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2020 delivers the relief New South Wales farmers have been longing for

By Joanna Woodburn, Monday October 12, 2020 - 06:53 EDT
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Farmer Neil Westcott stands near his 2020 wheat crop which has flourished in the winter rain. - ABC

A dramatic recovery from drought across New South Wales is giving many farmers the opportunity to plan ahead for future dry spells.

Regular rain since February 2020 has .

Farmers across western NSW are now preparing for — and looking forward to — harvesting their bumper cereal crops, like wheat and barley.

"It's amazing what water can do," farmer Neil Westcott, of Alectown, in the Central West of the state, said.

Like Mr Westcott, Tess Herbert and her family, who run a cattle feedlot at Eugowra, near Forbes, suffered through the dry years.

And like many across rural NSW she endured daily dust storms last summer.

"Just to come to work and see green and to be able to have our cattle out in paddocks, knowing that they're growing, knowing that they're healthy is a huge relief for us," Ms Herbert said.

They sowed winter crops earlier than they usually would and, thanks to the regular rain, they can choose whether to cut it for silage, grain or for grazing.

Mrs Herbert said they had already stored two years' worth of livestock feed for future droughts.

"That storing up in order to either use immediately or to store for future years is a really important part of what we're planning," she said.

"It's been an amazing season, and I know that's not statewide, but in our area of the world we've been very, very fortunate."

Most of the state now drought-free

Figures from the NSW Department of Primary Industries reflect since the start of 2020.

In February, 99 per cent of the state was affected by the dry conditions but now three-quarters is either no longer in drought or is recovering.

Parts of the far south-east and north-east are still classified as being in drought.

Farmers who have permanent plantings, like those in the horticulture industry, struggled to keep up water to their orchards.

Fiona Hall, who grows apples and cherries at Orange and lost some of her trees during the drought, is seeing them come back.

"Our trees have really come back, responded well and our dams are now full and the water table's filled back up so it's been fantastic for this region," Ms Hall said.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for growers, with the .

"If we're all having bumper seasons, then it's an extremely big crop," she said.

"And if we haven't got the freight to get to those markets, it'll see a lot of fruit in the domestic market."

Ms Hall has managed to secure pickers for her upcoming harvest by hiring university students to fill the void left by the lack of backpackers.


© ABC 2020

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