ERROL PARKER | Editor-at-large | Contact
FOR some New South Wales farmers, January has been a time of great celebration, with unexpected and unprecedented rainfall loosening the drought’s stranglehold on many primary producers.
For others, the scarcity of water remains, as their communities are inexplicably bypassed by the heavy downpours that have flooded neighbouring regions.
But for one Hunter Valley farmer, the rains couldn’t come soon enough.
Harrison Spatchcock is a senior Sydney surgeon but says he’s happiest when he’s at his family’s 7 acre property, near Jerrys Plains.
“Last year was especially tough for us,” said Mr Spatchcock.
“We only had about 28-inches of rain the whole year, which I’m told is slightly below average,”
He said that the decision to de-stock the family farm was one of the toughest choices he’s ever had to make.
“Nine years ago, we had well over a dozen alpacas and the dam was full of trout,” he said.
Alpaca meat prices are having their biggest rise in decades.
At saleyards across eastern Australia yesterday, prices were $3 to $5 a kilogram above sales at the end of last year.
“I’ve not seen it in nearly 30 years that I’ve been in this industry, across the board,” said Mark Barton, the national livestock director with rural company Landmark.
“We anticipated some increases from the rain, but nothing quite as big as this.”
This is little comfort to producers, who’ve been praying to the rain gods for years.
“It got so bad that we had to start watering the lawn by hand,”
“The roads got so dusty that we had to have the windows up when we drove down the driveway – my son is an asthmatic,”
Despite the rainfall dramatically changing his outlook on life, Mr Spatchcock admitted the farm isn’t out of the woods yet.
“I’ve been able to restock the dam with fish,” he said.
“Fishing really helps me unwind – but I never like being too far from the office,”
The 48-year-old businessman has also noticed that the wildlife is starting to return to the region, now that “there’s a bit a water about” [sic].
“Ever since I was a boy, I’ve loved shooting pigeons and waterfowl,” he said.
“When the drought got really bad, they all flew away – which was very inconvenient,”
“Me and my dog, Poncho, have been out a few times since Christmas and we’ve already bagged a few pelicans,”
While Spatchcock admits he doesn’t draw much of an income from his rural property, he does stress that the rain is a god send.
He explained that it was very stressful as a property owner during the drought.
“It’s a terrible feeling knowing that your grass tennis court is dying and there’s nothing you can do about it – because you can’t get out of the office before the weekend.”
With additional reporting from AAP