‘Big Dry’ turns farms into deserts

In the once-lush fields of South Australia, on land that borders the state’s world famous Lower Lakes, farmer Nigel Treloar rounds up the herd with the help of his off-road motorbike.

It is one of the few things that has got easier as a result of Australia’s worst drought in 100 years.

That is because he used to have 800 cows and now he only milks 250. There is not enough irrigation water from the nearby lakes to sustain a bigger herd.

Nigel took me to nearby Lake Albert, to what used to be a vast expanse of water. But now its waters have receded and much of it resembles a moonscape.

The pump and pipeline that once irrigated his land now lie in the open-air rather than underwater. He has been chasing the retreating water and has been losing the race.

“We’d be up to our waist in water here and it would be navigable,” Nigel told me, after we had walked out 100 metres from what used to be the shoreline.

“You could come out here with boats. All the fishermen would be up and down with their fishing gear and pulling in the catch.”

“But this is the middle of winter and it looks like a desert.”

There are puddles of water but they are brown-tinged and unwelcoming. The cows will not drink it. So high is the salt content that it stings and burns their mouths.

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