Push to recall drought committee

Jo FulwoodCountryman

Eastern Wheatbelt growers have reaffirmed their call for the reformation of the Dry Season Advisory Committee.

Forty-five growers from across the Shire of Yilgarn met on Monday night at Moorine Rock to discuss strategies to solve the burgeoning debt crisis in the region.

Meeting spokesman and fourth-generation Yilgarn farmer Clint Della Bosca said farmers in the region wanted acknowledgement that the area was in seasonal drought, as opposed to facing long-term climate change.

"The main call from the meeting was that we believe we need to have that committee reformed, to have someone come out and look at our situation," Mr Della Bosca said.

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"We want the recognition that we are in seasonal drought, not climate change.

"We have had two or three years of drought.

"If you read all the literature about climate change, they are predicting a 10 to 15 per cent drop in annual rainfall over the next 30 years.

"But we are seeing a decile 0.5 in the shire this year, and there has only been 67mm for the growing season in Southern Cross - how can this be only climate change?

"That's not just a 10 or 15 per cent drop in rainfall.

"For those guys on the heavy red country, on 60mm, they just can't grow a crop on that; they can't do anything."

Mr Della Bosca said the State Government had so far refused to provide funding assistance to growers in the eastern Wheatbelt for stock agistment or feed.

"The first battle is getting acknowledgement, then we can proactively and positively talk about what we can do after that," Mr Della Bosca said.

"This is just the first step, for someone to come out and say, yes you are right, there had been prolonged drought, and we recognise this.

"Looking at the guys' faces Monday night, they just want that recognition to start off with.

"Hopefully through this Dry Season Advisory Committee, we can keep lobbying for financial assistance for stock agistment and feed."

Mr Della Bosca said the meeting also called for the Federal Government to assure growers that equity levels would not determine funding assistance eligibility through the Federal Government's concessional loans.

"We believe that's a very flimsy way of judging a farm business and can be manipulated too easily," Mr Della Bosca said.

"What we are saying is that it should be assessed on a farm-by-farm basis.

"The time needs to be spent to get this criteria right."

Mr Della Bosca also called for greater unity among farmers to tackle the long-term profitability of the industry.

"We need to be a strong unified farming group to make an impact politically," he said.

Mr Della Bosca said despite facing another disastrous season, farmers at the meeting still held hope that there was a farming future for the area.

"There is still a fair bit of positivity out there - that's the Yilgarn farmer in a way," he said.

"We can be profitable, we can farm out here and we can work hard to make sure this is all going to happen, and that's what we are going to do."

He said the Shire of Yilgarn would be undertaking a survey of farmers to determine the real state of businesses in the region.

Central Wheatbelt MLA Mia Davies said, traditionally, most funding assistance during drought periods had come from the Federal Government, rather than State resources.

"Every State, plus the Federal Government, has agreed to progress the National Drought Reform Package, and within that package there is funding through Centrelink that has eligibility guidelines that accommodates a farming business," she said.

"The challenge we have at the moment is that it is not due to commence until mid next year.

"If that was brought forward, a whole raft of farm businesses would be able to access support through Centrelink."

Ms Davies said after the election she would be keen to accompany farmers from the eastern Wheatbelt to meet with the Federal Agriculture Minister to discuss the drought reform package and access to drought relief funding.

She said she had raised the issue of reforming the Dry Season Advisory Committee with DAFWA director-general Rob Delane.

"I have had that conversation. I will also formally raise it with the State agriculture minister," Ms Davies said.

She said a reformed Dry Season Advisory Committee might be a way for farming groups to use meetings, to get their ideas to government and to give focus and get acknowledgment that growers were facing difficult and challenging circumstances.

"But there also needs to be pressure applied to the Federal Government after the election to bring parts of that drought package forward so farmers who need assistance can access funding," she said.

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