Farmer sheds tears of blood for dying landscape

IN THE good seasons, the fodder at Allan Johnstone's farm grew waist-high.

The heavy black soil country west of Oakey was some of the best farmland in the state.

It allowed Mr Johnstone to build a top Charolais stud, with prime genetic material sourced from the US and Europe.

But this is all a distant memory.

Fourteen failed seasons reduced Mr Johnstone's farm to a dust bowl where even the weeds struggle to take root.

One hundred-year-old gums have dropped their foliage, leaving their twisted branches to scratch at an empty sky.

Of Mr Johnstone's 500-head herd, only 33 remain. The rest were sold to the meatworks.

"It is like a bushfire has been through place," he said.

"The herd has been burnt out, and my cattle do not exist anymore because the meatworks killed them all.

"Calves that were meant to grow into breeders went down the gurgler."

Mr Johnstone sold about 300 head in one hit last year. While sad at the time he said the truly crushing blow came a few months back when he sold his favourite bull.

"I stood in the agent's counter and cried tears of blood," Mr Johnstone said.

"I am 82-year-old man. Kids cry, not old men but when things like that happened what can you do?"


Mr Johnstone's herd will never recover.

Studs across the country have de-stocked at a record rate so even if the rains return breeding females will be expensive and near impossible to source.

Data from Meat and Livestock Australia shows the female kill rate is at its highest, making up 54 per cent of animals processed at meatworks.

In a standard year this would be as low as 30 per cent. At this rate it would take multiple seasons to revive the national herd's breeding capacity.



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University of Southern Queensland climate scientist Roger Stone forecasts the Darling Downs pastures would remain empty through summer. "We know from crop and pasture simulation models that, given the soil types and soil moisture levels, antecedent rainfall and projected rainfall over the next three months, that the chances of getting at least median pasture growth for the Downs is about 20 per cent with our current seasonal climate pattern," he said.

There is some hope.

It took Allan Johnstone 40 years to build his 500-head herd took 40 years to build. The drought destroyed it in two years.
It took Allan Johnstone 40 years to build his 500-head herd took 40 years to build. The drought destroyed it in two years.

"At this stage just two ocean-atmosphere models are suggesting this drought pattern may demise during the late autumn or winter of 2020," Prof Stone said.

"If this pattern is going to properly break then that would also be its normal period for doing so."

This is all academic to Mr Johnstone, because his gut tells him the good seasons will never return.

"We have wrecked our environment," he said.

"We have allowed the planet to overheat and global warming is the biggest problem we have.

"It is irreversible. How can the rain systems return to normal when we have derailed our weather patterns?"

In the past 15 years Mr Johnstone watched politicians squabble over drought funding and farm allowances while avoiding the bigger issue of climate change.

"You must treat the cause of drought, not the symptoms, otherwise you are just putting a bandage on a sore that will not heal," he said.

Allan Johnstone’s remaining cattle are fed by hand.
Allan Johnstone’s remaining cattle are fed by hand.