Well, it’s now official, every single square kilometre of the Northern Tablelands is now drought affected, with most experiencing what is described by the NSW Department of Primary Industries as “intense drought”.
Over the weekend, I spent time touring many properties around Inverell and Glen Innes, speaking with farmers and their families, talking, listening and taking in the heartbreaking situation. For me, it brought back vivid and terrible childhood memories of the drought in the early 1990s when, on the land near Curlewis, I remember helping my father handfeed cattle every day for what seemed like years. Then came the horrifying moments, when poor stock had to be shot, dragged off and buried.
Those were tough times, but the current drought is far, far worse and people in our region and right across the State need more help – from governments, banks and anywhere they can get it.
Many old timers have told me over the last few weeks that this is the worst drought they have ever lived through, and I can believe that. Unlike previous ‘big dry’ times, almost all the State’s fodder reserves have been depleted, and pretty soon, there’ll be nothing left on the eastern seaboard. Bringing in cotton seed, hay and other feedstock is now getting more and more expensive, prohibitive in some cases, as it has to be sourced now from South Australia and even further.
But it’s not just graziers that are being squeezed, croppers have largely missed their planting windows and those that did plant now see paddocks with very little to excite them. Our local small businesses that supply and rely on our agricultural sector are now feeling the pinch too, as spending rapidly contracts.
The knock-on effect is obvious. Grain products not only make up the staple Australian diet but are used to feed livestock. A shortage will cause grain prices to soar and stress every single agricultural industry.
The current government drought assistance packages, both State and Federal, have been taken up with gusto and very well subscribed and the extra $284 million in the recent NSW Budget was a big help, but I’ll put up my hand today and say that a hell of a lot more needs to be done.
This model of assistance is no longer sustainable given we are facing a drought unlike anything many have seen before. We need to step up, look around, and find a way to keep primary producers afloat and in the game until it comes good again.
I’ve spoken with just about every expert and experienced farmers in our region and I’m really worried because I know that conditions are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
We’re all in dangerous territory now – and that’s why I’m calling on State and federal governments to act now, step up and provide more assistance to our farmers immediately.
The reintroduction of freight subsidies is a must – everyone is talking to me about now that conditions have dramatically worsened and they are right. A reduction or temporary suspension of government department, including Local Lands Services, rates, fees and charges would help a lot too, but why not be innovative and do something governments have never done before? Nothing should be considered to be ‘off the table’.
Perhaps there is a way to bring over fodder from Western Australia and other states in bulk to NSW and create a distribution network for NSW farmers. Let’s get the hay and other feedstock closer to those in drought so they can actually use the funds we’ve put on the table to get more than just one truckload of hay at a time.
Yes, it’s unprecedented, but so is the severity of this drought.
This issue, this desperate and debilitating drought, is a personal one for me and I’ll do everything I possibly can over the coming days and weeks to get extra support for our farmers – and I ask everyone to help me in that cause and help those who are doing it hard.