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Farmers hit hard by driest period in a decade in New South Wales

By Tim Fookes, Wednesday April 11, 2018 - 14:22 EST
Audience submitted image
A green lawn is the only visual relief in this central west NSW landscape; the homeowner says her water bill is 'horrendous', but the garden is her haven from the drought. - Audience submitted

Farmers across New South Wales' central-west are battling what is being described as the driest period in at least a decade.

Some areas have received around a third of their average rainfall, with Orange recording just 99 millimetres of rain so far in 2018, while the average is 256mm.

It is not just the lack of rain, but also the heat, with record-breaking temperatures close to 10 degrees above average.

And the impact of the hot dry season is beginning to bite.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has declared the central-west and central tablelands as being under drought watch, while a .

It allows farmers to access grants of up to $20,000, which will be interest-free or low-interest, to help cover transport costs.

NSW Farmers Orange branch president Bruce Reynolds said dam levels were quite low and pasture was starting to run out.

"Most producers now, particularly on the central tablelands, are feeding oats or hay to their livestock," Mr Reynolds said.

"Water consumption is getting toward unheard of levels given the extreme conditions, with major destocking taking place."

Driest period in at least a decade

The dry start to 2018 follows a record dry winter last year and a spring where rainfall levels were lower than average.

Emu Swamp farmer John Blunt said it was as dry as he had seen it since at least 2007.

"It's a pretty hard battle. It's very hard on our livestock both feed-wise and water-wise," Mr Blunt said.

"Most of us are supplementary feeding and there are costs associated with that.

"We've been taking a risk and planting oats, but the only saviour will be if there's soaking rain soon."

Some farmers are now making comparisons with the crippling central-west drought of 1982.

Feed runs short

Farmers are going to great lengths to try and provide enough feed for their livestock.

Gilgandra grain trader Andrew Newton has clients of all sizes looking for stock feed.

"In terms of supply, there's not much liquidity in the market at the moment," Mr Newton said.

"In the central-west, we're seeing very little selling so we've had to source grain from the southern regions like the Riverina and even Victoria.

"It's mainly wheat, barley and oats but also faba beans which are a good source of protein."

Having to source grain from further afield is adding to the cost of feeding livestock.

"We're carting it 600 to 1,000 kilometres away, so the freight component does take up a larger percentage of the total cost for the grazier and the consumer," Mr Newton said.


© ABC 2018

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