'Prospects are pretty grim': Moree farmers call for more drought support in future

Moree farmers call for more drought support during AgMin meeting

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Local farmers sent a strong message to policy makers on Tuesday.

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Third-generation Moree farmers Daniel and Rebecca Reardon understand all too well that drought comes with the business of farming and, like most good managers, have planned for those tough years.

However, after two bad years in a row, no income coming in and hundreds of thousands of dollars in overheads, the current drought is taking it's toll.

"We manage our business, we have managed for drought risk but this is an unprecedented drought," Ms Reardon said.

This year's winter crop only produced five per cent of what it would have in a normal year - the Reardons' worst harvest ever - while the cost of feeding their 1500 head of sheep is adding up. Like many producers, they face the difficult decision of whether to offload more stock or hang on until the drought breaks.

"It's costing us about 88 cents a day per head to pay for these sheep. But with over 1500 ewes it starts to add up," Mr Reardon said.

"The question is, do we offload them now? That's when we face the real risk, because when it rains ... sheep prices are going to double or triple and we won't be able to afford to get back into it."

If it doesn't rain by February, the Reardons will be looking to cull their stock further.

To be able to sow a winter crop next year, they need at least two big rainfalls of 80 to 100 millimetres, and even then the cost of seed is likely to be up to $2000 a tonne "because there's not much around" and everyone will be wanting to plant.

However, Ms Reardon said the rainfall outlook is "very poor".

"I don't want to be a pessimist but we are looking to manage for another 12 months of drought, because that's the outlook and we have to be realistic about that," she said.

"If it doesn't rain, the real killer for us is the continuing overheads, plus the fact that we need to make sure that we have bank lines available, so that when we do get that rain we can actually plant our crop or we can restock our core breeding stock."

The Reardons hosted agricultural ministers from across the country at their property Lairdoo on Tuesday, providing a first-hand perspective of drought.

They spoke to the ministers about some of the challenges with current drought support measures.

Up until now, the Reardons have accessed limited drought assistance, partly because they haven't needed to and partly because the process is "complicated", but Ms Reardon said it was getting to the point where they will have to look at what's on offer to get them through this difficult period.

"It's really difficult to navigate," she said of the loans process.

"I also don't want 10,000 loans on my books because I don't have the time to manage them.

"It would be nice if that was simplified."

Longer term, Ms Reardon said she would like to see the governments offer some sort of income protection insurance to help farmers through future droughts.

"If I could get some sort of affordable, sustainable insurance, that just covers my overheads of the business, which is a real killer in this sort of extreme drought, then I think that'd be fantastic," she said.

Moree farmer Oscar Pearse told ministers climate change is here, having seen Moree break multiple weather records in the 10 years he's been farming.

Moree farmer Oscar Pearse told ministers climate change is here, having seen Moree break multiple weather records in the 10 years he's been farming.

'Testing resiliency'

Fellow Moree farmer Oscar Pearse is in a similar situation - no income coming in and high overheads - and said the prospects are looking "pretty grim" if we don't get rain in the next six months.

"We've got no staff on at the moment," he said of his farming business.

"We've had a failed winter crop, we managed to get a very poor summer crop off earlier in the year but that was because we'd rotated our programs and gone to long fallow, so we're out of long fallow country and the prospects are pretty grim for the next six months.

"If we don't get significantly above-average rainfall for the next six-month period, we won't have a winter crop and that'll be 12 months without income.

"It's really testing your resiliency, testing the ability to keep those overheads paid and keep yourself in business. I'm personally looking at off-farm work because we're essentially moth-balling operations for the next six months at least.

"It's the same story all over the district. We're all under this additional stress."

During the agricultural ministers' visit on Tuesday, Mr Pearse told the ministers that climate change is here, having seen Moree break multiple weather records in the 10 years he's been farming.

"In the last 10 years we just keep setting records; climate change has hit," he said.

"We keep smashing these records month by month - dry periods, year-long drought periods, but also we're seeing that increase in temperature that's starting to change how good our summer crop options are and what our chances of failure is, because of excessive heat.

"This is part of the problem, external forces to our own operations is starting to change our operations pretty fundamentally."

With farming risks increasing as a result of climate change, Mr Pearse said he would like to see what assistance the state or federal government can provide to help farmers reduce those risks.

"Longer term, I really am interested in seeing what these insurance programs and what sort of risk mitigation products are going to be made available and what sort of assistance is going to be needed there because I just don't see anything at the moment that's quite commercially viable for us, apart from what we're already doing," he said.

He also wants to see the governments' various loans and funds more easily accessible and available at one port-of-call and said there also needs to be focus on post-drought recovery.

"What do we do in terms of getting farm businesses able to capitalise on the weather once the season turns?" he asked.

"If we're all cutting down on our input costs, in a good year we're not going to realise the full potential and we're going to miss opportunities.

"The MinCo meeting is talking about recovery options today and I'll be really interested to see what they come up with because we urgently need that sort of program to know that once this drought breaks, we're going to have some form of assistance or grants or something that will help us get back into production properly."

The AgMin meeting resulted in the establishment of a new drought working group, to be chaired by Mr Stone, which aims to improve coordination between the commonwealth, state and territories and streamline drought assistance.

The story 'Prospects are pretty grim': Moree farmers call for more drought support in future first appeared on Moree Champion.

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