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Drought response coordinator visits Monaro

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Coordinator-General for the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency Shane Stone visited our region last Tuesday, meeting with local farmers, contractors and agronomists to discuss current farming conditions and drought measures available at the present time.

The aim of the meeting was to streamline drought funding and the processes of obtaining it, as well as discussing issues specific to the Monaro and its range of employees in the agricultural sector.

This information as well as information obtained in other regions visited by the team will be relayed back to Prime Minister Scott Morrison as feedback for future decisions and allocations of funding.

Alongside Mr Stone was local Regional Recovery Officer Chris Clark, and Policy Officer Clare D'Arcy.

Issues addressed by locals included the long-term process of acquiring funding and the amount of time it takes to complete forms and other paperwork, whilst running their business at the same time.

Currently there are 24 different drought relief measures available, and eligible farmers were encouraged by Mr Stone to use Rural Financial Counselling Services and other similar agencies to help access funding.

One particularly problematic drought relief scheme for locals has been the NSW Rural Assistance Authority's Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme.

With more struggles with water than any drought in recent memory, this scheme was not able to assist all eligible applicants, as it ran out of its allocated funding early and was closed May 14.

The need for funding of research and development related to drought and how it can be managed was also raised, with farmers hoping that once the drought breaks future issues with drought financially and on-farm will be easier to deal with.

With many producers sending stock on agistment or selling their stock to a currently strong market, stock numbers have been reduced across the area. Financial support for restocking and resowing paddocks was discussed and Mr Stone recognised the importance of helping producers return to full production post drought.

Groups like Monaro Farming Systems were praised for the assistance they have given to farmers over the course of the current drought, and how to best manage their property while not running at full capacity.

Two of the main strategies taken on from the MFS information are cluster fencing, to prevent losses from wild animals by erecting exclusion fencing around a group of farms, and containment feeding to allow as much regrowth as possible on pasture for when agisted stock return.

President of the Shearing Contractors; Association of Australia, local contractor and farmer Mick Schofield attended the meeting, addressing issues related to shearing as part of Australian agriculture.

“From a contracting point of view, there will be a shortage of work, which means staff have no work or need work to fill in, which won't be easy to come by,” said Mick on the effect of drought on stock numbers locally.

With shearing being classified as casual work, Mick and other contractors can struggle to retain workers and when stock numbers increase again, and with shearing not being classified as a trade, shearers can struggle to get loans and have other financial difficulties as work can be irregular.

“The Government has to recognise that we are a vital part of Australian agriculture."

Mick was pleased with Mr Stone's approachability and willingness to listen to local concerns.

“He has policies to guide the government in the right direction to help people through these tough times. These plans are in place now and into the future.”

South East Local Land Services Local Manager Luke Pope was also in attendance, and he pointed out a range of positives from the meeting.

“It's always good to see politicians interacting with people in the region, especially when the Monaro is doing it so tough,” said Luke following Tuesday's meeting.

He also pointed out other positive outcomes of drought programs addressed at the meeting, such as rural financial assistance, the appointment of a local Recovery Officer and the offering of the NSW Government to pay farmers' LLS rates during drought.

“The continuing funding that the Commonwealth is giving to Rural Financial Counselling Services is so valuable to people in our region,” Luke said.

“Although we've recently seen some rainfall which has brought hope to some, there are still many parts of the nation who have had little or no rain at all. On top of this, bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic have brought new challenges and stresses. It's important that we understand how these events impact specific regions so that we can come up with the best way to support their recovery,” said Mr Stone on the reason for his travels, particularly to areas doing it toughest like the Monaro.

“We know from our travels that people want someone to talk to, someone they trust and who they know will listen, and help them connect quickly with the right government and private sector organisations to assist with their recovery. They want someone who will stick around for the many years it will take for their communities and their region to recover. That's why we spend a lot of time on the road.

“Our experience has taught us that the best solutions are informed by the people who will benefit from them.

“My agency works with communities, farmers, local councils, charities and other Government agencies to develop locally-led solutions.”

For more information about what drought support you may be eligible for, please contact your local Rural Financial Counsellor, Louise Fletcher 0429 028 307, or visit www.droughthub.nsw.gov.au for an overview of drought funding measures, farm advice and health and wellbeing assistance.

You can also contact Chris Clark, the Drought and Flood Agency’s Regional Recovery Officer for South East NSW on 0409 664 034 or by emailing RROengagement@pmc.gov.au

The story was published by The Monaro Post on 24 June 2020.