The drought in Queensland has made grass so scarce that ranchers are felling trees. Not just any tree. Their tractors take down mulgas, a type of acacia found in the Australian outback, spreading the foliage on the ground for cows to graze on. The mulga’s leaves are soft and easy to digest. But sometimes the cows don’t have that luxury. To make sure the herds eat and keep their weight up, the ranchers have also set up blocks of minerals for the animals to lick. The chemicals are nutritious and act as an appetite stimulant, compelling the cows to feed on available vegetation they would normally not touch—bushes and spiny plants.The photos are just brutal. It saddens me that the farmers who are in the vanguard of climate change denial are going to be amongst the people who are most impacted.
Australia emerged from the Great Millennium Drought in 2012, when it was officially declared over. That environmental catastrophe began in Queensland in the mid-1990s and, despite the end of the long, bad dry spell for the nation as a whole, there’s been no relief for much of the rural part of the immense northeastern state. About 80 percent of its territory remains affected by water shortages, putting particular stress on the center of Australia’s cattle industry.
Ranchers are changing nearly all aspects of their business. To keep their stock manageable, they’re culling herds, planning to slaughter a record number of cows this year. More than 9 million were slaughtered in 2014, and of that number almost half were killed in Queensland. That means ranchers must try to find new markets to sell the meat without driving down prices. Currently, Australia supplies more than a third of the beef imported by the U.S.
With rain a rarity over most of Queensland, ranchers have been pulling up water from the Great Artesian Basin—the world’s largest subterranean aquifer, which is increasingly regulated by drought-sensitive Australia. The small pools of groundwater pumped up from the basin have attracted kangaroos and wild dogs. The ranchers say the kangaroos—as many as 10,000 on a single property—compete with the cows for grass, and that the dogs—crossbreeds between the domesticated species and dingoes—attack the cattle. Ten kangaroos, they claim, eat as much grass as a single cow; and a cow wounded in a dog attack has less value when brought to market. So the ranchers have been killing kangaroos and dogs.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
The Drought in Queensland
As part of a Bloomberg series on drought in Australia, California and Brazil, we get a brutal story about the impact of drought on the cattlemen of Queensland: