August 20, 2019

‘Climate-change refugees’ quit mainland farming in search of greener pastures in Tasmania – ABC News

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This week, farmers in parts of western Queensland saw their stock drown and die from exposure in disastrous flood conditions which Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said will likely claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of cattle.

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The floods come after an extended period of drought, when many paddocks across the region were reduced to dust.

But for some farmers, these hellish conditions are a distant dream.

Rob and Sally McCreath quit mainland Australia to farm in Tasmania in 2016, where they foresaw an easier life.

They call themselves “climate-change refugees”.

Following suit

The McCreaths are far from the first producers to make the move.

Over the past four years, three young families from the Mallee region of Victoria have shifted their neighbouring operations 700 kilometres south.

“We are not the first, there are heaps who have come already,” Mr McCreath said.

“We’ve met dairy farmers from Victoria who moved here chasing reliable water.”

The couple first considered moving to Tasmania three years ago, after visiting friends Jill and David Raff on King Island in Bass Strait.

The Raffs used to own a cattle property at Miles in Queensland’s Western Downs, but after years of drought they sold up in 2016 and moved their Angus stud herd to the famously wet island.

During the visit, the McCreaths were struck by how relaxed their friends were and how much younger they looked.

“It was drought at home [in Queensland] and I was sitting in the back of the car as we drove around looking at the Raffs’ cattle,” Ms McCreath said.

“The cattle were happy, there was green grass and I started thinking to myself, ‘do we have to stay where we are?’

“Our children have grown up and we don’t have to stay in Queensland forever.”

The McCreaths sold their 1,000-hectare grain and cattle property at Felton in south-east Queensland later that year and moved to a property a quarter of the size in Deloraine in northern Tasmania.

Like the Raffs, they were sick of Queensland’s droughts and fearful of the impact of changing weather patterns on their operation.

“We were both worried about climate change, the long-term impacts and the projections for how things were going to become more difficult,” Mr McCreath said.

“The average annual rainfall where we were in Queensland was about 650 millilitres, here it is about 1,000.

“Because Tasmania’s an island stuck in the ocean, things tend to be a bit more reliable. It does have droughts, but I don’t think it is as variable as in Queensland.”

Lamb producers James and Lucy Peddie sold their property at Penshurst in western Victoria and relocated to northern Tasmania nearly four years ago.

“If our climate was going to change, our operation would have to as well, from sheep to cropping, and I’m an animal man not a machinery one,” Mr Peddie said.

“In our last summer, we spent over $100,000 on grain and we seemed to have our spring saved by just one or two rain events.

“It was happening more and more.”

On their three farms around the Hagley district, just 20 kilometres east of the McCreath property, the Peddies run a 7,500 prime lamb ewe flock and feed dairy heifers for live export to China and Russia.

“We have 100 millimetres more rain here in Tasmania and have secured a permit for a 750-megalitre dam, which we could not have done in Victoria,” Mr Peddie said.

The McCreaths had hoped to buy a working farm, but with so few on the market they bought a former forestry plantation.

Their newly-cleared farm was a blank slate, requiring brand new fences, laneways, troughs and yards.

Adjusting to new challenges

For the McCreaths, the first winter at their new home wasn’t easy.

To cope with the cold, they wore beanies and gloves inside their draughty weatherboard farmhouse.

They have since adapted to the colder climate and are revelling in their picturesque location.

“I like the environment, the amazing clean water which runs off the mountains, the clean air, the native forest — it’s just amazing,” Mr McCreath said.

Ms McCreath said she didn’t realise they would be living in a “foodie paradise”.

“We are in the centre of this massive variety of food that’s produced,” she said.

“We have dairies, wineries, truffles, a salmon farm and berries.

“It’s all just here and I can go 10 minutes in any direction and buy something straight from the farmer.”

Mr McCreath said the varied local produce also brought international visitors to their farming oasis.

“You can just see the boom in tourism,” he said.

“So many people come from overseas because it’s such a clean environment and that is partly why the food industry here is doing so well.

“It’s something that is really special about Tasmania and really needs looking after.”

Mr Peddie said their move south also brought challenges, but while the couple missed their friends, they had no regrets.

“I didn’t want to be 80, living in Victoria and regretting not having had the courage to move south when I had the chance,” he said.

“We’ve increased our flock by 1,000 ewes and reduced our debt by $600,000.

“I am a believer in climate change and we seem to be pretty consistently exceeding the most dire modelling. The move was a no-brainer.”

The McCreaths too stand by their decision to become Taswegians.

“We miss our friends up there but there’s just so much future down here for agriculture,” Ms McCreath said.

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline this Sunday or on iview.

Topics: rural, agriculture, disasters-and-accidents, drought, floods, climate-change, vic, australia, tas, deloraine-7304, qld, felton-4358, king-island-7256