The Upper Hunter and Lower Hunter are in drought

Dear Niall Blair, the NSW Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Water

I am writing on behalf of the farmers of the Hunter Valley who are on their knees.

The drought – and let’s not mince words, we’re not talking about a “dry period” here, it’s a drought all right – is sending Hunter farmers to the wall.

One old timer this week described it as the worst in 50 years. He said the last time he experienced anything like it was back in the late 1960s when his farm was a “dustbowl”.

Something needs to be done – and it’s your portfolio. So I’m writing to you for help.

Here’s the scenario. The Hunter River is so low that salinity levels are through the roof. If farmers use the water to irrigate, it will be a death-knell for their land.

Feeding stock is becoming increasingly difficult. Pastures are dry and barren, cattle are hungry. In the past farmers have been able to buy in hay to see them through difficult times.

Not any more. The Hunter is virtually sold out. What hay there is being stockpiled by farmers who would love to help others, but just can’t.This means hay has to come from outside the region, in most cases interstate.

But at $20,000 to $30,000 for a large truckload, it’s a costly exercise. The truth is it’s out of the reach of most farmers.

The buzz word in government is to “drought-proof” farms … whatever that means. These people aren’t fools. In most cases they’ve been living off the land for generations. There are no  “drought proofing” measures they haven’t embraced. When it doesn’t rain, it just doesn’t rain. Even the best laid plans are worth nothing when your land is turning to dust.

So we see farmers selling off cattle at heart-breaking prices, or locked into borrowing arrangements that can only end badly.

How about the story today of the farmer who, by long-term agreement, will receive 10,000 cabbage seedlings a fortnight over the next 12 weeks. That’s 60,000 cabbages – and no water.

The Hunter is a food bowl and needs help. In the Upper Hunter the situation is even worse. Some rate it as their worst drought in 100 years.

Please Mr Blair, we’re not exaggerating. We’re not a region that cries wolf. We’re coming up with some schemes that might help and hope to announce them next week.

We need your help. And we need it now.

Belinda-Jane Davis, journalist and farmer