NSW government announces new drought support measures

Drought-stricken farmers will now have access to $50,000 loans and be able to preserve livestock genetics under new measures the state government announced on Wednesday. 

The $50,000 loans, which will be part of the Farm Innovation Fund, will allow farmers to bring in fodder, grain, move livestock and install key water infrastructure or water-saving technology.

Bio-banking, which is the collection of a herd’s genetics, has also been added to the fund criteria. This means farmers can collect the genetics of their herd before destocking during times of drought. 

This initiative is one of the measures Fairfax Media has called for in its drought petition to the state government. 

The government noted collecting genetics would allow farmers to recover more quickly when conditions improved. 

The Farm Innovation Fund has also been topped up with an extra $250 million worth of loans, taking the total to $500 million.

It comes as there is only $29 million left in the kitty – and $3 million worth of applications are being submitted every week. 

NSW opposition spokesman for primary industries Mick Vietch called on the government to top up the fund in May. At that point there was only $34 million worth of funding left. 

The loans allow farmers to access up to $250,000 to spend on drought-proofing measures such as improving farm infrastructure. 

The announcement comes as 65 per cent of the state is in drought or at the onset of drought and 34.8 per cent is considered borderline and likely to head towards drought given the current forecast.

In the Hunter 77.9 per cent of the region is in drought or at the onset of drought and 27.9 per cent is borderline.

Farmers who take up the $50,000 loan won’t have to start paying it back for some time. The loan does not incur any interest at any stage. 

“Once an area is out of drought, the primary producer then has two years before they need to start making repayments (and then have five years to repay),” a spokeswoman for Mr Blair said. 

The NSW Department of Primary Industries will determine whether an area is out of drought through its seasonal condition monitoring and reporting systems, the spokeswoman said. 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Premiier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro and the Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair made the announcement at a farm in Dubbo.  

They noted that almost all of the state was now suffering from an extended dry period, which was expected to continue through winter and potentially in spring. 

We know the drought is hitting our farmers hard but we want to reassure communities that we are doing everything we can to make sure the right help is available at the right time,

Ms Berejiklian said.

”We are determined to stand side by side with our farmers which is why we are providing both funding for drought resilience through our Farm Innovation Fund and strong mental healthcare support to get people through this tough time.

“To date, the Farm Innovation Fund has delivered $220 million to more than 1300 farmers to help build on-farm infrastructure, and prepare for and battle drought.

“Our farmers are continuing to tell us that these loans are one of the best measures available, which is why we have decided to double the funding available, taking the Fund’s total value to $500 million.” 

DROUGHT: A glimpse of the drought in the New England-North West. Pictures: Top: Ren Simon, Chantelle Maree, Kelly Bridge, Kathy Gaynor, Tee Aye Ess. Middle: Lauren Lindfield. Bottom: Marilyn Smith, Tee Aye Ess, Ana Stasia, Fiona Margery, Chris Paterson.

DROUGHT: A glimpse of the drought in the New England-North West. Pictures: Top: Ren Simon, Chantelle Maree, Kelly Bridge, Kathy Gaynor, Tee Aye Ess. Middle: Lauren Lindfield. Bottom: Marilyn Smith, Tee Aye Ess, Ana Stasia, Fiona Margery, Chris Paterson.

Mr Barilaro said three new Doppler radar weather stations in the Central West and Far

West would provide real-time weather coverage for 30 per cent of the state. 

The government already has a Combined Drought Indicator which looks at a range of measures to determine areas of drought, drought onset, watch, recovering and non-drought.

These new radars will deliver fast, accurate and live weather updates to help our farmers make timely business decisions about when to sow, harvest crops or move stock, boosting productivity and saving money,

he said.

“We know that Western NSW has been crying out for accurate radar information for

many years.”

Tackling kangaroo problems on the farm 

Mr Blair said the kangaroo management strategy would reduce numbers in drought-hit areas.

Under the strategy, we are removing the need for physical tags and the ‘shoot and let lie’ conditions, expanding the commercial harvest zone in South East NSW, enabling more shooters to operate under each licence, and helping to connect landholders to commercial harvesters,

Mr Blair said.

“The new strategy will make it easier for landholders to meet the harvest quotas set by the Commonwealth.

“In 2017, NSW met less than 20 per cent of the quota, which was set to maintain the long-term kangaroo population.

“Despite some recent useful rainfall, we know the forecast is poor so we will continue to re-assess measures and talk to our communities every step of the way.”