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Australia: Drought breaking rain brings relief for NSW farmers

Drought-breaking rain has brought long-awaited relief to some farmers in western New South Wales.

Many areas stretching from the central west to the far north west have recorded soaking rain which has transformed bare paddocks into lush pastures and reinvigorated hopes of a winter harvest.

But others in the north west are still struggling after very little rain has fallen.

Phillip and Di Ridge hosted the Prime Minister Tony Abbott at their farm near Bourke as part of his tour of drought-ravaged areas in February.

Since then, they have recorded 200 millimetres at their property, which is more than half their annual rainfall.

“In two-and-a-half weeks we went from sheep being away on agistment and old ewes, very old ewes, starting to die here, to taking cattle on agistment and I don’t think you see that very often,” Mr Ridge said. 

Heavy rain has also allowed farmers to sow winter crops.

Barley, lupins and canola are already being planted in some parts of the state’s central west.

Gilgandra farmer Alan Smith has received 200 millimetres on his family’s farm in the past two months.

“The immediate pressure and that mental anguish of lack of water, lack of feed, lack of money is largely gone,” Mr Smith said.

“It’s probably one of the best autumn’s we’ve seen for many years so that will now allow us to start preparing ground, or start sowing winter crops from now on.” 

Farmers still struggling in the state’s north west

But the recovery is not widespread.

The rain has been sporadic and indiscriminate and many other farmers have missed out. 

David and Sue Hearn, who farm at Brewarrina in the state’s north west, are among those who still desperately need rain.

“It has been very expensive, extremely expensive especially when you haven’t had any income,” Sue Hearn said.

“We sort of haven’t had any income the last 12 months. 

“I think, you know, (it’s) mentally, physically and financially very, very demanding,” she said.

Government drought-assistance packages provide some relief for farmers but not everyone is eligible.

Bourke Rural Financial Counsellor John Beer says meeting the criteria can be challenging. 

“Any liquid assets which are cash, or shares over $11,000 mean that there’s often a waiting period before these payments start of up to 13 weeks,” Mr Beer said.

“So in many cases these farmers can’t access that money immediately.”

The value of David and Sue Hearn’s property means they are not eligible for certain drought relief. 

“If you’ve got that much assets it’s pretty well virtually impossible to get anything,” Ms Hearn said.

She says if it does not rain within the next two months they will have to consider selling their cattle.

“That means that we just shut up shop,” she said.

“There’s no income but hopefully it’ll rain and we can start joining our bulls and we can breed again.”

– Weatherzone/ABC


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