Rural and regional communities across western and central Victoria are reeling after what is expected to be the hottest and one of the driest Octobers on record devastated crops for a second year in a row.
Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey said many farmers in the region were starting to harvest crops weeks early as a spring heat wave came on the back of another year of well-below average rainfall – and others would not have a harvest at all.
But the effects of a failed or poor harvest would be felt across the region for at least a full year to come.
“It’s going to be a tough 12 months as people tighten their belts,” the Pyramid Hill farmer said.
Mr Tuohey said many farmers were cutting cereal crops for hay – on option which would bring some income but, in many cases, would lead to another year of financial losses.
“[So] they’ll spend less money as they try to tread water, they’ll look to cut costs and some will look to borrow funds for next year's crop,” he said.
And the flow-on effects of that belt tightening will impact upon everything from small business to the local footy club, mental health to community well-being.
Wedderburn farmer Cameron Turnbull is one of many across the Loddon Shire who has had to haul in water to keep his corriedale flock alive after the last of his dams ran dry earlier this year.
The 40-kilometre weekly round-trip is another added task that takes its toll on the 45-year-old father of two.
“It’s just been a shit of a year,” he said.
“I got another kick in the guts this week with a couple of crops I looked at that I thought would make it... turns out they will come to nothing.
“We'll get sheep onto some paddocks but others are just useless.”
Mr Turnbull said the added stress made it hard for farmers in his tight-knit community to go about the business of running the town.
“We volunteer in cricket clubs, footy clubs, fire brigades, school councils,” he said.
“It makes it pretty hard with all this friggin’ around.”
Aside from his role as secretary of the football club, board member of the cricket club and volunteer on the school council, Mr Turnbull said he could be called out to three CFA jobs a day.
“It’s very hard 'divvy up' your time – sometimes the family suffers, sometimes the farm suffers... it’s a nasty sort of a merry-go-round,”
Bureau of Meteorology climatologist Jonathan Pollock said the dry year was due to the combined factors of El Niño and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole – weather patterns associated with drought in South-Eastern Australia.
“September was pretty dry across the state with most of Victoria below it usual September rain and most western-central Victoria well-below average,” he said.
“But October has been even drier again – the rain just switched off as El Niño really started to bite.”
“We’re on track for the third driest October and the hottest October on record.”
As of October 28, the Charlton weather station, for example, recorded 7.2 millimeters for the month – well below the mean monthly rainfall of 39mm and currently the lowest since 2008.
Mr Turnbull said the succession of dry years had left farmers concerned about the future.
“[But] you’ve just got to keep doing what you are doing, take the information when it comes and hope for best... whether it’s climate change or just a dry spell – who knows?” the Wedderburn farmer said.
“And even if we know for sure it’s climate change, what are we going to do differently anyway but pray?
“Either you sell or you don't, but if you are in it, you’ve just got to use best practice, which is what we are all doing.”