It might be a new year, but the drought drags on for farmers, faced with the daily grind of feeding stock and worrying when there’ll be a seasonal break.
In a bid to ease some of the emotional load, St George and Sutherland Shire residents are being urged to phone a farmer friend on Monday, February 11, to check in and give them a bit of a cheer and “ask them how they're going, telling them you're thinking of them and letting them know that you hope it will rain soon too”.
The group Thank A Farmer For Your Next Meal said some of the understanding about the drought may have faded since the outpouring of sympathy last year, while things are not getting any better on the ground.
Statistics revealed by the DPI on Friday shows 99 per cent of the state is in drought and the signs of a break are still far away.
There have been some recent bright spots with good storm rain. Even Bega’s Brogo dam on the NSW Far South Coast has filled but things are dire in most areas following summer heatwaves, especially in western NSW, and everyone knows that a bigger weather break is needed.
Phone-a-farmer organisor, Sam Johnston, said a simple phone call can mean a huge personal fillip, and bring some positivity to daily farm life.
“So on Monday the 11th of February we would like to strongly encourage everyone to take five minutes out of their day, pick up the phone and ring a cousin, a friend, an old work colleague, anyone that’s out working on the land or involved with agriculture that you might think would appreciate a phone call.”
A one-time ag machinery inventor Sam Johnston now travels the state in his new job as a real estate agent and auctioneer for rural property experts Meares&Associates.
While on the road he makes it his duty to phone his friends to see how they are going.
“I phoned a friend not long ago and the next time we talked he said ‘Sam, I can’t tell you how good it was to have a chat the other day’, and I thought ‘well that was an easy thing to do’. But I think not many of us always think to do it. Farmers are often alone out in the field and so a call can really mean something.
“I think the big thing is that there was a lot of media coverage with the drought form the middle to the end of last year, but since then nothing much has changed on the ground, in fact, it has worsened while that attention has dried up a bit. We think phone a farmer is a chance to get back in touch with a farmer friend who may be doing it tough and just give them a bit of a morale boost.”
Mr Johnston hopes not only farming neighbours phone each other, but particularly city people will take the time on Monday to phone a friend in the country, or someone they may have a link to.
He drives through all the towns that are doing it tough, and meets the people who are doing it tough. Many are so upset at things they don’t want to talk
“We want this to be a positive thing, not a negative thing,” he says.
Pernelle Alexander, Bohena, Narrabri, (who took the photo above of her husband Robert and their dog Snoop) said that a phone call can make a huge difference to a farmer’s day.
“It should be a positive thing, just say ‘hi’, be positive and talk about something else than the drought, something else in their lives. Of course it will depend on the person how it flows, but just be positive, anything positive.”
Mrs Alexander said while women were often willing to talk about things, males were more likely to keep things inside.
She said that many farmers were having to sell off stock they had put much time and love into and to do so was very devastating. Recently the Alexanders have had to sell off some of their premium Brahman stock, and close their Brahman stud to keep things functioning ,so that they can keep funding their large feed bills for their other beef cattle – a feed bill that ran into $25,000 for one truck load they sourced recently from the Barossa in South Australia.
“I think this idea for phone a farmer day is fantastic. What happens is that male farmers don’t talk a lot, but many are being forced to do horrific things like having to sell their prime stock. You feel like you’re disowning these beautiful cows you’ve helped raise up. You have to sell them because you don’t want to see them going backwards, and you don’t want to be in that position that some farmers are, of where you have to go out and shoot your stock. The only thing I can relate to in the city that it would be like would be to say if you had a business and it was doing really well, then the arse fell out of it for no reason of your own, then you suddenly find yourself bankrupt, that’s the kind of thing farmers are going through.”
Even though the Alexanders have kept their cattle up in condition, the cattle are so hungry they run when they see a feed truck in the paddock. The nearby Namoi river hasn’t flowed for ages.
“No one knows when this is going to end,” she says.
A number of media outlets have also got behind the phone-farmer day, including Nine, publisher of The Leader, Channel 10 and ABC’s Landline.