Adopt a Farmer and help them through the drought
FARMERS enduring the worst drought in living memory are facing another winter without enough rain to grow crops or feed for their stock.
More than 65,000 Australian farmers, mostly in NSW, Queensland and Victoria face being brought to their knees and businesses in towns are struggling as cash has dried up.
But readers can now lend a hand through The Daily Telegraph's Adopt a Farmer campaign. The campaign draws on the inspirational efforts of NSW children who have already made sacrifices and held fundraising drives to help bush communities.
On May 8, there will be an Adopt a Farmer gold coin mufti day in schools across NSW.
Our charity partner Rural Aid will collect funds with a goal of giving $100 on Visa gift cards to thousands of farmers already registered through the charity's successful Buy a Bale campaign.
The National Australia Bank and AGL have donated $100,000 each to start the fundraising effort, which is designed to inject some money back into local economies and to give farmers, adopted by the state's children, a small reprieve from the financial pressures they face.
Qantas has also got behind the campaign and will fly five students from Sydney to the bush to meet farmers for a day and IGA is offering $1000 grocery gift cards to students who write their own stories of how drought has affected them.
With years of drought behind them, farmers face a dry road ahead with an unseasonably warm start to autumn, increasing water evaporation rates, meaning soil moisture levels are extremely low in large areas of NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
To make matters worse there is a severe shortage of traditional stock feed such as hay, wheat and oats in eastern Australia, which is forcing farmers to buy cottonseed, corn, rice by-products and even grape skins leftover from wine processing to feed their animals.
Many farmers are buying in hay from as far as Western Australia, which has become more expensive as the drought continues and local shortage of feed worsens. A tonne of hay now costs about $500, more than double the price about two years ago.
These factors are not just putting pressure on the 65,178 farmers in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, they are also affecting hundreds of regional small businesses who are suffering from reduced cashflow due to a drop in consumer spending triggered by the drought.
Despite recent isolated rainfall in some parts of NSW, about 99.5 per cent of the state is still experiencing drought conditions, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).
Meanwhile 58.1 per cent of Queensland is drought declared - mainly in the central and southern part of the state - and Victoria's Gippsland along with the northern part of the state bordering NSW are in drought and eligible to access a $45 million drought assistance package.
The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting "an extensive dry spell" this month, stretching from southeast Queensland all the way to Tasmania, mainly on the western side of the Great Dividing Range.
There is also a 70 per cent chance of El Nino developing over the next few months.
Rural Aid chief executive Charles Alder said the Adopt a Farmer campaign was an opportunity for city and country to come to together.
"The funds raised through schools will be immediately distributed to farmers through the issuance of Rural Aid prepaid Visa card," he said. "The hope is that we can ship over 8000 cards to farmers that can then be spent within the local economy helping sustain rural businesses also facing the full brunt of the effects of drought."
NSW Department of Education deputy secretary, school operations and performance, Murat Dizdar said many public school students, schools and their communities had been hard hit by the drought and extreme weather events.
"I know many of our public schools have already undertaken significant, inspirational work to support our farming communities across the state and I thank them for doing so," he said.
Mr Dizdar said the Adopt a Farmer day was a way public schools could help support farming families.
"I know that many schools will want to get behind this latest national initiative and we support them to do so," he said.
Catholic Schools NSW chief executive Dallas McInerney said many students at their regional schools are "feeling the strain" of the drought.
"In this current drought we have made it clear that money will not be a barrier to children remaining in Catholic schools," he said.
Association of Independent Schools NSW chief executive Dr Geoff Newcombe agreed, saying many schools have already made "significant concessions" to support farming families doing it tough.
"These schools understand that farming families, and those who work in the towns that service them, regularly face extreme weather, both flood and drought, and the sudden and often long-term financial hardship this brings," he said.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said: "We are all in this together. Any initiative that sees city people support our farmers in the bush should be applauded. We should all get behind our farmers who are the backbone of this state."
The federal and state governments have issued a number of rounds of drought relief funding. However, with caps on the amount farmers can claim, many have reached the limit with no end to the drought in sight.
NSW Business Chamber Western NSW manager Vicki Seccombe said a recent survey by the chamber showed that the far west and Orana had some of the worst conditions for businesses in the state.
"Results were woeful, with more than half of the businesses surveyed reporting deteriorating conditions, falling revenues and profits," she said.
Fourth generation sheep farmer Richard Darcy, his wife Diane and daughter Charlotte, 15, live on a 5500-acre property at Tullamore near Dubbo in the state's Central West.
Mr Darcy often spends hours making calls to interstate feed sellers in search of the next option to keep his beloved 2000 head of sheep going.
"It's really tough," he said.
"That's the honest truth of it. Everyone is in the same boat and we're just trying to get through it."
Mrs Darcy said any help through charities such as Rural Aid has been welcome reprieve.
"No one likes putting their hand up and asking for help, you always think someone else is worse off,' she said.
"But when that help comes it is great for everyone."
DRY FIELD IS A DAM SHAME
It's the first week back at school for students across the country but the kids at Tullamore Central School only have a few days left to play on their oval.
On Friday, principal Rebecca Freeth will be forced to stop watering the remaining half of the field kept green for the kids, as the northwest NSW school's dam finally runs dry.
The drought crippling small towns across NSW has had a devastating impact on the kids who live on or near the farms hit hardest by the extreme conditions.
Ms Freeth said she has tried to keep the school as "normal as possible" to help the kids stay positive.
"Of course it impacts the children," she said. "You hear it walking around the playground, the kids are talking about it."
Year 12 student Jack Darcy, 18, said he tries to get as much of his homework done while at school so that he can use daylight hours to help his parents.
"On the farm with Dad you can see the different stress that Dad gets, not having the feed to feed the sheep … it's pretty hard not having green feed, you get sick of seeing brown," he said.
The school currently has 72 students in Kindergarten to Year 12 and last year 21 senior students were invited to an excursion in Sydney paid for by Epping Boys High School.
Tullamore Central school captain Amie Walker, 17, said she "couldn't believe" their school got picked for the trip.
"It's just great to know that others are out there thinking of you," she said.
- Clare Armstrong
THAT'S A SAND TRAP
There are no greens on the Bogan Gate golf course - only "browns''.
But the locals are still using the popular sport to seek solace from the crippling drought in their town, two hours' drive from Dubbo.
The 30 members of the community golf club keep turning up to play despite the grass dying.
Bogan Gate Golf Club president, and prime lamb producer, Don McKeowen, 65, said it's an important part of the community.
"Our greens are very low maintenance and make things much more affordable," he said.
BIG GUNS ARE ON BOARD FOR THE CAUSE
Qantas and supermarket IGA have jumped on board to support the Adopt a Farmer campaign, helping ensure city people do not forget how tough conditions are for those in drought-affected areas.
"Qantas has its roots in the Outback and we feel a special connection with regional Australia in particular," Qantas executive John Gissing said.
"Awareness and understanding of the day-to-day challenges our farming families are still facing is crucial in being able to provide the financial and emotional support to give them a leg-up during these difficult days."
Chair of the IGA National Retailer Council Joseph Romeo said the supermarket chain had strong connections to local communities and had "witnessed first-hand just how tough so many people are doing it''. "IGA is passionate about supporting our communities … from flipping snags at the footy club, to supporting local schools and charities. We chose to become involved in Adopt a Farmer as it is a natural continuation."
- Adella Beaini
COMMENT: WE MUST ALL BANK ON THE BUSH
The drought is creating tough conditions for Australian farmers, and at NAB we understand the ups and downs and cyclic nature of life on the land. As Australia's largest agribusiness bank, we back one in three Australian farmers and have been part of the community for 160 years. During difficult times our commitment is to provide support.
The Adopt a Farmer campaign will educate thousands of schoolchildren about the impact of the drought and at the same time, raise much needed financial support for farming families who need it most.
Together with initiatives like Adopt a Farmer, we are taking our own actions to support our customers. This includes keeping all NAB branches in regional and rural Australia open until at least January 2021.
- NAB CEO Philip Chronican