Australia’s largest pastoral company says it has lost thousands of cattle in unprecedented flooding, including almost 30,000 head on one of its Gulf of Carpentaria stations alone.
The Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) runs more than half a million cattle across 24 stations and feedlots in Queensland and the Northern Territory to breed and fatten stock for export consumption.
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In a statement to the Australia Stock Exchange, AACo said its 2,500 square kilometre Wondoola station, 130km south of Normanton, had experiencing its highest flood levels ever, forcing the evacuation of station staff from the property as water rose to the eaves of buildings.
The property is located between the Flinders and Saxby Rivers, where breeding cattle usually graze the floodplain grasses that naturally grow after a wet season.
Last week, the Flinders River broke both its banks, and its rainfall records, when hundreds of millimetres of rain fell within several days, upstream of the station.
AACo managing director, Hugh Killen, said the losses of cows and calves had been extreme.
“Wondoola is at the epicentre of flooding in the Gulf right now, as the station is in the deepest and widest part of the impacted area,” Mr Killen said.
“We’ll have to see what happens over the coming days and weeks, but it looks grim for those cattle.”
Large stock losses have been recorded across the company’s other gulf stations: Canobie, Dalgonally, and Carrum.
Mr Killen said those three properties had a herd of approximately 50,000 head of mainly composite cows and their calves and were expected to sustain lower but still material losses.
“We haven’t disclosed the breakdown of numbers across those three properties, but it’s been a pretty tough one on Dalgonally,” he said.
“Unlike Wondoola, the water came up to our buildings at Dalgonally but not through them, so we haven’t had inundation on our infrastructure.”
With staff from Wondoola Station, as well as nearby Canobie, Dalgonally, and Curram safe, Mr Killen said attention would now turn to keeping remaining cattle alive.
“Prior to the flood we had in place a significant number of helicopters and fodder on hand, so we could get into the area early on and fodder out to cattle,” he said.
In the statement to the stock exchange AACo said that its losses were significant and that the overall impact on the company’s financial earnings was expected to be material, and management would work through an evaluation of the situation.
It also said the current operating conditions were not expected to affect the company’s ability to fulfil its supply obligations or the rollout of its branded beef strategy, which would continue to be a key focus.
Stock losses ‘won’t define us’, says AACo boss
Mr Killen said the closure of its abattoir in the Northern Territory last year had put the company in a better position to withstand the current crisis.
“That was an asset that was challenging for us, so not having to focus on that means we are able to focus on the issue we have on hand,” he said.
“While this tragedy that’s unfolding in the Gulf is going to have an impact on the company, it won’t define us.”
Mr Killen said the conduct of the company’s staff during this disaster had been inspiring.
“To get up there and see the way those guys are reacting to something that is not only very dangerous to their livelihoods, but the fortitude and stoicism is quite extraordinary,” he said.
“It’s also overwhelming to see the support we have received from our neighbours and the community.
“As soon as we get ourselves cleaned up we will be helping people around us.”
The loss of cattle in the wider Gulf region was expected to be as high as 300,000 head.