Drought-Assistance for our farmers

Apr 11, 2018

With a quarter of the state now heavily effected by or experiencing conditions approaching drought the Government is stepping up its support.

The new Drought Transport Fund promises to aid NSW primary producers through tough dry conditions with the announcement of low-interest loans worth up to $20,000 accompanied by a two year interest and repayment free period.

Minister for Primary Industries and Nationals MLC, Niall Blair has provided eligible farmers with the opportunity to combat the severity of drought and minimise the impact on the livestock industry through the creation of the Drought Transport Fund.

The fund will be targeted towards allowing producers to transport quality fodder and water to affected areas or to transport livestock away from these areas for adjustment purposes.

“Farmers have told us they need this help and the NSW Government has heard them loud and clear,” Niall said.

“We know that more than a quarter of the state is struggling with drought or conditions approaching drought. Some of the worst hit areas are the Hunter, Central Tablelands, Central West and in the Far West of the state.

“Primary production is the lifeblood of the communities in these regions and when farmers are struggling, the whole community feels the impact.”

Drought has been an unfortunately prevalent feature of the NSW landscape and therefore in constant need of attention. Given this fact, the additional funds the NSW Government is offering coincide with a wider NSW Drought Strategy that includes funding for animal welfare, support for workers, a rural resiliency program and the Farm Innovation Fund.

The Farm Innovation Fund has approved over $200 million worth of low-interest loans to assist struggling farmers since its introduction in 2013 – with $54 million this financial year.

Minister Blair said he was also requesting weekly updates from the NSW Department for Primary Industries as farmers faced more tough conditions between now and the end of winter.

“Things will get worse once the cold weather hits and we won’t have the opportunity for pasture growth like what we would have had if we had an earlier break in March,” he said.

We think the time was right for this change – particularly as we’re heading into winter and we haven’t had that break,

“We’re hoping the two-year interest-free no payment period will be enough for things to turn for the better.”

Mr Blair said including water cartage was a priority after he heard about the extreme measures some farmers were taking to keep their stock and vegetable crops alive.

“Water cartage was something that was definitely a missing piece,” he said.

“We’ve seen some unusual circumstances, particularly in the Hunter – having water infrastructure on the farm is one thing and our Farm Innovation Fund did that but the lack of rainfall meant that water carting was something that was needed.

“We also want farmers that have spent generations building up their core genetics to be able to make sure that they can rebuild as quickly as possible with that genetic base once we do get the break.”

The state government abolished fodder and transport subsidies a few years ago because it drove the price up.

Mr Blair put the transport industry on notice and confirmed the government had researched transport costs and knew what was appropriate.

“We don’t want to see these funds disappearing into an increase in transport costs. We want to make sure they help those that need it and we will be monitoring the implementation as well,” he said.

“The processes we’ve got in place will hopefully not allow that to occur. That is not a criticism of the transport industry because we know they do it tough as well during a drought, we don’t want to see any rogue operators giving a bad name to the rest who do the right thing.”

Mr Blair urged struggling farmers to put their pride aside and access help.

“Farmers need to be thinking about what they will be doing through winter. Things aren’t getting any easier and we want to make sure people are thinking about what to do if we don’t get any sort of break, and in some cases if we do it may be a bit too late,” he said.

The introduction of the Combined Drought Indicator in March – which is part of the state government’s Enhanced Drought Information System – provides a real-time look at farming conditions across NSW to help farmers make evidence-based decisions.

An App will soon be released so farmers can easily access the information daily.

It collects rainfall, soil moisture and pasture growth data and combines it with meteorological, hydrological and agronomic definitions of drought to provide an official confirmation of farming conditions.

“The old tools we used just looked at rainfall and that hasn’t really worked over recent months,” Mr Blair said.