Eden Valley farmers are facing one of their toughest challenges yet, forced to buy in water to keep their stock going.
It comes as they face what Eden Valley’s Sue Holt describes as the worst drought yet, where a lack of rain has resulted in dams drying up and rainwater tanks being depleted.
The only dam that remains on the property, which has been in Sue’s family since the 1800’s, has some puddles left in it but the Holts are keeping their use of that to a minimum in an effort to keep the turtles and other aqua wildlife alive.
It is the third time Sue has had to buy in water in the last 12 years but she and son, David have seen challenges in 2007 and again in 2013 but nothing like it is today.
“Seventeen was a sleeper year… there wasn’t the growth on the pastures and we didn’t have a good spring,” said David.
“In 2018, it progressed and we didn’t have good rain.”
The mother and son team expect to start hand feeding their stock next month and anticipate the purchase of water will continue for some time.
This summer alone, they have carted in 10 loads of water at a cost of just under $500 for a semi trailer and nearly $250 for a smaller truck.
“We should have plenty of drinking water but the rainwater is also our fire security for the sheds and the house,” said Sue.
As a result of the water challenges, the once rewarding veggie patches and household gardens are no longer and there’s no lawn in sight.
The Holts have already looked at other ways they could source water, one of them being the installation of a new bore system.
At a cost of in excess of $25,000, the new bore supply will be used for stock.
In addition to the new bore, the Holts are also trialing new drought tolerant feed in paddocks for stock grazing. Herbage such as saltbush and tagasaste tree lucerne, placing seasol on some of the pastures and are looking into fertiliser trials with worm castings.
“We are stepping outside of what we normally do and trying to make a difference somewhere else,” said David.
With beef cattle and merino sheep across the properties, the Holts also have stock in agistment and have also reduced their stock numbers significantly.
They made the call not to mate the ewes last season which resulted in 600 less lambs on the property.
“Last year there was a feed shortage.. and this year we have grass but no water,” said Sue.
With the increasing costs of carting in water, coupled with other challenges for the farm, David and his wife, Jenny also work “off site” to supplement their income.
But should the rains come and the season start to turn, Sue and David said it will take some time to bounce back.
“We have spent many decades improving the genetics of our merino sheep and cattle,” said Sue.
“If we sell all our stock and try and buy back when the drought breaks, anyone with spare stock for sale will keep their best breeding animals to rebuild their own numbers, so to reestablish the quality we keep aiming for would take a long time.
“I have always been an outdoor bod and over the years I have noticed things disappearing… there’d be nights where we would be deafened by the sound of frogs, now we are lucky to see one. Moths and other insects, bees, cicadas are also missing, even fewer sparrows and swallows.
“You would always see bats at night and the possums have gone. It is getting very scary out there and some people are still unaware or denying it.
“Even if our dams do fill, we would dare not waste it on the lawn. We collect water from the shower and water from the washing machine… you just realise how precious the water is.”
Sue and David also expressed concern about the soil and water saline levels, dried up aquifers and most importantly the continued water supply into the future.
Aware of more local demand on mains water, the Holts are hoping, however, a temporary solution could be found by opening a standpipe in Eden Valley.
They said this would help get the farming community needing to cart stock water through the next three to four months of this drought, which would also save time travelling to the Mount Pleasant
“If we don’t get a run off this year we are in a bit of strife and I think other people would be too,” said Sue.
David adds, “But looking at the big picture… we are taking in a lot of water and we are not the only ones… what’s the lifecycle of the Murray River and who is looking after that?.”
They call on businesses and industry to assess their water useage and determine ways they could use less water, or reuse what is coming out of the tap.
In addition, they are calling on assistance from Governments during this time.
This includes the classification of the region as a drought declared zone, which neighbouring Mid Murray Council is.