ISOLATED storms bucket down, giving farmers false hope of more to come, while light rain in other areas barely settles the dust, as more of NSW inches towards drought.
Last October, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) rated the Livestock Health and Pest Authority (LHPA) areas of Darling, North West, Central West, most of New England, and Mid-Coast “marginal”, adding Western, Lachlan, Central North and North Coast in December.
Only the southern part of the State – the LHPA regions of Riverina, Hume, South East, and Tablelands – is rated satisfactory.
Many in the north are questioning if “marginal” is an apt status with dams drying up, sun-crisped grass with no substance to it, and producers fast running out of decent feed and looking to put stock on the road.
But both State and federal drought policies are in limbo.
NSW Farmers policy director Angus Gidley-Baird said farmers based business decisions on existing policy and needed certainty.
“We would like some surety, if there is a new State policy, let’s see the policy. We want landholders to know what policy framework they’re operating under,” he said.
Bureau of Meteorology rainfall data indicated some areas should be drought declared based on previous assessments, but Mr Gidley-Baird added the DPI took into account factors such as season, pasture growth and temperatures.
“We are definitely hearing particularly in the Central North that it’s been the driest spring ever recorded and there’s been no decent rain since mid last year or even earlier,” Mr Gidley-Baird said.
NSW Farmers supported the transport subsidies that had previously existed, along with rural support workers.
“It’s not about saying here’s the program, here is your hand-out – farmers are thinking ‘there’s all this talk about State and national drought policy, what are they doing?’ And farmers make business decisions such as whether to destock or plant a crop on the basis of what is available.”
Central North LHPA manager Daryl Paull said producers were facing grim conditions across two-thirds of the district.
“Our recommendations were for the old Coonabarabran and Tamworth districts to carry a drought declaration but we haven’t heard back from the DPI,” Mr Paull said.
“There’s not a lot of feed about and we are getting increased inquiries for travelling stock routes and public roads in the past four weeks, even though without the moisture there’s no growth anywhere.
“The only downfall of a drought declaration from a landholder’s perspective is that because we haven’t been affected for some time, there would be a qualifying period for subsidies so people would have to wait six months for assistance, it’s almost too late by the time that occurs,” Mr Paull said.
Darling LPHA senior ranger Colin Betts said high January temperatures would tip the district into drought status in February.
“Things are right on the edge now, and in the west all the little rivers have dried up – the Darling is very low. There’s been isolated rain but a hell of a lot more is needed,” he said.
Lachlan LHPA ranger Craig Ridley said unless there was significant rain before the end of January the district would need to be re-assessed.
“You could bog a duck here last March and now people are carting domestic water to fill their tanks,” he said.
Likewise, Western LHPA ranger Tim Wall said if conditions did not change, the district would return to drought.