The Maitland Mercury launches statewide petition to help farmers

DROUGHT: More than 98 per cent of NSW is in drought, or at the onset of drought, according to the state government's Combined Drought Indicator.
DROUGHT: More than 98 per cent of NSW is in drought, or at the onset of drought, according to the state government's Combined Drought Indicator.

It has been five months since the Mercury started the campaign to help Hunter farmers survive the drought.

And today we go one step further and launch a statewide petition – with the assistance of our sister mastheads from right across NSW.

The petition urges the state government to offer farmers relief on the cost of freight, fodder, water and Local Land Service rates as well as offer the collection of livestock genetics, and restocking/replanting loans after the drought breaks. 

The key figure is 10,000 signatures which would ensure a parliamentary debate on the issue. Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison will take the petition to parliament.

A Buy A Bale Hunter truck on its way to a farm

While that is a mammoth effort, the need for help continues to grow as water resources dry up across NSW and fodder supplies become critically low.

We are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Calls for help are flooding in from other areas of NSW too, and Buy A Bale has already delivered more than $200,000 worth of hay and the waiting list continues to grow. 

Since February the conditions in our region – despite recent rain, and across the state have dramatically declined.

Right now 62 per cent of the state is in drought or at the onset of drought.

That’s more than double what it was two months ago.

Take a look at the drought in April 2018 

DROUGHT: In April 2018 30.5 per cent of the state was in drought or at the onset of it and 63.6 per cent was flagged as borderline. Source: NSW Combined Drought Indicator.

DROUGHT: In April 2018 30.5 per cent of the state was in drought or at the onset of it and 63.6 per cent was flagged as borderline. Source: NSW Combined Drought Indicator.

Now, take a look at the drought in June 2018

DROUGHT MAP: The NSW Combined Indicator shows 99.3 per cent of the state is in drought, drought-onset, or is borderline.

DROUGHT MAP: The NSW Combined Indicator shows 99.3 per cent of the state is in drought, drought-onset, or is borderline.

Want a closer look? Zoom in on this interactive map

Click on the suns to reveal photos of what it’s like.

On top of that, 36.7 per cent is borderline and likely to dip into drought, given the current long-range forecast. 

In the Hunter 76 per cent of farms are in drought, or at the onset of drought – 16 per cent more than two months ago, and 23.8 per cent is classified as borderline. 

It’s abundantly clear our farmers need more help.

HELL ON EARTH: Farmers across NSW are struggling to survive the drought. Here's a look at some of the scenes from across the state.

HELL ON EARTH: Farmers across NSW are struggling to survive the drought. Here's a look at some of the scenes from across the state.

Mr Turnbull went on a drought listening tour of Dubbo, Narromine, Trangie and Queensland towns Blackhall, Charleville and Boulia this week. 

DROUGHT: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) with farmer Phillip Miles (left), his wife Ashley and their son Jack (front) during a visit to Strathmore Farm in Trangie on Monday.

DROUGHT: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) with farmer Phillip Miles (left), his wife Ashley and their son Jack (front) during a visit to Strathmore Farm in Trangie on Monday.

He also dropped into his own Upper Hunter property. 

Since our drought coverage started in February, the only new offer of help has been the $20,000 drought transport loans from the state government. These loans offered a two-year no interest and no repayment period. 

A lot of farmers told Fairfax Media the $20,000 wouldn’t last very long and they wanted a subsidy.

Even Mr Blair has said a lot of farmers talk about freight subsidies when he visits farms across the state. 

DROUGHT: NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair in an empty dam at Stroud during a farm tour in February 2018.

DROUGHT: NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair in an empty dam at Stroud during a farm tour in February 2018.

“We’re not ruling out any further changes or further assistance, we’re certainly mindful of the views that different people have because every farming business is different,” Mr Blair said during an interview in May.

Want to help?

NSW residents 

If you are a NSW resident fill out the form below to receive a copy of the petition and obtain signatures.  

Interstate supporters:

If you live in a state or territory other than NSW and would like to lend your support to this cause, fill out the form below.

You details will automatically be included in an electronic petition which will be given to the NSW government. This petition will not count towards the 10,000 paper signatures from NSW residents required for a parliamentary debate on the issue, but it will help to show the government that there is widespread support for this cause across Australia.

Why is this cause so important?

Parts of the Hunter, North West, Northern Tablelands, Central West, Western District, Central Tablelands, Greater Sydney and South East regions are in drought. 

Hay and grain are scarce across the state which has forced farmers to look to Queensland, Victoria and South Australia for supplies. Some farmers are even carting grain from Western Australia.

Hay supplies in Victoria are becoming harder to find as farmers there start stockpiling fodder to feed their livestock through winter. 

Take a look at this Upper Hunter paddock

The rising demand has pushed the price of lucerne hay up to more than $500 a tonne. That price has jumped $100 a tonne in the past two months.

Freight costs are thousands of dollars more than the price of the fodder.

 For instance, a load of 30 bales of hay from Victoria (near the NSW border) is $1500 and it costs around $6000 to bring it to the Hunter.

A manufacturer of livestock pellets in Manildra, between Orange and Parkes, is receiving 100 orders a day and customers have been asked to order six weeks in advance to ensure their supply. 

Hand feeding is the new normal

This farmer at Yeoval is spending $11,000 a week on calf pellets alone.

Huge numbers of cattle are moving through saleyards across the state.

Orange holds the record for the most cattle sold in a NSW sale after 11,368 of them moved through the yards in early May.

Normally that venue would only have about 2000 cattle at this time of year. 

SELLING: Cattle waiting to be sold at Scone Saleyards on February 6, 2018. Picture: Nick Bielby

SELLING: Cattle waiting to be sold at Scone Saleyards on February 6, 2018. Picture: Nick Bielby

Many cattle are being slaughtered as most farmers don’t have enough feed and water to add to their herd. 

A lot are breeding cows, which normally stay on a farm for several years producing calves.

Many of them boast genetics that have been built up over several decades.

BATTLING: Cattle leave Rachell and Arty Cox's place at Owen's Gap for agistment at Guyra in February. Sadly the feed ran out there too so they had to sell a lot of them in June.

BATTLING: Cattle leave Rachell and Arty Cox's place at Owen's Gap for agistment at Guyra in February. Sadly the feed ran out there too so they had to sell a lot of them in June.

Feeding core breeding stock through the drought – if the water supply holds – allows farmers to preserve the blood lines they have created.

Some farmers have resorted to Go Fund Me pages and Adopt a cow, or calf, fundraisers to try to keep their animals alive. 

CREATIVE THINKING: John Fairley is asking locals to 'adopt a cow' to help the farm at Picton get through the drought. Picture: Simon Bennett

CREATIVE THINKING: John Fairley is asking locals to 'adopt a cow' to help the farm at Picton get through the drought. Picture: Simon Bennett

The oversupply of cattle has put added pressure on abattoirs across the state and left many – including those in the Hunter – up to a month behind in their slaughter schedule. 

It is also bringing cattle prices down, which are governed by supply and demand. 

Prices at Scone saleyards have dropped 50 per cent in the past five weeks, and it’s a similar story in Tamworth, Orange and other parts of the state. 

Donated hay for hungry Scone cattle 

Another Buy A Bale Hunter load finds a hungry herd of cattle.

Fat cattle are still fetching a good price in some places, like Maitland and Wagga Wagga, but they are becoming harder to find. 

Meanwhile, cattle prices in parts of Queensland soared in May – after recent rain, with some making $3000. 

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