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One South Australian community is taking drought relief into its own hands

Samantha Jonscher, Saturday February 23, 2019 - 18:08 EDT
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Cowell's drought coordinator Jasmin Piggott organised a beach cricket game to help farming families take their mind off the drought. - ABC

After a season of drought and gale force winds, Cowell's grain silos are nearly empty.

Agriculture is easily the South Australian community's largest industry.

In a regular season, farming would bring $40 million into the local economy.

This year, it brought just $5 million.

Concerned by what this blow could mean for its community as a whole, Cowell's local council has hired its own local drought relief coordinator, Jasmin Piggott.

"Last year we had minimal rain; if it did fall it was one millimetre at a time and then we'd get horrific gale force winds straight after, so rather than rain storms, we had dust storms nearly every week for a good couple of months — and paddocks were just bare," Ms Piggott said.

"I've never seen the land like this before, it's a bit heartbreaking."

Ms Piggott is a Cowell farmer herself, and was hired by the council out of its own coffers in October of last year.

Relief coordinator

Now, Ms Piggott's role is funded as part of a Federal Government grant for drought-affected communities.

"The council put this role in place just to lift people's spirits — to give hope, to give people information, so no-one is forgotten about, everyone has someone to turn to," Ms Piggott said.

She spends her days visiting each farm in the area on a rotating basis.

"I go out to visit all the farmers, see how they're going, see if there's anything I can help them with, give them all the information about supports that are out there and make sure they are doing okay," Ms Piggott said.

"It means that nobody has to ask for help — I'm just there, offering it.

"I've been giving them a list of support: places to register for hay, on-farm help and making sure people have enough seed, fertiliser and fuel, I also make sure they know about different workshops that are coming into town."

She also helps them fill out the lengthy applications for government support.

Cowell farmer Donna Starr said she was grateful for Ms Piggott's support.

"She's come out to our property [and] sat around the kitchen table with us a number of times to go through any services that are available for drought assistance," Ms Starr said.

"It's been really handy to have that port of call with someone you already have a rapport with, somebody from the town that you can just ring up with any questions you have.

"She's also a really great sounding board."

Mental health support

But it is not only information Ms Piggott provides — she said that looking after the community's mental wellbeing was the most important part of her job.

"Lots of the times when you go out to farms, you sit around the kitchen table, or if they are shearing, stand in the shed with them — see how they are going," she said.

"Pick them up, chat about anything, not about the weather, just whatever."

Ms Piggott has also organised a number of days out for the community's farming families, including a game of beach cricket on a sandbar in Cowell's harbour.

Oysters are the town's other key industry and local growers donated their boats for the day to ferry families to and from the game.

"[Days like this] get people off the farm, out of their houses, mixing with each other, and just not thinking about the weather and what's happening back on the farm," Ms Piggott said.

She said the events helped to take people's minds off the challenges they were facing.

"Especially the farm kids that see what drought is and the effects of it," Ms Piggott said.

"It's amazing just how much little kids pick up — to have them out here and relaxed just like the adults is great.

"The spirits over [the] summer period were not too bad, but now that school has gone back and it's back into work mode, there are some tough decision farmers are going to have to make this year — I think most people are just praying for rain."

Ty Kaden, who is in the process of taking on his father's farm, said the beach cricket excursion was a great idea.

"[Jasmin] brings everyone together — it's obviously been a pretty tough season around the district," he said.

"Farmers don't really like talking about many things.

"So at least when you organise a day like today, and we've had a few others, it gets everyone together to have a few beers, a bit of a chat."

Mr Kaden said that some were doing it tougher than others.

"It's a little bit easier for me," he said.

"My family … have been on the land for 45, 50 years now, so financially getting through a drought is a little bit easier.

"It's never easy, but we can cope better than the young farmers in the district — and there are a few — who are just starting off in the game."

Farmers helping farmers

Ms Piggott said she believed that being from the community helped give her role credibility.

"I think lots of the farmers feel a bit easier talking to me because I'm from the farm," Ms Piggott said.

"We didn't have a harvest, we didn't deliver any grain this year, we've been feeding sheep just as much as anyone else. Our paddocks have been drifting like everyone else too.

"Rather than someone from the city coming in and offering help, I understand farming and what they're talking about because I'm going through the same thing."

Through Ms Piggott's role, she has also been connecting younger farmers with older ones, something Ty's father Paul Kaden, who is a veteran Cowell farmer, is glad to see.

"Getting young farmers into groups and working with mentors and people in the industry, looking at risk management and how to manage our farming enterprises through tough periods like this — that's something that I've got a bit of a handle on now, but that's been 40 years of farming," Mr Kaden said.

"And if the young guys can learn from me, and agronomists and financial advisors, what a wonderful kickstart for them.

"One year, two years of drought, that's really hard at the beginning when you are just starting it out — we need to look out for those guys.

"It's tough watching it, but dry years are part of it, and you gotta learn to live with it and manage the risk."


© ABC 2019

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