NSW drought: Record hot summer's impact on our farmers

HOT DAYS: Records were broken in the Central West as temperatures soared. Photo: FILE
HOT DAYS: Records were broken in the Central West as temperatures soared. Photo: FILE

SCORCHING summer weather across the Central West saw records smashed with one location registering its hottest January in 50 years. Residents may be familiar with hot, dry weather at this time of the year, but the string of sweltering days left many surprised. Journalist Nadine Morton investigates.

Weatherzone meteorologist Scott Morris said records were broken in Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange this summer.

"We had troughs sitting over the region for quite a while and it just built up heat," he said.

Bathurst recorded its hottest January in 50 years with an average daily maximum of 34 degrees. This was 5.6 degrees above the long-term average of 28.4.

Records were also broken in Dubbo and Orange with both cities recording their hottest January in 20 years.

We had troughs sitting over the region for quite a while and it just built up heat.

Weatherzone meteorologist Scott Morris

In Dubbo the average top this January was 39 degrees - way above the usual maximum of 33.2 degrees.

While in Orange, the mercury rose to an average of 32.5 degrees in Orange which was well above the city's long-term maximum of 27.1.

Mr Morris said data in recent years shows that "summers are gradually increasing in heat".

Dust storms as drought bites

DRY TIMES: The entire region has been impacted by the drought. Image: NSW DPI

DRY TIMES: The entire region has been impacted by the drought. Image: NSW DPI

The widespread drought also continued during the summer months, with many Central West locations recording well below average rainfall.

Currently, 77.4 per cent of the Central Tablelands is in drought while 22.6 is drought affected.

In the Central West the conditions are worse with 29.2 per cent of that region in intense drought, 67.6 per cent in drought, and 3.2 per cent drought affected.

Mr Morris said many dust storms had occurred during the summer due to the continuing drought.

"Because it's been so dry over the summer any little bit of wind picks up the dust," he said.

How are our farmers going?

THE lack of rainfall in parts of the region this summer has left some farmers scratching their heads and worrying about the months ahead, while others have had it a little easier.

Hot, dry weather is a given every summer but the scorching temperatures that kept coming day after day challenged many Central West farmers.

Graziers, horticulturalists and agronomists right across the Central West were challenged this summer.

ORCHARD LOSSES: Orchardist Guy Gaeta has lost 30 per cent of his gala apple crop to sunburn. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

ORCHARD LOSSES: Orchardist Guy Gaeta has lost 30 per cent of his gala apple crop to sunburn. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

The long hot days might have been great for cherries at Guy Gaeta's orchard, but already he's lost 30 per cent of his gala apple crop due to very hot weather.

He runs an apple and cherry orchard on Orange's outskirts and said the spate of very hot weather in January had left many of his apples with sunburn.

"When they're sunburnt they go soft and you've got to throw them out," he said.

It's not looking the best.

Orchardist Guy Gaeta

The lack of rainfall has meant that the dams on Mr Gaeta's farm were now at a critically-low level.

"We're down to our last week of water and then we'll run out which is not good because we've still got Fuji and pink ladies [apples] coming in a month," he said.

"When it's dry it [the tree] sucks the water back out of the fruit so the tree can survive.

"It's not looking the best."

Mr Gaeta said another issue facing orchardists in the region is the return of flying foxes who destroy fruit as it becomes ripe.

"Once we start uncovering the trees we'll have to start chasing them out of the orchard," he said.

Decent rainfall in the Bathurst region during summer has meant grazier David McKay and his cattle have had a pretty good run these past three months.

"We had 26 millimetres in February, 121mm in January and 66 in December," he said.

Mr McKay said while the rain was patchy, he was happy with the 213mm he received during summer, even though it was slightly down on the 296mm recorded at Bathurst Airport by the Bureau of Meteorology.

GOOD RAINS: Grazier David McKay says good rainfall in the Bathurst region during summer has helped his stock. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

GOOD RAINS: Grazier David McKay says good rainfall in the Bathurst region during summer has helped his stock. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

Mr McKay, who is also the NSW Farmers Association Bathurst branch president, said the last time he sold stock was around Christmas and he was currently weaning calves.

Thanks to the summer rain, the oat crops he planted have grown and that, along with stored hay, should get his cattle through the next few months.

Central West agronomist Glenn Shepherd said isolated falls during summer have helped some farmers, while others have missed out.

"It's very hard to build stored moisture for growth in the winter," he said.

Mr Shepherd said the continual scorching temperatures during January played havoc with crops across the Orana region.

"Overwhelmingly, the hot January was just ridiculous … it was just really brutal," he said.

SUMMER HEAT: Central West agronomist Glenn Shepherd says the scorching January weather was "really brutal". Photo: FILE

SUMMER HEAT: Central West agronomist Glenn Shepherd says the scorching January weather was "really brutal". Photo: FILE

Mr Shepherd said as summer ended there was still a lack of moisture in the ground and warm soils across the region.

Those with canola crops are having a particularly difficult time.

"This will be the second year in a row with little to no canola crop," he said.

Overwhelmingly, the hot January was just ridiculous … it was just really brutal.

Central West agronomist Glenn Shepherd

As the horticulture committee chair for the NSW Farmers’ Association, Mr Gaeta has called on whoever wins at the upcoming state and federal elections to introduce better measures for horticulturalists.

"There's no grants available for horticulturalists to do works for water infrastructure, but graziers can get these grants," he said.

"What's the difference, our trees will die too."

Gardeners discuss future of Bathurst's water

By Sam Bolt

Following a summer that many experts have considered to be Australia's hottest on record, Bathurst gardeners have been adapting to water restrictions that were imposed on the region late last year.

On November 26, Bathurst Regional Council imposed level 3 water restrictions on the community, a decision that was, at the time, seen as a puzzling move by local gardeners.

But although the Bathurst region experienced double its average rainfall for January, the water level at Ben Chifley Dam has continued to drop.

As of February 26, the dam level is sitting at 51.5 per cent capacity, a 6.3 per cent drop in the three months since water restrictions were introduced.

Bathurst Gardeners' Club president Chris Bayliss said that, despite January's rainfall, the rain hasn't been falling in the right places.

"The January rainfall did not have a significant effect on the dam level because much of the rain was not general and little run-off occurred in the dam catchment area," Mr Bayliss said.

The January rainfall did not have a significant effect on the dam level because much of the rain was not general and little run-off occurred in the dam catchment area.

Bathurst Gardeners' Club president Chris Bayliss

"While most residents appear to be taking water restrictions seriously, I have observed some people ignoring them."

With Bathurst's population projected to increase in the coming years, Mr Bayliss feels it is time for council to adopt a more proactive approach to the region's water supply.

"Considering council's haste to implement water restrictions, plans to raise the dam wall should have also been brought forward," he said.

Council is investigating options to safeguard Bathurst's water supply, including the construction of a pipeline between Ben Chifley Dam and the Water Filtration Plant.

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