New South Wales is battling an unprecedented drought crisis and fresh food and meat prices are not immune. Prices will rise; it's a matter of when, not if.
There isn't enough feed in the state to keep livestock alive through another cold and dusty winter and grain farmers are facing a huge gamble as planting time looms with no decent rain on the horizon.
Both sides of politics agree it's crunch time for the NSW food bowl but the Labor Party, despite its rhetoric, has not announced any drought relief funds for farmers if it wins the March 23 election.
Opposition spokesman for primary industries Mick Veitch repeatedly told the Mercury this month that he could not confirm what drought support Labor would offer farmers, or how much the party would spend, until he was in government.
Read more: with drought such a big issue in the Hunter, and across NSW, the Mercury looked at some of the farming-related policies the Coalition and Labor have put forward and how they will be paid for. Click here to view the report.
He said he needed access to government information to find out what support had been offered and how many primary producers had applied before he could decide what a Labor government would do. He also said he would need to meet with government agencies for a drought briefing.
Election promises had to be submitted to the NSW Parliamentary Budget Office by Friday afternoon for costing, ahead of the budget impact statement which will be released on Monday.
"In opposition it's very hard as I'm not privy to the information. I actually need to know in government what is the take up rate, what are the issues, is it working," Mr Veitch said.
I am not privy to the information that the minister is ... Then I can make a more informed statement about what we will roll out - these are pretty crucial issues for the farming sector but before I know what's actually happened in government it's hard to comment.
But the Department of Premier and Cabinet has confirmed Mr Veitch could have received this information - if he had requested it.
A spokesman said members of the opposition could request information from government departments in writing - even when the government was in caretaker mode, and departments were obligated to answer the questions. The government entered caretaker mode on March 1.
The spokesman confirmed details about drought expenditure and the number of drought-relief applications made could have been provided if Mr Veitch had requested it in writing.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair and the NSW Department of Primary Industries have not received any correspondence from Mr Veitch since caretaker mode began.
For them to be void of a policy as an alternate government doesn't make sense. They either haven't put their minds to it or aren't really concerned about the drought, or, they are absolutely endorsing our policy, or, he can't get the support from his leadership to be able to come out with an announcement and put it through the parliamentary budget office,Mr Blair said.
"They have been able to announce policies and they have known how much that will cost, and they were quick to point the finger and ask questions of us when we announced drought support."
"That's really disappointing for our farmers. The drought is getting worse by the day and it effects everything; food prices in the city, jobs, mental health.
"That's why we've even had changes in the last month to do things like increase our transport subsidy, the drought is getting harder by the day."
What has been done for farmers?
The Berejiklian government has allocated $1.5 billion in drought relief in the past year.
In recent weeks it extended the drought transport loan subsidy to $40,000 over an 18-month period. To date more than $46 million in drought transport subsidies have been paid out to 5416 farmers.
More than $340 million in Farm Innovation Fund loans have been given to 2641 farmers.
If re-elected it will add another $350 million to the Farm Innovation Fund, waive Western Land lease rent next financial year and spend $1.4 billion on water security projects.
That figure is on top of the $1 billion the government has already allocated for regional communities through the Safe and Secure Water program. The government will also fast-track six new regional water strategies in line with the needs of each catchment area, or each region.
Mr Blair has also promised to amend the drought support package to match the drought situation.
Where is Labor making promises?
Labor has promised to spend $1 billion on water security and water quality projects across the state, including in rural and regional areas. It has also put forward a plan to assist the Murray Darling Basin.
In the primary industries portfolio Labor has splashed some cash, just not on drought relief. It will spend $50 million on a war on weeds and pests, $32.5 million to support Landcare, Bushcare, Rivercare and Dunecare groups, $11.25 million for biosecurity and $4 million to combat Q fever.
Labor will also spend $4 million to create a prospectus for a fresh food precinct within the Western Sydney airport, $1.5 million investigating how to improve the logistics networks that connect airports and major ports, and $1 million over three years to find out the demand for NSW produce in Asian markets.
Labor has largely committed big bucks to hospitals, schools and roads, to name a few. It was quick to confirm it would match the government's promise of a $780 million redevelopment of John Hunter hospital - just hours after Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced it.
Veitch's thoughts on the drought
Mr Veitch has spent many months on a listening tour of NSW where he heard farmers' concerns.
He brought that tour to the Hunter in February last year and called for a review of Local Land Services. The party has promised to fulfil that if elected.
In May he called on the government to inject more money into the Farm Innovation Fund and said the government was "taking a Band-Aid approach" when it came to drought support.
Mr Veitch, a former shearer, has repeatedly said there were farmers who could not take on anymore debt, and he reiterated this during his last interview with the Mercury.
He said some small businesses in rural communities were reliant on the farming sector for their income and as a result were doing it tough.
He thought there should be more mental health and financial counsellors.
"I get worried about how people are going about accessing the services that are available for mental health and financial counselling," Mr Veitch said.
Some people are into their second, third fourth and in some parts fifth year of drought and there's only so much you can prepare for.
"You can only be prepared for so long ... You can't prepare for droughts of this nature, you can prepare for the first year, or two years, but after that some very hard decisions have to be made.
"There is no simple or easy answer for a whole range of issues that are affecting people when it comes to drought."