It has been five months since Fairfax Media started the campaign to help Hunter farmers survive the drought.
And today we go one step further and launch a statewide petition – with the assistance of our sister mastheads from right across NSW.
The petition urges the state government to offer farmers relief on the cost of freight, fodder, water and Local Land Service rates as well as offer the collection of livestock genetics, and restocking/replanting loans after the drought breaks.
The key figure is 10,000 signatures which would ensure a parliamentary debate on the issue. Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison will take the petition to parliament.
The Buy A Bale Hunter campaign – a partnership between the Mercury, Newcastle Herald, Dungog Chronicle, Scone Advocate, Hunter Valley News and charity Rural Aid – has given farmers more than $830,000 worth of help since February 14.
A Buy A Bale Hunter truck on its way to a farm
While that is a mammoth effort, the need for help continues to grow as water resources dry up across NSW and fodder supplies become critically low.
We are struggling to keep up with the demand.
Calls for help are flooding in from other areas of NSW too, and Buy A Bale has already delivered more than $200,000 worth of hay and the waiting list continues to grow.
Since February the conditions in our region – despite recent rain, and across the state have dramatically declined.
Right now 62 per cent of the state is in drought or at the onset of drought.
That’s more than double what it was two months ago.
Take a look at the drought in April 2018
Now, take a look at the drought in June 2018
Want a closer look? Zoom in on this interactive map
Click on the suns to reveal photos of what it’s like.
On top of that, 36.7 per cent is borderline and likely to dip into drought, given the current long-range forecast.
In the Hunter 76 per cent of farms are in drought, or at the onset of drought – 16 per cent more than two months ago, and 23.8 per cent is classified as borderline.
It’s abundantly clear our farmers need more help.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud and NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair are some of the politicians that have set foot on the farm to see the impact first hand.
Mr Turnbull went on a drought listening tour of Dubbo, Narromine, Trangie and Queensland towns Blackhall, Charleville and Boulia this week.
He also dropped into his own Upper Hunter property and posted a photo on Instagram that showed him shovelling cotton seed out of a trailer to feed some cattle.
Since the Buy A Bale Hunter campaign started in February, the only new offer of help has been the $20,000 drought transport loans from the state government. These loans offered a two-year no interest and no repayment period.
A lot of farmers told Fairfax Media the $20,000 wouldn’t last very long and they wanted a subsidy.
Even Mr Blair has said a lot of farmers talk about freight subsidies when he visits farms across the state.
He told Fairfax Media in May that he is not ruling out implementing further support measures.
“We’re not ruling out any further changes or further assistance, we’re certainly mindful of the views that different people have because every farming business is different,” Mr Blair said during an interview in May.
Read our letter to Mr Blair.
Want to help?
Fill out the form below if you would like to receive a copy of the petition and obtain signatures.
Why is this cause so important?
Parts of the Hunter, North West, Northern Tablelands, Central West, Western District, Central Tablelands, Greater Sydney and South East regions are in drought.
Hay and grain are scarce across the state which has forced farmers to look to Queensland, Victoria and South Australia for supplies. Some farmers are even carting grain from Western Australia.
Hay supplies in Victoria are becoming harder to find as farmers there start stockpiling fodder to feed their livestock through winter.
Take a look at this Upper Hunter paddock
The rising demand has pushed the price of lucerne hay up to more than $500 a tonne. That price has jumped $100 a tonne in the past two months.
Freight costs are thousands of dollars more than the price of the fodder.
For instance, a load of 30 bales of hay from Victoria (near the NSW border) is $1500 and it costs around $6000 to bring it to the Hunter.
A manufacturer of livestock pellets in Manildra, between Orange and Parkes, is receiving 100 orders a day and customers have been asked to order six weeks in advance to ensure their supply.
Hand feeding is the new normal
This farmer at Yeoval, in the Central West, is spending $11,000 a week on calf pellets alone.
Huge numbers of cattle are moving through saleyards across the state.
Orange holds the record for the most cattle sold in a NSW sale after 11,368 of them moved through the yards in early May.
Normally that venue would only have about 2000 cattle at this time of year.
Many cattle are being slaughtered as most farmers don’t have enough feed and water to add to their herd.
A lot are breeding cows, which normally stay on a farm for several years producing calves.
Many of them boast genetics that have been built up over several decades.
Feeding core breeding stock through the drought – if the water supply holds – allows farmers to preserve the blood lines they have created.
The oversupply of cattle has put added pressure on abattoirs across the state and left many – including those in the Hunter – up to a month behind in their slaughter schedule.
It is also bringing cattle prices down, which are governed by supply and demand.
Prices at Scone saleyards have dropped 50 per cent in the past five weeks, and it’s a similar story in Tamworth, Orange and other parts of the state.
Donated hay for hungry Scone cattle
Another Buy A Bale Hunter load finds a hungry herd of cattle.
Fat cattle are still fetching a good price in some places, like Maitland and Wagga Wagga, but they are becoming harder to find.
Meanwhile, cattle prices in parts of Queensland soared in May – after recent rain, with some making $3000.