NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson has offered her condolences to drought-battered local farmers – but stopped short of offering more money.
As cockies around the region pray for rain to break the excruciating dry spell, the minister warned they should not rely on government handouts.
“Producers must make sound management decisions and implement extensive measures to prepare for adverse seasonal conditions rather than rely on in-crisis drought support. Quite clearly, what these regions need most of all is rain,” Ms Hodgkinson said.
Her comments come amid mounting pressure on the state government to declare vast swathes of the New England and North West “in drought”, a move that would unlock crucial funding for farmers.
Ms Hodgkinson received a report from Local Land Services drought co-ordinator Tim Johnston on Wednesday night advising her the Tamworth and Gunnedah local government areas were in critical need of help.
She told The Leader yesterday she was “actively considering” the report and whether to extend drought assistance measures locally.
“While the government is considering what measures it can implement to assist primary producers and rural and regional communities impacted by drought, there is only so much we can do,” she said.
“I am acutely aware of how this drought is impacting upon primary producers ... and I appreciate that in many cases farmers have undertaken exceptional preparedness measures to manage seasonal conditions.”
Ms Hodgkinson is expected to tour the region on Wednesday, accompanied by Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson.
Bundarra cattle producer Steve Collins said drought-affected farmers were crystal clear on what they wanted from the government.
“The biggest benefit for us would be fodder transport subsidies, no doubt about it,” Mr Collins said.
“Fodder is very hard to find, and it’s very expensive, but there’s quite a lot down south and the freight cost is prohibitive. If we could be drought declared and get the rebate, it would really lighten the load.”
He said low-interest loans would also be a benefit to farmers.
Mr Anderson said he “firmly hoped” Ms Hodgkinson would drought declare the region.
“She would have to take it to Cabinet but if the Cabinet agreed, it would release millions and millions in drought relief,” he said.
“I will continue to push hard for this.”