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Drought declared in nearly 80 percent of Queensland, Australia

  |   March 7, 2014 at 4:33 PM
BRISBANE, Australia, March 7 (UPI) -- Nearly 80 percent of Australia's Queensland state has been declared drought-stricken -- the largest area the state has ever that parched, officials said.

Thirty-eight of the state's shires have full drought conditions, including large sections of the Queensland coast, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Friday.

"It's really only that coastal strip of Queensland of roughly Rockhampton through to Cape that is not in drought, bar[ing] some other small locations around the state, so that does confirm that this is a more significant drought event than Queensland has ever seen before," said Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh.

"The wet season in these newly declared shires has been very poor with many areas missing out altogether. February, normally one of the wettest times of the year, has been particularly dry," McVeigh said. "The Burnett and coastal areas from Gladstone to Caboolture have not received any useful rain since Cyclone Oswald. Darling Downs shires have also had a very hard summer, with a well below average dryland crop that failed for many producers, and to date no rain for winter crop planting."

For farmers, drought declarations mean they are eligible for Queensland's Drought Relief Assistance Scheme, or DRAS, including fodder and water assistance.

"What we have at the moment is a situation, in Bundaberg and Isis, further south into Maryborough, where we have dams full of water but growers have decided to turn off the pumps because they simply can't afford the energy bills," said Canegrowers CEO Brendan Stewart. "So today's announcement from the minister is certainly going to help and that is the sort of announcement we have been looking for."

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