The 1982 drought still conjures up nightmares for farmers. The fact that horror dry stretch is being mentioned in comparison to the current drought was enough to bring NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to some parched properties just south of Dubbo on Monday to announce that Australian Rural Woman of the Year Pip Job would be taking on the role as the state’s drought coordinator.
Pip Job has plenty of experience in this field, spending years as CEO of Little River Landcare, one of the nation’s most successful community organisations, before joining the Department of Primary Industries a few years ago.
“We know farmers are struggling with how dry it is and we want to assure farmers we are standing by them side-by-side as they go into winter,” the Premier said.
“This new role is about making sure that government, farmers and communities are working together as best as they can while they get through this difficult period.”
Pip said her role will be to listen to farmers and see what assistance they need so she can report back to government.
But she said many farmers have stories of how their risk management strategies were now standing their enterprises in good stead, and she was looking forward to hearing those stories so positive lessons could be passed on.
“I look forward to the challenge and being in the presence of farmers like we have here today who want to share with us, and how they’re planning through it and how they’ll transition out the other end when the break comes,” Pip said.
Agriculture minister Niall Blair talked about the difference between 2018 and 1982:
How the stock this time around are holding up well, whereas in ’82 farmers were shooting sheep and cattle;
How interest rates are low, whereas in 1982 they were crippling (some farmers were paying between 16 and 24 per cent);
How so many people now have groundcover on much or all of their country, whereas vast tracts of farmland were denuded in 1982 and just blew away when the winds came;
How so many people are so much more diversified, with more complex and long-ranging risk-management strategies.
“We know that farmers are looking for more support and that’s what today’s about, having a look at what else we can be doing as a government to assist our farmers through this tough period,” Mr Blair said.
“The announcement that Pip Job is going to be our drought coordinator is something that is going to make sure that all government agencies are going to be working together to assist our farmers, but also a direct line back to my office to see if there’s anything else we need to change with our drought policy.”
Member for Dubbo Troy Grant said the visit showed just how worried and committed the Premier and Ag Minister are when it comes to supporting drought-stricken farmers.
“When you start hearing conversations around the district that this could be worse than ’82, worse than some other landmark droughts in our history, you really have cause for concern,” Mr Grant said.
“It gives the Premier and the Minister the direct opportunity to hear first-hand about the various options that the farmers are looking for to hopefully help them through the tough times.”
Farmers Scott Tourle and Phil Sheridan told the party about the particular challenges they were facing, and the complexity of deciding whether to sell or hand feed stock when no-one knows how long the current dry will last.
Scott Tourle told the Premier he estimated he was stocking 10,000 kangaroos on his 10,000-acre farm and said that the roos not only ate all the feed if he was trying to preserve groundcover by spelling paddocks, they were also playing havoc with his fences.