Little has changed for farmers

MAX Caslick treads along a paddock on his Somerton property and kicks the chalky ground.

DUSTY DAYS: The suffocating drought may no longer be in the headlines but it is still having a profound effect on the local farming community, according to Somerton farmer Max Caslick. Photo: Barry Smith 040314BSE17

DUSTY DAYS: The suffocating drought may no longer be in the headlines but it is still having a profound effect on the local farming community, according to Somerton farmer Max Caslick. Photo: Barry Smith 040314BSE17

Three months after the drought in the New England/North West attracted national headlines and more than $300 million in federal funding, little has changed for local farmers.

“It’s just the same; we might get a few millimetres of rain every couple of weeks but there’s still no feed, no water in the dams and no moisture in the soil,” Mr Caslick said.

“We’re still hand-feeding stock and still carting water.

“It’s probably worse now because we’re going into winter and nothing will grow.”

Worryingly, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is predicting a more than 70 per cent chance of an El Nino pattern developing in late winter.

“Most models are exceeding El Nino thresholds by late winter,” Michael Glasson from BOM Moree said.

“The bureau has just released its three-month outlook and it’s not a good one.

“There’s a 60 to 70 per cent chance the region will not receive above-average rainfall and we’re expecting warmer minimum and maximum temperatures in winter.”

The federal and state drought funding, billed as a lifeline for farmers, has also proved problematic to access.

“It’s been very slow to access and the fine print has made it difficult,” succession planner Isobel Knight from Proagtive said.

“Low-interest loans are OK but farmers still have to pay back the principal and if they’re not careful, it could just lead to them getting in more financial trouble.”

For Mr Caslick, simply qualifying for assistance has been a battle.

“There’s so many strings attached and if you don’t fit into a pigeonhole, you miss out,” he said. “It’s all well and good to say we’ll give you a $50,000 rebate for a bore but you have to have the $80,000 in the first place to spend on it.

“All our money is being exhausted in carting costs and buying straw to keep our cattle alive.

“We’re at the point of just praying for rain every 

weekend.” He said despite the lack of media coverage, the drought remained the single biggest issue facing the local farming community.

“It goes off the radar and people get bored talking about drought,” he said.

“But it’s still very real for us.”

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