Farmers told to not self assess for assistance

NSW Farmers Association vice president Chris Groves. Photo: Andrew Fisher
NSW Farmers Association vice president Chris Groves. Photo: Andrew Fisher

Despite some relieving rain over the past few days, for the man on the land, conditions are as bad as we've seen in a generation.

A record dry and little prospect of a crop in 2020 is the stark reality for farmers unless we see more substantial rainfall over a prolonged period.

Despite the short term gloom help is available and NSW Farmers Association vice president Chris Groves who runs a mixed farming enterprise between Cowra and Canowindra says the agricultural sector needs to actively seek this help.

He warns, however, farmers not to self assess when it comes to seeking assistance, assistance he says offers hope and is allowing many farmers to prepare for a return to profitable conditions.

"The freight subsidy for fodder is a great initiative," Mr Groves said.

"There is also the very good initiative where farmers are getting a 25 per cent grant on any money they spend on water infrastructure.

"Even in this district we've had to spend a lot of money on changing our water infrastructure because there is simply no ground water whatsoever.

"Water levels aren't as low as they were in some of the earlier droughts but we've been much more responsible in the early stages, we're managing water pretty well but this is as dry as it gets, the soil moisture probes are all reading zero.

"We really need a big dose of rain just to fill the profile up to get us to a starting point for the cropping season.

"But don't self assess when it comes to seeking assistance, don't say there is nothing for me.

"There is something for nearly every farming family. For every farming operation, there is some form of assistance available.

"Don't rule yourself out, it is worth going through the process.

"Go to the Rural Assistance Authority website that's a good starting point.

"There's a lot of information on the web.

"At the Department of Agriculture drought hub there's all sorts of things listed.

"If you're in severe financial trouble we still have a Rural Financial Counselling Service.

Locally counsellors are also based in Young, Wagga Wagga and Yass.

As for suggestions farmers should have been better prepared Mr Groves said it was simply impossible to store enough feed and have infrastructure in place.

"Government is very big on being prepared for drought but I say to them all of the time don't talk to me about being prepared. No no one can be prepared for what we are going through now," he said.

"No one can possibly have enough fodder stored to feed their stock or their water systems ready to face and stand up to what we are going through at the moment."

Before the sector can regain its footing, along with rain, Mr Groves says dialogue needs to continue between the farming community and government.

"There are areas in the west Forbes, Parkes, they haven't had a crop for three, even five years in places," Mr Groves said.

"2016 was their last crop and it wasn't real good because it became water logged, previous to that for an average year you go back to something like 2010.

"It's hard, I hate talking about drawing lines on a map where someone on one side can get assistance and the fellow on the other side cannot, but it has to be fair, it has to be equitable.

"There are groups and committee working on this all of the time, trying to work out the best way to get equitable assistance to the farming community.

"Family household support is also available to just about everybody now because we've seen years of income deficit."

In the year ahead Mr Groves sees cash flow as a major issue.

"Cash flow around the state is going to be at crisis point because people need a lot of money to put a crop in," he said.

"2019 harvest was virtually non existent, 2018 was very lean and really it's the sheep industry that is keeping farmers going. There is going to have to be a real confidence boosting rain before anyone is prepared to spend the money.

"No one is going to go on a whim this year and spend money to sow a crop if they don't think there is going to be decent rainfall. To the west they're going to need above average rainfall to get anywhere because the soil is just so dry, the profiles are empty."

Aside from the need for rain Mr Groves said farmers need governments to continue to listen.

'The current situation, it's a moving feast, changing all of the time," he said.

"I've mentioned the cropping scenario, if the situation gets worse and we don't have a reasonable year in 2020 it'll be the livestock industry in strife as well.

"People just won't have enough money to maintain core breeding stock. The government has to realise we are looking at a situation that we have never seen in this country before where we won't have anything to export.

"Government needs to listen and we need to keep talking and have open dialogue about what will help. We are in the situation at the moment where money for cropping is very important but there are the day to day costs, the ongoing things like council rate relief, everyday costs.

"Kids in the western division still have to be sent to school, they need to be educated, there are a lot of (expenses) that just keep coming up.

"There are big decisions being made every day, livestock numbers, fodder, water, putting the farming community under intense pressure that we haven't experienced before. We are in completely uncharted territory," Mr Groves said.