Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dust Storm Creates Havoc for Farmers

Sydney Morning Herald
September 23, 2009

Farms are losing valuable topsoil in a rare dust storm across NSW and southern Queensland that has also raised concerns about an increase in carbon emissions.

Winds up to 90 km/h have rolled through most of NSW, beginning on Tuesday in the state's far west and hitting the eastern half of the state by Wednesday morning.

An orange haze filled the skies, prompting health authorities to issue warnings to pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with chronic respiratory problems.

Dr Stephen Cattle, a soil scientist and dust expert at the University of Sydney, says nutrient-rich topsoil has been blown off NSW farming properties, causing more damage to already drought-stricken areas.

"They're looking at a loss in the potential productivity of their topsoil basically," Dr Cattle told AAP.

"They're losing part of their resource of their land and it's not something that is easily restored."

The effect on future crop yields and grazing lands was not the only damage caused by the rare weather system.

"That's a problem because that (the topsoil) is where most of our organic carbon is stored and carbon is a big issue in terms of emissions and sequestering carbon," Dr Cattle said.

Dust storms are a rare sight in major cities, but NSW Farmers Association president Charles Armstrong said they were a normal part of life for farmers, and the extent of Wednesday's dust storms demonstrated the severity of the drought.

Mr Armstrong said 65 per cent of the state was drought affected, labelling it "a dire situation for our farmers".

"This dust storm acts as a reminder to us all of the nature and extent of the drought, which continues to affect our farmers and communities," Mr Armstrong said in a statement.

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