Snowfall event across regional NSW leaves lambs dead but orchards ready for strong spring
Joanna Woodburn, Lauren Pezet and Donal Sheil, Tue 13 Aug 2019
As weekend snow melts away across regional New South Wales, farmers and agriculture experts are assessing the pros and cons of the freezing weather conditions on their land and livestock.
Snowfall blanketed towns across the state, with Orange receiving 25 centimetres, Barrington five centimetres and Lithgow 12 centimetres.
The subzero conditions contributed to lost lambs in the central-west, while an orchardist on the south-west slopes said the falls would put them in good stead for a fruitful spring.
With the novelty and social media frenzy of freshly fallen snow over, agronomist Rachel Rummery said the environmental benefits would have lasting benefits for the soil.
"Rain and snow both absorb nitrogen as they come through the atmosphere [and] they allow that to settle on the ground," she said.
Ms Rummery said the latest snowfall would help farmers battling the big dry stay optimistic heading into spring, because one centimetre of melted snow was equivalent to a millimetre of rain.
"The big advantage of snow is that it all soaks in; not a drop runs off," she explained.
"It won't make any difference to dam levels, but it will make a difference to soil moisture levels."
She said corners of the countryside that seldom enjoyed healthy rainfall absorption were the winners when snow fell.
"[On] the tops of hills and slopes [where] often any moisture would run off, particularly in a drought when you don't have much ground cover, this will just settle and all soak in," she said.
"It lifts your spirits because you've got a cold front that's come through and dumped snow on the ground, and you think 'yeah, spring is going to be better'."
Protecting lambs and livestock
Despite the rich chemical cocktail delivered to the soil by snowfall, the freezing winds that often accompany it are a common killer of young lambs.
Last weekend was no exception as the small village of Lyndhurst, south of Orange, enjoyed upwards of 40 centimetres of snowfall.
Sheep grazier David Kingham was warned of the worsening weather conditions early, and moved his flock to a sheltered paddock.
It did not stop some livestock loss but he said it could have been worse.
"Out of 800 lambing ewes, [we] probably lost 20 lambs," Mr Kingham said.
"We could've easily lost more, if we hadn't have had that sheep graziers alert.
"Hadn't they been in the best possible sheltered paddocks, we could've lost every lamb that was born."
The benefits of snowfall go hand-in hand-with the pitfalls for Mr Kingham.
"It's just a tonic for the grass, it's wonderful really," he said.
"We've still got a drought as far as grass goes, but we're green, so the sheep have got something, which is a massive improvement over bare soil."
Not all cold conditions welcomed
Lamb deaths during freezing weather events are all too common for NSW Farmers' Association Orange branch chairman Bruce Reynolds.
He said early action from farmers was vital to manage stock losses.
"Some producers do shear in winter, and it's a reminder that if producers are shearing, they seek paddocks for those sheep that have been shorn in the past few days so they're protected from the wind," he said.
Mr Reynolds said the boost to soil moisture from recent snow was invaluable given the devastating impact night-time frost had on topsoil dampness.
"You're losing probably three or four millimetres a day at least of moisture out of that ground as the frost draws the moisture out of the ground," he said.
Snowfall prepares apple orchards for productive spring
Apple grower Ralph Wilson welcomed the four centimetres of snow that fell on his Batlow orchard on the south-west slopes of the state.
"Cold weather is what we want for apples and cherries during winter because that sets the tree up for spring," he said.
"We get a really good blossom after all the cold weather."
Mr Wilson said after a warmer-than-usual winter, this latest fall was one of the best he had ever seen, praising the soil benefits of the fresh snow.
"It soaks down into the land, so you fill up your soil profile, and we end up with a very good start to spring because of a fall like this," he said.
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