Farmers doing it tough in drought conditions

David Richardson

In parts of western New South Wales and far north west Queensland, there has been no rain in more than two years.

Eleven out of the last 14 years have been worse than the long dry period they nicknamed the ‘millennium drought’, which began in 1995 and lasted until 2009 – then considered the worst drought since settlement.

Farmers in western New South Wales have not had a chance to recover from the last drought to fight the unrelenting dry, yet again.

“I know at my place, if I don't get rain in the next three to four months I'll be back to two watering points on the place,” local Gary said.

Livestock cram under the little shade that is available on properties, normally on top of dams still holding some water.

If they are overused, the dams shrivel and dry up.

Sharon Knight from the Rural Financial Counselling Service is helping 91 farmers around the Bourke area sort through their increasing debt, trying to help them survive.

Operation Hay run is a load of 500 tonnes of hay harvested from southern New South Wales and trucked across the country to their fellow farmers out west.

It was organised by farmer Brendan "Bumper" Farrell, not only to save stock, but also to save farmers lives.

“You hear of young families where Dad goes to check sheep and then Mum and the kids go and find him a bit later on, it’s a bit ordinary and it's happening everyday,” Brendan said.

For farmers like Lorraine Lewis, the donated hay saves her from having to buy emergency feed for at least a month.

“Now that's $550, $600 [per] tonne, and they tell me $800 [per] tonne,” Lorraine said.

“It's really hard to source and you just can't keep that up."

The Lewis family survives thanks to a gypsum mine on their property – their only income right now – without which they ‘would be here’.

“[Without it] we would have moved on a long time ago,” Lorraine said.

Volunteers have already collected 800 squares of hay for a second run to Bourke, while farmers across the country pray for rain.

“I really want rain, but I really need a break because I'm sick of it,” Lorraine said.