Wind compounds Central Gippsland woes

Strong winds strip drought stricken Central Gippsland paddocks bare

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Renewal of calls for rate relief, freight subsidies for Central Gippsland

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Strong winds have compounded problems caused by the continuing drought in Central Gippsland.

DROUGHT SUPPORT: Gippsland Federal Nationals MP Darren Chester says all three tiers of government need to do more to help the region's drought-affected farmers.

DROUGHT SUPPORT: Gippsland Federal Nationals MP Darren Chester says all three tiers of government need to do more to help the region's drought-affected farmers.

An area around Giffard and Seaspray was hit by 80-100kilometre an hour winds earlier this week, further stripping topsoil from drought hit paddocks.

Victorian Farmers Federation regional councillor Steve Harrison, Giffard West, repeated his call for further government help.

"I keep banging on about it, but the answer is rate relief."

"That's equitable across all farmers - while some people are calling for freight relief, the rate subsidy is equitable."

Mr Harrison said he'd like to see subsidies start at 50 per cent, as farmers were facing rate bills of between $20,000 and $40,000.

Read more: There's State Government funding for drought hit farmers

Farm crisis

RATE RELIEF: Steve Harrison, Giffard West, says its time to bring in rate relief, for affected farmers.

RATE RELIEF: Steve Harrison, Giffard West, says its time to bring in rate relief, for affected farmers.

Gippsland Federal Nationals MP Darren Chester said all three levels of government needed to do more to support drought-affected farmers.

Mr Chester said the ongoing dry conditions, coupled with high winds, had turned a bad situation into a crisis.

"If this was a cyclone, fire or flood the response from all three levels of government would be very different," Mr Chester said.

"The social, economic and environmental impacts of drought are exactly the same, except it takes a longer time for those problems to develop.

Mr Chester said he had written previously to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister, seeking additional support, and would continue to lobby across all levels of government for a more coordinated response to the drought.

"While we appreciate the range of support measures already in place, it's important to realise that the ongoing drought has exhausted farmers' reserves and they are not in a position to meet their ongoing running costs, let alone re-establish their properties when better conditions return," Mr Chester said.

"We need assistance in terms of municipal rates relief, grants to allow pastures to be re-established and the Farm Household Allowance eligibility criteria is too strict for many farmers to access.

"At the moment, we continue to penalise farmers who receive off-farm income or entered the drought in a strong financial position and have accumulated assets over many years of hard work."

Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said the government had provided $43m in drought relief.

At the moment, we continue to penalise farmers who receive off-farm income or entered the drought in a strong financial position and have accumulated assets over many years of hard work. - Gippsland Nationals MP Darren Chester

"Farmers in East and Central Gippsland have been doing it tough with unprecedented dry conditions - and that's why the government is delivering a cash injection to farmers who have been hit hardest" Ms Symes said.

"We're delivering a Drought Relief Package to help ease the financial burden - and these cash payments can be put towards rate relief or putting food on the table - ultimately this is about giving our farmers choice in what works best for them.

"We are also delivering on long term rate reform, with an inquiry into the council rating system to improve its fairness and equity.

"Consultation with stakeholders, including the Victorian Farmers Federation, is currently underway to determine the terms of reference for the inquiry."

Powerful winds

Mr Harrison said due to the velocity of Monday's wind, even containment areas didn't make any difference.

"Monday's wind was horrendous," Mr Harrison said.

"It started at 2 am in the morning and didn't let up, until 5 pm.

"It didn't matter where the tree breaks were, the wind came from all angles, and the grasses just weren't able to hold.

It was almost the straw, which broke the camel's back - "we are in a lot of trouble, down in this area.

"Quite a few people are about to start lambing, and that's going to be a problem, with feed availability.

"It's getting harder, and more expensive, to obtain.

"Most farmers are running out of money."

Ivan Best, Giffard, said the wind, earlier this week, moved a lot more topsoil around.

"Monday was a shocker, it was the day you went inside, and shut the curtains," Mr Best said.

The area was in its fourth year of below average rainfall, so was coming off a very low base.

"Any wind now is just carving the country up."

He said he sold all his cattle, in November, and had halved the number of sheep he was carrying.

"Rain is the big answer, you can talk all you like about rate relief, but it appears to be falling on deaf ears.

"I don't think the government wants to hear about it."

He said freight subsidies would help.

"We are paying top dollar to get any hay or any fodder we can get, while NSW and Queensland have the luxury of a subsidy," he said.

"We are not in the game for handouts; we'd just like to be on an equal playing field with the others."

More erosion

Hamilton Gerrand, Stradbroke, said this week's wind took erosion to a new level.

"There wasn't that much damage previously, just a little bit here and there, but Monday was terrible, and Tuesday wasn't much better."

"It's done a lot of damage; there's dirt stacked up against fences, even paddocks that had been destocked three or four months ago went."

He said he had 2500 sheep left on the property and around 200 cattle.

"A lot of our cattle are away on agistment, we've cut our sheep numbers back, but even if you had none, it would be too many.

"It's bloody grim.

"We had 13mm of rain last week, it put a green tinge on the paddocks, but that all got sandblasted off."

Mr Gerrand said he was about to sow winter wheat and oats, to give stock something to graze on.

"We'll have to have a go soon, but we're scared of putting in crops and getting another big blow, and losing it all."

He said he'd like to put in 100hectares, just to try for some quick feed, but would ideally plant twice that amount.

"We'll just have to make a start, and see how we go, I guess."

Rate relief would be a big help, as it would assist everyone.

"We are open to any suggestions as to how to help people out," Mr Gerrand said.

"We are in this, we have to deal with it, but it's really hurting."

Beef producer Geoff Gooch, Pearsondale, said while the high winds hadn't hit his property, the area was still very dry.

It was now a gamble, as to whether to sow pastures and crops.

"Farmers don't have to go to the casino; they just go down the paddock."

He said his properties had received 14millimetres of rain, in two events.

"It's been cold to mild, so we haven't lost all the moisture again," he said.

"I'll be oversowing pasture, putting in a bit of annual rye and a bit of clover and hoping for the best.

"The perennial grasses are there, but we're not going to have the bulk we need, come calving time."

Lions help

Heyfield Lions Club drought support co-ordinator Ray Akers said the drought had gone from severe, to critical.

On its Facebook page, a club spokesman said farmers were facing conditions, never before seen in the area.

"All their topsoil is blowing away, (there are) paddocks of dust, feed costs are through the roof and water is non-existent.

"The heartbreak and pain they are experiencing is real.

"They are good, proactive farmers, who are struggling to see the light."

Mr Akers said the club was busy fundraising so that it could give financial assistance to farmers, or source hay, through the Need for Feed group.

"We're looking at a rebate for feed pellets for farmers, maybe to 10 per cent of their bill."

He said areas of Lindenow South, which had a big dune running through it, looked like "the back of Cobar (NSW).

Volunteers were visiting farmers and trying to pick up any who had fallen through the net.

"Some of the older farmers are not on the computer, or having got time to look information up," Mr Akers said.

"What we are trying to do is let them know what help is available."

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