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Red Cross expands drought grants to eastern Victorian farmers

Emma Field, Tuesday November 13, 2018 - 15:28 EDT
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Briagolong sheep and cattle farmer John Freeman has spent thousands feeding his livestock over the past 10 months. - ABC

With just weeks until the end of spring, farmers in eastern Victoria have run out of time for drought-breaking rain.

East Gippsland has officially been in drought since the start of the year.

Some farmers in the region are facing their third failed spring in a row — the critical season for growing feed and crops to get livestock through summer.

The extended dry is taking a financial toll with some farmers spending hundreds of thousands of dollars buying feed for their livestock.

Briagolong livestock producer John Freeman, who farms merino sheep and cattle about three hours east of Melbourne, has just spent $35,000 on fodder.

So far this year he has spent $100,000 feeding his animals, despite almost halving stock numbers in the past three years.

"It's been tremendously hard this year, but this has been happening over three years, this is the third year without a spring," Mr Freeman said.

"We have struggled through storing feed but now we have completely run out.

"With these conditions, we are struggling to keep sheep alive, let alone pay the bills."

Maffra-based rural financial counsellor Trudi Laing said farmers in the region were on the eastern seaboard.

"The rising cost of grain prices is really affecting the cashflow of farmers, day to day," she said.

The prospect for next year is grim.

There is a dire bushfire outlook for eastern Victoria this summer and the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a 70 per cent chance of an El Nino next year, which could mean less winter and spring rainfall.

Red Cross expands drought grants

More help is now available to farming families coping with the drought in Victoria.

The and they will use part of these funds to offer assistance to Victorian farmers.

It has joined forces with the Rural Financial Counselling Service to deliver cash grants of up to $3,000 to farmers in the East Gippsland and Wellington shires.

The Red Cross's Victorian emergency services manager Kate Siebert said these grants were to provide "immediate relief" for cash-strapped farmers.

"We are appreciating that it's the household expenses and immediate costs that are creating a big burden on families," she said.

Ms Siebert said the counselling service would help distribute the cash to ensure generous donations from all over Australia would get to the farmers who need it.

"It's really great to see Australians getting behind Aussie farmers and supporting farmers when they need [it because] they can't control the weather, and can't control drought," she said.

Small businesses feeling effects of drought too

Ms Laing said the new offer of drought relief would help many farming families.

"It's relieving their pressure, relieving their stress, knowing the electricity is not going to be cut off, knowing the creditors are not going to be knocking on the door next week saying 'I need my money'," she said.

Mr Freeman, who also welcomed the funding, said it was not just farmers suffering the financial toll of the drought — small businesses in the Gippsland have also taken a hit.

"It affects everyone [and] small business would be feeling it," he said.

"No-one spends money around the shops and goes and has coffee [so] it's very tough.

"You go into your rural stores in Sale and Maffra and they're very quiet so it would be affecting everyone."


© ABC 2018

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