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Farmers struggle as drought grips Walgett area of north-western NSW

By Liv Casben, Wednesday December 4, 2013 - 17:37 EDT
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TV still of a cattle farm near Walgett, north west NSW that is affected by drought 04 December 2013. - ABC

North western New South Wales is in the grip of one of the worst droughts on record, less than two years after the area was covered in floodwaters.

The region has hardly received a drop of rain this year and livestock has been sold off or moved south while farmers wait for rain.

Some have sold off their cattle completely and crops have been left unsown.

Farmers and suppliers say assistance from the State Government has been inadequate and the Government admits it has been taken by surprise by the drought's sudden onset.

Risky business

Cameron Rowntree knows financial risk only too well, he was a financial trader in Sydney before moving back to the family property north-east of Walgett.

Today he heads up a 10,000-hectare property farming cattle and crops, and says there are still plenty of risks involved, especially this year.

It has been 18 months without significant rain and, just like hundreds of other primary producers, Cameron Rowntree has been unable to plant a winter crop.

"It's not an easy situation, we think about it day in day out," he said.

"In the current climate there's no bigger risk than being a farmer."

The knock-on affects are being felt right across the region, particularly among those who supply services to the rural sector.

Hunter Hopcroft is a spraying contractor in the nearby hub of Walgett but, with the drought, his business has dried up too and he has had to reduce his staff from 9 to 2.

In October he spent $500,000 on a new sprayer but three months later the machine has not left the depot.

'Inadequate assistance'

Without work, Mr Hopcroft worries how he is going to keep up the repayments on his equipment.

He would like some government help but the recent $7.6 million drought assistance package for the region does not extend to businesses like his.

"We always miss out," he said.

"Low interest loans would help we don't want handouts."

Cameron Rowntree would also like some extra assistance.

He acknowledges that when things are good here the land is very productive but says access to $50,000 in grants for water and freight costs for livestock has come too late.

"I spend $10,000 a week - it's big business," he said.

"Under the old system we would have been drought declared 12 months ago so we've gone 12 months past the original drought declaration situation."

The Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson, who visited the area this week, acknowledges the government was taken by surprise by the rapid onset of this drought.

"What we have done is to backdate the payments to the 1st of July," she said.

"So that farmers who have been transporting stock since that time are able to exercise those benefits."

While the farmers try and work through the red tape, they are just praying that the summer rains arrive.

One farmer told the ABC that if they do not come soon he is not sure what he will do.


© ABC 2013

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