NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair announces new drought transport fund

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DROUGHT: NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair sits in an empty dam near Stroud during his visit to the Hunter in February. Picture: Belinda-Jane DavisDrought-stricken farmers across the Hunter can now access state government support to help pay for the cost of transporting fodder and water to their farms as well as taking cattle to agistment.
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Low interest loans up to $20,000 are available with a two-year interest and repayment free period to help farmers find their feet.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair will announce the statewide drought transport fund on Monday.

The loan can be used to pay thefreight costfor fodder, water and agistment sourced from interstateand the eligibility criteria ensures farmers experiencing hardship tick the boxes.

There is no cap on the fund andpaperworkhas been streamlined to make applying quick and easy.

Read more:Our open letter to NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair

Read more:Blair shows genuine concern for farmers

Read more:Green drought, it’s a thing and it’s bad news for farmers and their animals

It comes as the government’s latestmeasure to confirm drought conditions – the Combined Drought Indicator – shows 40 percent of the Hunter is in drought, 20 per cent is now at the onset of drought – thanks to recent rain – and 39.4 per cent is borderline and could slip towards drought or recover.

HUNTER: The Combined Drought Indicator shows how the Hunter is being affected by dry conditions in recent months.

It’s a similar scenario across NSW with 30.5 per cent of the statein droughtorat the onset of it and 63.6 per cent flagged as borderline.

Mr Blair said he wasrequesting weekly updates from the NSW Department for Primary Industries as farmers faced more tough conditions between now and the end of winter.

NSW: The Combined Drought Index shows how the state is coping after prolonged dry weather.

“Things will get worse once the cold weather hits and we won’t have the opportunity for pasture growth like what we would have had if we had an earlier break in March,” he said.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall BlairThe Mercurywrote to Mr Blair inFebruary about the severe drought and urged him to help.

A week later Mr Blair visited the Lower Hunter to meet with farmers, relevant government staff and The Mercury to grasp a better understanding of the situation.

Since then he has been working behind the scenes to create a practical fund that is suitable for a range of farming pursuitsincluding the Hunter’s main agriculture industries–beef, dairy and crop farming.

VISIT: Fourth-generation dairy farming cousins Bill Williams and Rod Williams with NSW Primary Industries and Water Resources Minister Niall Blair (centre) in a dry dam in February. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

Mr Blair said including water cartage was a priority afterhe heardabout theextreme measures some farmers were taking to keep their stock and vegetable crops alive.

“Water cartagewas something that was definitely a missing piece,” he said.

“We’ve seen some unusual circumstances, particularly in the Hunter – having water infrastructure on the farm is one thing and our Farm Innovation Fund did that but the lack of rainfall meant that water carting was something that was needed.

The state government abolished fodder and transport subsidies a few years ago because it drove the price up.

Mr Blair put the transport industry on notice and confirmed the government had researched transport costs and knew what was appropriate.

“We don’t want to see these funds disappearing into an increase in transport costs. We want to make sure they help those that need it and we will be monitoring the implementation as well,” he said.

“The processes we’ve got in place will hopefully not allow that to occur. That is not a criticism of the transport industry because we know they do it tough as well during a drought, we don’t want to see any rogue operators giving a bad name to the rest who do the right thing.”

DUST: Dairy farmer Jamie Marquet, left, at his farm at Wallarobba in February. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Mr Blair urged struggling farmers to put their pride aside and access help.

“Farmers need to be thinking about what they will be doing through winter. Things aren’t getting any easier and we want to make sure people are thinking about what to do if we don’t get any sort of break, and in some cases if we do it may be a bit too late,” he said.

The introduction of theCombined Drought Indicator in March –which is part of the stategovernment’s Enhanced Drought Information System –providesa real-time look at farming conditions across NSW tohelpfarmers make evidence-based decisions.

GREEN DROUGHT: Dairy cattle at Bandon Grove, near Dungog in March. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

An App will soon be released so farmers can easily access the information daily.

It collectsrainfall, soil moisture and pasture growth data and combinesit with meteorological, hydrological and agronomic definitions of drought to provide an official confirmation of farming conditions.

“The old tools we used just looked at rainfall and that hasn’t really worked over recent months,” Mr Blair said.

For more information about the drought transport fund, and to apply, click here

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