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Agency wraps up tour of drought affected regions in Tasmania

Keith Breheny, Rob Churchill, Shane Stone, Debbie Wisby, David Galvin, Annie Browning, Jenny Woods, Jess Huntley
Monday, February 24, 2020

Drought Coordinator-General Shane Stone, Advisory Board member David Galvin and Agency staff touched down in Tassie last week. Visiting drought affected regions in the east, driving from Hobart to Triabunna, St Helens and Launceston.

The team stopped by Pressing Matters Winery in Tea Tree, run by Greg and Michelle Melick. Greg and Michelle say these are the driest conditions they have ever experienced, but infrastructure that gives them access to town water is keeping their vines alive.

Shane and the team met with Ian McMichael, Nick Goddard, and Darren Thurlow from RAW - Rural Alive & Well to talk about the community and home-based support they provide to rural and regional families and workplaces.

The team also met with Glamorgan Spring Bay Council, one of two Tasmanian Local Government Areas to receive Drought Communities Programme funding due to their severe rainfall deficiencies and substantial agricultural workforce. Mayor Debbie Wisby said the $1 million in Australian Government funding to date (with a further $1 million to come) makes a huge difference in helping people to get out and about and enjoy the community. Some of the funding was used in Swansea to build a Men’s Shed and a re-use shop which repairs broken goods for re-sale.

The trip continued through to Cranbrook where the team spoke to farmers from the East Coast Primary Producers Association about using low-interest loans available through the Regional Investment Corporation. Together we discussed the challenges the farmers were having regarding access to feed, adequate pumping stations and exclusion fencing.

In discussions with Break O'Day Council the team heard about the projects they undertook with the first $1 million of their Drought Communities Programme (DCP) funding. The council used the Australian Government funding to revitalise public spaces and boost local employment opportunities in the Fingal Valley by contracting local labour to update the streetscape and construct new community buildings. We’re told these DCP projects have also had flow on effects for the community – tourists who usually drive straight through Fingal are now stopping for a coffee or to stay for the night. Break O’Day Council is eligible to apply for another $1 million in DCP funding this year.

In Launceston, Coordinator-General Shane Stone and the team met with Andrew Kneebone, CEO of Tasmanian Irrigation, TI manages 16 irrigation schemes with a combined capacity of 154,000 mega litres across the state. Andrew told us that without irrigation water, properties in the Southern Midlands, would be as dry as outback NSW.

The group also stopped by to chat with Rural Financial Counsellor Roly Chugg from Rural Business Tasmania. RBT support around 30 Tasmanian farmers affected by the drought. Roly helps his clients to gain a better understanding of their financial position and identify business risks and opportunities.

Finally they visited Aeon Tasmania Feedlot, the largest in the state, which is currently running 9,500 black Angus cattle. Managing Director Andrew Thompson said they mix potato by-product into their grain and roughage and keep their cattle undercover for the last 50 days – which results in about 1.6 kg of weight gain per day.

Shane and the team were impressed by the diverse and innovative business and operational strategies seen on this trip, and will look to apply their learnings on a national level.