Debbie delivers an appreciate drenching

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Tropical Cyclone Debbie may have been cursed on the coast of Queensland, where its fierce winds and torrential downpours lashed sugarcane, fruit and vegetable crops, but its tail end brought much-needed rain to most cropping areas in central and southern Queensland and northern NSW.

Among the growers thankful for the soaking Debbie brought in late March was Darling Downs grower Kent Wright, whose family property is 12 kilometres east of Millmerran at Yandilla. “We got 115 millimetres in one day out of the tail end of Tropical Cyclone Debbie, and 63mm in the two weeks before. Prior to that, the only subsoil moisture we had was in three blocks of fallow,” Kent says.

The rain fell after a low-yielding sorghum harvest, and in the midst of an unimpressive dryland cotton pick, both caused by one of the toughest summer-cropping seasons on record, which hit production hard in northern NSW and southern Queensland.

“We had days here of 41ºC and 42ºC, and hot nights with no breeze. It’s been hot like that before with a day here or there, but the length of the heatwave was terrible for crop development.”

With ample subsoil moisture now available, Kent says he intends to plant about 320 hectares of chickpeas and the same of wheat and barley, in line with a general preference to minimise cereal areas due to the depressed price outlook.

In central Queensland, growers were equally grateful to receive the rain brought by Debbie, although some in cattle and fodder-cropping areas north of Duaringa and south-east of Clermont were close enough to the cyclone’s path to suffer damage to paddocks and infrastructure.

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries senior development extension officer Rodney Collins says these areas, as well as low-lying parts of the Mackenzie and Callide valleys, lost summer crops in the deluge Debbie brought. “There have been some sorghum, mungbean and corn crops lost and, for some growers, that’s the third damaging flood in five years,” Mr Collins says. “Outside that, the rain has been a godsend. It’s been ideal for major cropping areas like Clermont, Springsure and the Dawson Valley following a summer where there was hardly any of the intended dryland crop planted because we just didn’t get the opening rain.”

Most central and southern Queensland growers received 100 to 150mm of rain from Debbie, but following the hot and dry summer, Mr Collins says significant in-crop rain will be needed to ensure solid yields.