Drought a treadmill that won’t end: farmer

Karen Sweeney
(Australian Associated Press)


If it were to rain tomorrow it would still be a year or more before farmers in drought see any income.

And with no decent rain on the horizon, not knowing when the nightmare will end is one of the most distressing things, grain grower John Eastburn says.

Wheat growers across northern NSW and southern Queensland are facing their fourth year without a crop.

For things to turn around they need three or four falls of 100mm over several months, and even if that came they couldn’t seed until next March and face the prospect of no income until December 2019.

“Even if the rain comes they can still see there is no income – there is a lot of outgoing but no incoming until the end of next year which is probably the most distressing part,” Mr Eastburn told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Derek Schoen, who has a property at Corowa, says farmers aren’t at the end of the drought, they’re in the middle, with no end in sight.

“One of the biggest problems with the drought is it sneaks up on you and then you’re on this treadmill that you can’t get off,” he said.

The Turnbull government has announced a new $190 million package of household assistance, to help property owners with day to day bills like vehicle registration and school fees.

But 19,000 people who are eligible still haven’t applied.

Mr Schoen thinks part of the reason is property owners being hesitant to put their hands up and admit they need help.

He says the numbers also indicate there’s not been a simple enough process for farmers to access the support.

“Sometimes they are so busy trying to run their own business, there is no time to apply,” he said.

Mr Eastburn says others are overwhelmed by the required paperwork.

“They’re at their lowest ebb and when all this happens, having counsellors there to help is probably the greatest thing to help them through,” he said.

Farmers are welcoming visits by ministers, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who has experienced drought first hand.

“Lucy and I have been involved in the cattle and sheep business in the Upper Hunter for 36 years and we’ve been through a number of droughts in that time,” he told Triple M radio on Monday.

“It is by far the worst that I’ve seen. Worse than ’82-83 and worse than the millennium (drought) that peaked in ’06-07.”

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