Drought employment program stronger than weeds

By Country News

The Drought Employment Program has continued to run across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, and Benalla orchardist Brett Fleming said the program came along at the right time.

“I needed to find work to supplement my income from the orchard and this was ideal,” Mr Fleming said.

“I have learnt new skills and also been able to put my industry knowledge to good use.”

Mr Fleming has been working at Winton Wetlands, near Lake Mokoan, eradicating weeds and building corridors for native fauna.

“My supervisor sets me a task in the morning and I get the job done without coming across too many people,” he said.

The DEP is a Victorian Government initiative designed to provide off-farm employment for agribusiness workers affected by dry conditions, delivered by the Goulburn Broken and North Central catchment management authorities.

Goulburn Broken CMA riparian and river manager Dylan McWhinney said all work was undertaken with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

He said the project involved host agencies such as Greater Shepparton City Council and Parks Victoria, "but the CMA is responsible for the occupational health and safety of the workers”.

“We’re staying right up-to-date with the COVID-19 work requirements and making sure the participants and community are safe.”

Mr McWhinney said Mr Fleming was typical of many agribusiness workers in need of off-farm income right now.

“The incomes of many people in the agricultural sector have dried up due to the the price and allocation of water so they’re unable to run their businesses the way they would ordinarily.”

He said the program had already delivered significant gains for the environment.

“The participants have been busy removing invasive plants from river frontages and building nest boxes for threatened birds.

“The nature of the program is to deliver outcomes that benefit the environment and the community.”