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Eighteen months without rain

While the drought is hurting farming communities, there is help – and hope – at hand.

17  August 2018

Farming is in Adam Cannon’s blood, but with a drought hitting hard he is worried what the future holds. “We’re coming up to 18 months without a decent rain.

“The rainfall records at the post office go back to 1891, and this is the driest period year of any year on record. We have not measured three inches for the year.”

His family has been farming at Peak Hill, near Dubbo, for 106 years. “We run about 3,400 breeding ewes. We do grow crops as well, but last year was a very hard year and our crops didn’t yield very much at all.”

He has had to buy feed to keep his animals alive. “We don’t buy in grain unless it’s an extreme drought. It’s like the Eskimos asking for ice donations. What we’re facing now is something we’ve never faced.”

There’s enough feed to get his animals through to October or November, but without a decent rain “going into next year, we will have nothing on hand to feed if it gets tough again. That’s a real worry. We’ve got some pretty serious decisions to make soon.”

Sue Strahorn has been farming in the same area with her husband Robert for four decades. “The drought has really been biting here this year. I see Robert coming in, and he’s very quiet, and we’ve got ewes on, the lambing at the moment, so we’re feeding those, and that’s extra mouths to feed.”

Sue is a Red Cross volunteer and has been helping farming families in need of support. “There’s a lot of families that don’t have money to purchase food. There are families that have tried to feed their children while they’ve been virtually living on next-to-nothing rations themselves.” Donations to our drought appeal will help farmers to pay for household essentials, like groceries, petrol, medical bills and school fees.

The thing that’s worried me most is those that are emotionally unable to handle the pressure, the financial stress that they’re under in having to keep their breeding stock alive, and wondering what their future will be.

Red Cross organises community events to bring relief and keep community connections strong. Our Let’s Talk drought program gives people an outlet to talk and helps meet their physical and mental health and well-being needs.

Sue says volunteers are bringing people together socially. “To get people talking to one another, so that they realise that they’re not alone, that they do have friends that are in exactly the same position.

“We have sent the wives of a lot of these really severely financially impacted farmers to the Rural Women’s Network gathering to get them off their farms. Sometimes they haven’t been off their properties for two years.” There are also volunteers, some of them retired farmers, who can talk one-on-one to those who need extra support, she says.

Adam agrees the drought is hurting farming communities financially and emotionally. “Whenever you meet farmers now it’s not so much a handshake, it’s a hug, because everyone is just about on the point of tears some days. I know myself you feel so down because you’re doing your best with your stock to try and feed them and keep them going, but it’s not enough. We just can’t do enough for them.”

Keeping in touch with people helps, Adam says. “My immediate family’s a very big support, without them none of this is possible. We’ve got young famers in this area too, and we all talk and try and keep each other’s spirits up, tell each other what a good job they’re all doing.”

It will take farming communities a long time to recover from this drought, he says.

 

This may take quite some time to break. And when it breaks, the financial drought is going to get worse for the next 12 months. This could take five or 10 years for us to recover from.

They are thankful for the way the Australian community has rallied to support farmers in these tough times, Sue says. “It’s very inspiring the way people have responded. The public have been very, very generous and very open-hearted, and we’re very thankful to them for that.”

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