Recovery needs a few drops more
The October drought figures show that much of the State is at last recovering from drought.
Most of the State received above average rainfall - more than 25 millimetres in September, with the eastern half receiving up to 100 mm.
The Central Tablelands and parts of the Southern Ranges received up to 200 mm for the month.
Seventy seven per cent of NSW was drought declared in September, this figure is now down to 38pc and the area of the state considered marginal is now 49pc, up from 22pc this time last month.
The rain has boosted dam levels, with total State water storages in early October standing at 52pc. Just three months ago, the total State water storage level was around 30pc.
While this has been good for some farmers, the effects of the drought will continue for some time and our rural communities will continue to face difficult times until income starts to flow again.
For the drought to finally break, NSW will need widespread and consistent follow-up rain, or many of our marginal areas in particular could easily slip back into drought.
This is why the State government’s full range of drought support programs remain in place throughout drought recovery.
Even in the face of these improving conditions, farmers will still be able to access our Drought Support Workers, Rural Financial Councillors and a range of other State-based programs.
In early October I announced the appointment of a second temporary drought support worker to Scone, to assist drought-affected producers in the Hunter region.
And I am very pleased that the Federal Government has recently acted on a number of NSW recommendations designed to help improve the Commonwealth Exceptional Circumstances (EC) drought support.
I have been calling for more equitable criteria for our croppers for over two years.
In September this year I again wrote to the Federal Government about ongoing inequities in the eligibility criteria.
I stressed that previous cropping criteria had become ineffective and increasingly confusing for producers, advisors and administrators.
In my most recent letter, I urged the Commonwealth to standardise the two failed crop criteria for any season across all regions of NSW.
The Federal Minister clearly recognised the merit of this and has now adopted the suggestion.
Removing the costly application process for EC rollovers is another measure the NSW Labor Government has argued for.
And now the Federal Government has officially agreed to adopt this position.
I am also encouraged by the fact that the Federal Government has followed the State’s lead and increased its financial support for Rural Financial Councillors.
The NSW Government has essentially doubled its support for the Rural Financial Councilor service, compared to previous years.
In fact, the NSW Labor Government has contributed $4.7 million since 2002 to support 30-plus Rural Financial Councillors in NSW and it’s good to know the Federal Government has topped up its contribution as well.
It’s good to see that the new Federal Minister is open to listening to good ideas from the Labor-led States and I will continue to work constructively with the Commonwealth and other States and Territories to identify and implement further enhancements to the Commonwealth’s EC program.
This column appears in Agriculture Today.