The full force of Cyclone Debbie’s impact on Queensland agriculture is still unknown, as floodwater continues to devastate parts of the state and producers assess damage to their crops and farms.
Queensland Rural Economic Development Minister Bill Byrne said sugar cane fields in Proserpine, Mackay and Sarina had been flattened, and producers in the Whitsunday Regional Council area would suffer heavy winter crop losses thanks to Debbie.
The beef cattle industry has also been hit.
‘‘At this preliminary stage, the most significant agricultural impacts are damage to horticulture crops, sugar cane fields, irrigation equipment and cane train infrastructure,’’ Mr Byrne said.
On Friday, Queensland’s sugar industry was estimating Cyclone Debbie had caused $150million in damage to cane growers’ operations.
Initial surveys revealed the hardest hit districts around Proserpine and Mackay had lost their entire crops, while others had lost significant portions.
Canegrowers chief executive officer Dan Galligan said the figure was disheartening with the annual harvest due to begin in less than two months.
‘‘The harvest itself is going to be a real challenge because the cyclonic winds have twisted the cane in many directions in some paddocks and it’s lying on the ground on many farms meaning the mills will have to deal with high mud and debris levels,’’ Mr Galligan said.
More detailed assessment will be carried out this week, but early indications are 35 per cent of all sugarcane in the Proserpine region, worth $50million, has been damaged, with 20 per cent damaged across the Mackay region, worth $81million.
In addition to the damage to the crop itself, the cyclone also damaged family homes and left significant damage to sheds and other farm infrastructure and machinery.
Assessments are still being carried out on the cane train network, while all sugar mills and terminals appear to have escaped serious damage.
Meanwhile, aid is starting to flow for families and farmers hit by the cyclone in Queensland’s north.
The Queensland Government said immediate hardship assistance was now available for residents in the cyclone’s strike zone.
The federal and state governments have also announced financial help for farmers and other businesses hit by the cyclone, including concessional rates for businesses and grants and freight subsidies for primary producers.
Mr Byrne said category B assistance had also been activated based on initial damage reports, which includes concessional loans of up to $250000 and essential working capital loans of up to $100000.
While the cyclone clean-up and assessments are under way in north Queensland, other parts of the state were still bracing themselves for severe flooding as Country News went to press.
On Monday, Rockhampton residents were given some good news, with authorities now saying the expected flood would not be as bad as previously thought.
The Bureau of Meteorology said on Monday morning the latest forecast was for a flood peak of 9m on Wednesday, just under the 2011 flood level.
Authorities had warned on the weekend that the Fitzroy River could peak at 9.4m on Wednesday or Thursday, making it the worst flood in more than 60 years.
But despite the downgrade, a major flood warning still exists for the Fitzroy, with extra emergency crews sent to the town for flood preparations.
Primary producers surrounding the ‘beef capital of Australia’ are expected to be seriously affected by the floods.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said everything possible was being done to prepare Rockhampton for what was to come, and she said help would be there when the waters receded.
One of Rockhampton’s biggest employers, Teys Australia, which operates the city’s meatworks, closed its plant ahead of the flood.
Teys hopes to resume processing at the plant on Friday, but warned the closure may go beyond then, depending on water levels.
‘‘While cattle have been purchased to supply the plant for the week, the safety and wellbeing of staff is our priority,’’ the company said on Monday.