Farmers forgotten

Mitchell, Murrindindi and Mansfield left off drought list
North East & Goulburn-Murray Farmer
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“We need help – it’s as dry here as anywhere else.”

So said Mansfield farmer James Tehan, responding to news that Mansfield, Murrindindi and Mitchell shires were the only three in the North East not automatically eligible for drought support.

Mr Tehan, who is president of his local Victorian Farmers Federation branch, said the region had unfairly been labelled as immune from the current season following rain late last year.

“We got between 60-80 ml’s in December in a storm, but it did more damage than good because it destroyed any feed we had on the ground,” Mr Tehan explained.

“But that would have gone into some formula somewhere – and someone has said we now don’t need help.”

Back in September, the North East and Goulburn Murray Farmer ran a front page story saying the region had been spared the worst, with small falls in September backed up by the end of year rain.

Since then, though, only 7ml of rain has been received.

The paddocks, which were green and full of promise just five months ago, are now bare dirt – the flush of new growth disappearing without follow up.

Stock, previously earmarked for future breeding, has been sold off as producers tighten numbers where they can.

“2006/07 was the worst previous drought for us,” Mr Tehan said.

“But it broke in mid-April – this has been prolonged.

“The later it gets, the less growth we will get – we really needed rain a month ago.”

Mr Tehan has spoken to his local council, to DELWP and to other government departments about helping farmers across the board – but said responses were hard to come by.

“Every person you speak to passes you onto someone else – you write emails, leave messages, make phone calls – no one gets back to you,” he said.

“If we get to June without rain there is no doubt some farmers won’t make it.”

Across the mountain and Cameron Barnes, who runs Angus cattle on 700 acres near Rubicon, said the red tape made accessing support a nightmare.

Mr Barnes bought his property just 18 months ago, intending to renovate pastures and infrastructure to complement his other farming interests at Narbethong.

Using the dry to his advantage, he wanted to plant trees in the eroded gullies – and asked for assistance in purchasing tube stock.

That’s when he ran into government red tape.

“It’s totally unfair,” Mr Barnes said.

“They just pass you onto another division, and then another division.

“This farming business is 24/7, and I’m feeding out every second day – but when I want help it’s not there.

“They put too many obstacles in my road.”

According to Agriculture Victoria, shires eligible for help include Alpine, Benalla, Buloke, Campaspe, Gannawarra, Greater Bendigo, Greater Shepparton, Hindmarsh, Horsham, Indigo, Loddon, Mildura, Moira, Northern Grampians, Strathbogie, Swan Hill, Towong, Wangaratta, Wodonga, Yarriambiack – despite some areas receiving up to 40ml in March.

However, a spokesperson said there was help available for those farmers who really needed it.

“When determining drought support eligibility, we take into account a range of social, economic and climatic conditions, as well as the impact of seasonal conditions on agricultural business and regional communities,” the spokesperson said.

“The On-Farm Drought Infrastructure Support grant is being provided to shires in north and north west Victoria to encourage increased drought preparedness.

“All the eligible shires experienced very much below average rainfall in 2018, and/or high temporary water prices for irrigators in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District placing pressure on farmers, particularly dairy farmers, and increasing financial stress because of dry conditions and high costs for feed.”

In addition to targeted support, Agriculture Victoria provides a range of options to all farmers to ensure they can prepare for drought and dry conditions.

These include:

  • Workshops and other technical support services for farmers to help them prepare and respond to seasonal conditions. Information on upcoming seminars and webinars are available at http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farm-management/farmer-workshops.
  • Rural Financial Counselling Service provides free financial counselling to primary producers, fishers and small rural businesses who are experiencing financial hardship.
  • Farm Household Allowance (Commonwealth) provides income support for eligible farm businesses experiencing financial hardship.
  • Farm Management Deposits (Commonwealth) allows eligible primary producers to set aside pre-tax income from primary production in years of high income, which they can draw on in future years when they need it; and
  • Commonwealth Concessional Loans (Commonwealth) are available for drought and farm investment and are delivered by the new Regional Investment Corporation.

For more information on government support, go to http://agriculture.vic.gov.au

More farming news and stories can be read in the May, 2019 print edition of North East & Goulburn-Murray Farmer or click here to access digital editions.