Drought tour gives Nats a feel for the big dry

Cool visit: Niall Blair, John Barilaro and Paul Toole with Blayney farmer James Stonestreet from “St Andrews” on Newbridge Road.
Cool visit: Niall Blair, John Barilaro and Paul Toole with Blayney farmer James Stonestreet from “St Andrews” on Newbridge Road.

AS SNOW fell across the Central Tablelands on Friday and with it went hopes of a late growth spurt on pastures already bare, a small crowd gathered in a woolshed at about 950 metres elevation buffeted by windbursts.

Before dashing to a meeting with farmers in Newbridge, Bathurst MP Paul Toole and Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair dropped in on the Central Tablelands Livestock Exchange on Friday.

Before dashing to a meeting with farmers in Newbridge, Bathurst MP Paul Toole and Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair dropped in on the Central Tablelands Livestock Exchange on Friday.

About 30 farmers briefed Deputy Premier John Barilaro, Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair and Bathurst MP Paul Toole about current conditions, their contingency plans and what the NSW government could do better to help them.

Before proceedings began talk was of news reports two days earlier of farmers shooting stud cattle because they couldn’t afford to feed them. Anger was palpable about the reports and most felt bad management was more to blame than a lack of rain.

“There’s no excuse for anyone shooting cattle at this stage,” said Mr Blair, his statement drawing murmurs of grim concurrence.

Mr Barilaro said the drought was biting differently in different places and “if I came here with an announcement, that would be just playing to the media”.

The media copped flak from farmer James Stonestreet, flanked by his father Ian, who hosted the gathering on the family’s 500-hectare “St Andrew’s”, at Newbridge. Mr Stonestreet criticised the media’s propensity for negative reporting when word should be spread of the victories of agile managers.

Mr Blair said the visit was a chance for “us to check how our systems are working”.

One suggestion was a ceiling per kilometre on cartage charges farmers paid if they were onto a good source of hay, which in current conditions meant they would be moving it big distances.

Another suggested tweak was help with transport across the board, be it for stock, fodder or water.

That a Centrelink account was needed for drought assistance was a bugbear.

Pip Job new drought coordinator

State Drought Coordinator Pip Job said she is ready to listen to farmers to find the best ways to tackle crippling drought conditions.

Ms Job has been given the task of asking NSW farmers what they think about drought relief measures and then report her findings back to the State Government.

The former Geurie grazier said her role would be more about listening than providing legislative suggestions.

“My role is to go out and listen and to better understand what it is the farmers and their communities need," she said.

“I will collect that information and then present it back to the Government for them to make decisions. My role is more listening than legislating. I am out here to listen.”

Local farmers and industry professionals seem to agree that Ms Job is the right person to help steer the drought relief response.