There was a time, not so long ago, when our screens and news feeds were filled with images of emaciated cattle, dry and dusty pastures, dripping hay and drought calls.
Stories of devastation were everywhere, as farmers lost enough resources and rural communities struggled to survive.
Then came La Niña.
Three wet summers saw rising livestock prices, increased confidence in agriculture and record returns across commodities.
They have also seen problems of a different kind, as many farmers along the east coast of Australia have been devastated by floods.
So when is the right time to start talking about drought and preparing for it?
rainy year at all
While they celebrated the good season, one of Queensland’s oldest pastoral characteristics knows from its history books that a drought will soon follow.
Brisbane’s Mount Station, in the Somerset region, recorded 1,600mm of rain for 2022, up 130mm from the previous wettest year, 2010.
As a result, the terminal looks like a picture.
Weeds are awful, but the grass has never looked better [and] “The cattle have never looked better,” said owner Carly McConnell.
“We had a lot of damage from the floods in February  The rain eventually fixed and the place is back to normal now.
“I think we’re blessed every day that it’s wet.”
The previous record of 1,465mm of rain was set in 2010, resulting in the deadly 2011 Queensland floods.
“It was followed by some severe droughts,” she said.
“We’ve had our share of horrible droughts… I remember when we had to sell off all the bulls and leave the cows in the bull pens and how terrible it was for the stocks.”
Ms McConnell said the property has been keeping rainfall records since the Met Office began recording them in 1893.
“I’ve personally recorded it for 50 years,” she said.
She said her father always said there would be one good year in seven years, which then lead to the next drought
“I think that’s absolutely true,” she said.
“We’ll take this good year, but we know there are bad years just around the corner.”
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has updated its latest forecast, indicating that the current La Niña may be waning.
Preparations for drying out of the ring
Meanwhile, University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) is working on major projects to help those most vulnerable to drought.
Scott Bauer spent more than 20 years at the Met Office, where his job was to try to determine how the climate might change in the future.
Now working at UniSQ’s Center for Applied Climate Science, he’s taking a more proactive approach.
“We’re not just stopping to raise awareness of the problem, we’re actually doing everything we can to work with others to develop solutions,” said Professor Bauer.
The Queensland Government’s Drought and Climate Adaptation Program is currently funding three projects designed to help the grazing industry better manage drought and climate, improve weather forecasting, create alternative income sources and improve rangeland forecasting.
Stakeholders range from other universities, government departments, the UK Met Office and the Queensland Farmers Federation, among others.
“We collaborate because we want to try to maximize the likelihood that what will result from these projects will be beneficial to the intended beneficiaries,” he said.
Sell, sell, sell
Back at Mt Brisbane Station, the family is enjoying the good season, which combined with high livestock prices means they can upgrade their hay pens and other infrastructure and make water improvements.
“The main thing is to make sure your pastures are right… We did a lot of weed control [and] “We’re trying to level stocking rates to make sure nothing goes under the skin and that the whole country has a chance to resee,” Ms McConnell said.
The main takeaway from the recent drought, she said, was to sell out sooner.
“The feedlots were full and so we had to wait a month in one case to get the cattle in, so we had to start that earlier,” she said.
This time, she said, she didn’t expect it to “always rain”.
“It can be a heartbreaking streak [to tread]. “
Not if, but when
And the preparations do not end there.
Chartered Practicing Accountants (CPAs) in Australia have said that agricultural companies need to take some time to research the books before the next natural disaster strikes.
“But it’s not a question of whether there will be a drought, it’s a matter of when and how severe that drought will be,” said Gavan Ord, policy advisor for the CPA in Australia.
“The best time to prepare for a drought is before it actually happens.”
He said agribusiness can “rebound from crisis to crisis” and as droughts become more severe and more frequent, preparedness is key.
“You can manage that, and then you can come back quickly after the dehydration is over.”