Drought bites

By Country News

Farmers desperate for autumn rain to keep alive their cattle, flocks and crops are struggling in the dry heat of a drought which is affecting a third of NSW.

The NSW Government announced a drought transport fund last week to assist eligible farmers pay freight costs for feed and water or to move stock to agistment.

They will be able to access a two-year interest and repayment-free period for loans of up to $20000.

Anto White, who runs an 1100-head cattle farm near Scone in the Hunter region, said it could cost hundreds of dollars to transport just one cow to an area with enough feed.

He runs the farm with his brother Peter, and they have already had to sell about 900 calves and cows due to the drought.

‘‘Farmers need more than that ($20000) — that’s not going to help them,’’ he said.

‘‘For a family to survive here would need at least 200 cows.’’

NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said the funding would assist in the better management of breeding stock to ensure a rapid recovery of herds and flocks when conditions improve.

He said the Hunter, Central Tablelands, central-west and far-west regions were the areas most affected by drought.

The NSW Farmers Association has welcomed the low-interest relief package, but said it was vital the approvals were not slowed down by unnecessary administrative processes.

‘‘It will be important these loans will be available over the long-term,’’ a spokesperson said.

Mr White said longer-term the government had to build more infrastructure, including dams — rather than just a one-off loan of $20000.

‘‘The politicians need to come and have a look at it — they don’t understand and they have no idea.’’

The Bureau of Meteorology says the first three months of 2018 have been the driest first quarter since 1986.

The drought transport fund complements the wider NSW drought strategy that includes counselling and the rural resilience program.