When it comes to drought, it’s all relative for longtime district grazier, Ian McLennan.
“Obviously it’s bloody hard but it’s nowhere near what other people are experiencing up north,” he told the Post.
Mr McLennan and son Austin run 5000 sheep, 220 head of cattle and crop lucerne hay and silage and oaten hay on their Braidwood Road property, some 30km from Goulburn. He is one of the few people selling hay in this area but strike his message bank and you’ll hear that none will be available until December.
Yet with many years farming experience behind him, he’s putting the prolonged dry period in perspective.
“It’s nowhere near the hardest time we’ve gone through,” he said.
“The nine or so years from 2002 were the hardest, whereas this has only been since last spring,” he said.
“We’re better prepared with crops and with the bit of rain we had, we made good decisions.”
Rainfall has halved on Connen Hill in the past year but when it came, the McLennans jumped on it and planted crops. When the rain dried up they fattened up lambs on the canola and wheat fodder before selling them off to control stocking.
He stopped selling hay three months ago and hadn’t needed to buy any for his own purposes. Three pasture paddocks were “looking pretty good” and the property hadn’t lost any ground cover. Nor had the McLennans had to sell stock prematurely due to drought.
Preparation has been the key but Mr McLennan said it could be better if only governments freed up red tape.
The grazier has been watching state and federal government responses with interest.
“The government says it is preparing everyone for drought but they never do it,” he said.
While fully understanding the need at this time for fodder and household assistance in drier parts of the state, Mr McLennan argues State government regulations need to be freed up to allow graziers to build dams from third order streams on their properties. This in itself would help manage the dry times.
“The big issue in this drought is water, although it’s not as bad as previous ones,” he said.
“If we could all dam third-order streams and catch the full harvestable amount, then farmers could put troughs in and have water. These are the sorts of issues we’re dealing with.”
Mr McLennan said he had plenty of water in an irrigation dam on a third order stream. But the 500 megalitre capacity was half-filled with silt and only held 300Ml. Under state regulations he couldn’t build another dam, an issue about which he’d spoken to Goulburn MP Pru Goward.
“If we could do another dam we could grow more hay. If everyone could do that they wouldn’t need some of these drought subsidies,” he said.
The State Government last week announced farmers would have access to subsidies of up to $20,000 for fodder and water transport. It was part of a $500 million package, $190m of which was for drought transport subsidies.
On the weekend, the federal government announced a further $190m in drought support. Farmers eligible for the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) can access additional payments from August 1. Couples in a household will receive two payments worth up to $12,000 and single households – up to $7200.
In addition, the asset threshold for the FHA will be lifted from $2.6m to $5m. It brings the federal government’s drought support to $576m.
Mr McLennan said many larger property owners in this area wouldn’t be eligible for either the FHA or the freight subsidies, given their assets. Smaller property owners would fall under the $5m threshold but as many worked off farm anyway, they also wouldn’t be eligible.
He doesn’t qualify for either subsidy but he’s not complaining on the back of record stock prices in recent time.
“I can understand why people up north who have been in drought for the past four or five years have been getting it but handing it out around here is a bit of a joke,” he said.
The 20mm since last week has been welcome but Mr McLennan said the coming months were critical. In short, if there’s no spring break, “we’ll be in trouble.”
The Bureau of Meteorology says there’s an 85 percent chance of rainfall not exceeding the average in the next three months. But then, the grazier has never placed much store in forecasts.
“We could get above average falls for the next few months and we’d be right,” he said.