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Newcastle Herald

Can't sow, can't grow: 'Relentless' rain hurting Hunter farmers

Market farmer Austin Breiner lost a layer of topsoil in February, which destroyed a large portion of his crop. Picture: Simone De Peak

HUNTER vegetable growers say this year's "relentless" wet weather is the worst they have ever seen.

Matthew Dennis runs Nebo farm in East Maitland, selling more than 40 lines of vegetables to various restaurants, stockists and markets.

He said the farm is down a minimum of 70 per cent in production this year due to the weather.

"The carrots have all gone rotten from the rain, the swedes, the turnips," Mr Dennis said.

"We lost our eggplants that went underwater, they are all gone now. Our capsicums as well. We also had good tomatoes and they all went."

Chasing our tails: Matt Dennis with Millie the dog, crouching in an eggplant crop lost to rain at Nebo Farm, East Maitland. Picture: Simone De Peak

Most years when floods occur, Mr Dennis said, the wet weather is followed by a long enough period of sunshine to dry out the ground and re-plant the crop destroyed by water. He said this year's prolonged rainfall means it feels like "going in circles".

"It feels like we have been constantly chasing our tail," he said.

"There might be a few days of sun so you can get back in the paddock but then the rain starts again and the ground is too wet to drive on.

"Now is the time we need to re-sow but we can't get in the paddock."

Recent drilling at one of the Nebo properties showed soil moisture, which Mr Dennis said usually goes down about one metre, sitting at three metres.

Matthew Dennis runs Nebo farm in East Maitland and said he is down a minimum of 70 per cent in production this year due to the weather. Picture: Simone De Peak

As he walked along the flood levee that doubles as a road through his property, the 52-year-old farmer of more than 30 years said he has "never seen it this bad".

"This is the first year I've ever seen water seeping out of this bank," he said.

"I have talked to old second and third generation farmers down the road and they said the rain has never been this consistent for this long."

Nebo is selling fewer than half their usual number of vegetable boxes due to a lack of supply. Mr Dennis said he's making enough to survive but can "forget about earning any money".

As well as vegetable boxes, the farm sells through Earth Markets in Maitland and restaurant supplier Newcastle Greens.

Dylan Abdoo of Newcastle Greens said the "out of control" weather is the last thing the industry needs after years of COVID lockdowns. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Dylan Abdoo of Newcastle Greens, which supplies 80 restaurants a week between Newcastle and Canberra, said the "out of control" weather is the last thing the industry needs after years of COVID lockdowns.

"Everyone is back and begging for produce but we just can't meet demand," Mr Abdoo said.

"We could be expanding our business at the moment but we can't get enough stuff in the ground and we can't get enough staff.

"The weather forces animals like ducks, rats and water hens onto our crop so we are losing up to three quarters of what we sow at times."

Austin Breiner tending his farm in Oakhampton by hand. Picture: Simone De Peak

In Oakhampton, market farmer Austin Breiner lost a layer of topsoil in February, which destroyed most of his crop. Since then, he has only been able to re-sow a small portion due to the water-logged ground.

"There has been no proper crop this year. I've lost all the watermelons, most of the pumpkins. It's been a terrible year really," Mr Breiner said.

"I suspect there is going to be vegetable shortages coming into the late Winter and Spring."

A Maitland area resident of more than 80 years, Mr Breiner moved to his current property - an old gravel mine - in 2003. He said the ground has never been so wet for so long.

"Even when there are a few days in a row of dry weather and sun the ground is still seeping water," he said.

"It is hard but we'll get by. We always do get by. We are survivors."

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