Sarah Goulden moved to Tamworth in February, but has never seen it rain on the north west slopes and plains.
The Rural Financial Counsellor said that farmers all over the region “are getting increasingly desperate and anxious,” particularly as the final window to sew winter crops has all but closed.
While Ms Goulden has been kept very busy, she is urging more farmers to get in contact to explore what drought funds are on the table right now, including funds, packages and assistance, as well as business planning.
“Farmers are telling me that this is the worst drought they have seen since the early 1960’s – they are really desperate – cash strapped with nothing coming in,” she said.
“Drought really creeps up, it is hard to measure when it starts and when it finishes – but it will break.
“But it doesn’t rain feed, farmers have to plan to capitalise on whatever they get, whenever they get it, because recovery is a slow process that could take years.”
Ms Goulden said in February 2013 it was decided that there would never be another blanket drought declaration, however there are several other assistance packages and funds in place.
“A ‘drought declaration’ triggers a range of large packages and funding that is used following cyclones and floods, and things like that,” she said.
“While drought is a natural disaster they are also part of rural Australia these days, so rather than declaring drought every time an event occurs, the government wants people to focus on preparing for them.”
“At the moment I am doing lots of Drought Transport Fund Applications – I can do this with you in half an hour.”
While a lot of farmers are calling out for the 50 per cent transport subsidies that existed five years ago to be reinstated, currently this fund is the next best thing.
It offers low interest loans up to $20,000, for fodder, stock, water and stock transport, with no repayments or interest for two years, and then 2.5 per cent interest over the next seven years.
Another popular option, which is also feeding money back into regional communities is the NSW Farm Innovation Fund, however the dam is almost dry in the $250 million bucket that was put aside for it, with $218 million already spent.
That fund offers low interest loans of up to $250,000 to be spent on drought preparedness and infrastructure projects such as exploring for and drilling bores, investing in irrigation infrastructure like centre pivots, as well as new sheds and silos.
“There is a lot of investing in that at the moment, which is good because those projects feed back into the community through local businesses, and help farmers be more prepared for drought in the future,” Ms Goulden said.
The Drought Assistance Loan, and Centrelink’s Farm Household Allowance Payment are also very popular, as rural households battle to keep food on tables.
The RFCS is funded by both state and federal governments, however runs completely free and autonomously.
“I am busy, but I will always get back to you,” Ms Goulden said.
“There is always information available at my office, even when I am not there as well.”
Ms Goulden also “wants to remind farmers to support each other, chat with trusted neighbours, friends and family, or professionals – as a problem shared is a problem halved.”
The Northern Region Rural Financial Counselling Service is at Suite 1, 352 Peel Street in Tamworth, or Ms Goulden can be contacted on 0427924798.