenty to sell," he said.
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