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Tasmanian farmers sending truckloads of feed to drought-stricken farmers on mainland

Henry Zwartz and Margot Kelly, Saturday August 11, 2018 - 09:56 EST
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Farmers who suffered in the 2016 floods think it's their turn to give a helping hand. - ABC

Michael Perkins still remembers the help he got from people around Australia when he was on the brink two years ago, after floods ripped through his dairy farm in Tasmania's north-west.

Now he, and many farmers like him, want to give back.

In fields and sheds across regional Tasmania, farmers, truckies, and their families are quietly mounting a grassroots campaign to help those affected in New South Wales — — and Queensland.

"It pulls on the heartstrings when you look and see those cattle on the TV and on social media every day," Mr Perkins said.

"There's animals starving, there's people having to shoot their animals, there's trauma amongst the people there.

"Our entire family were devastated when we lost a quarter of our cattle to the floods in 2016, our farm was severely damaged — one hole was as big as a football field and as deep as a house — to rectify that has taken two years."

That experience prompted Mr Perkins and friend Robbie Edwards to put a call out for public donations of hay, as well as funds to buy hay and diesel fuel, to truck it to mainland farmers in need.

"When you've been through that you can understand what these people are going through," Mr Perkins said.

"You want to give something because you've received so much."

They called their effort "Cowbiz Tassie Hay Run" on social media and the response has been massive.

"My phone hasn't stopped ringing, and every time someone rings I punch their name into my phone and I reckon I have an extra 150 in there," Mr Perkins said, his black gumboots squelching in the deep mud around the farm.

The large shed at the back of his Latrobe property is full of hay bales, perhaps 100, but they were just a small portion of the number donated so far.

"When you have pensioners ringing up saying they want to contribute but they can't afford more than $5, these people are doing that to let farmers know they care," Mr Perkins said.

The group now has close to 1,100 donated bales, a load of 460 tonnes that would fill about 20 trucks.

'A healthy community is to see people helping one another'

Fellow dairy farmer Paul Lambert contributed several thousand dollars to the effort, helping pay for truck diesel and hay.

"We've been watching the drought on the news and we were really keen to give some sort of assistance," he said.

Like Mr Perkins, Mr Lambert's farm was badly damaged by the 2016 floods.

"There's a lot of stuff going on in your head when you're dealing with stress and difficulty and the workload," he said.

"These guys are going to have a huge amount of work ahead of them when the drought breaks, so anything we can contribute will go a long way.

"I drove in this driveway here two years ago and there were 40 people helping clear up my dairy and yards up here on a Saturday. It blew me away, to be honest, how much people do actually care."

For Mr Lambert, the donation is about being practical.

"This effort is a big 'we care' message, but you can't say we care without doing something," he said.

"So it's really about putting arms and legs on that … to see a healthy community is to see people helping one another."

From Tasmania to Tamworth

Another independent hay run group in Smithton, in the state's far north-west, is moving 14 truckloads more of the stuff this weekend.

Local businessman Glenn Phillips said the idea started over a cup of tea.

"We thought we ought to run some hay up there in New South Wales and one thing led to another," he said over the rumble of two Kenworth semi-trailers loaded with hay in his backyard.

"Now, a week later, and here we are 14 trucks, 18 blokes.

"We're heading there on Monday morning to Melbourne to help the poor buggers in New South Wales.

"If we could cart the water, the rain with us, well that would be fantastic, but this is what we can do."

Mr Phillips will be part of the group driving trucks from Tasmania to Tamworth.

"Basically, we're looking at about 300 bales from the local community," he said.

"The support we've had has been incredible — one of the local businesses in Smithton has given us 100 $300 food vouchers, which we'll take with us."

The truck convoys will board freight vessels this weekend at ports in Burnie and Devonport, heading to Melbourne, before making the nearly 1,200km journey to drop-off points in Tamworth and elsewhere in regional New South Wales.

For Mr Perkins, it was just the start.

"As long as money or hay keeps coming in we can keep shipping it," he said.

"There's still hay out there.

"I think when this is all done, we might go up say g'day and maybe buy a few of them a beer."

'Farmers have to stick together'

In the state's south-east, workers at the Daly potato farm are doing their bit for the drought relief effort, packing eight tonnes of potatoes to send to Dubbo in New South Wales as cattle feed.

Ruby Daly said her family hopes to ship more potatoes soon.

"We're donating eight tonne, that's kind of what we have at the moment. We will donate more when we get some more," she said.

"The cows can eat about 15 kilos per day and it really does fatten up the cows, so it's heading to Dubbo so hopefully from there it can go to a good farm."

Ms Daly said it was about supporting fellow farmers across Australia.

"We've just decided it's something we want to do, we want to support other farmers," she said.

"We hear you, we know you are struggling and we just hope if we were struggling they'd do the same — farmers have to stick together."


© ABC 2018

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