Please stay, rain

LOCAL farmers are putting all their hopes on recent rain continuing in order to refill dams and regrow pasture.

Killawarra dairy farmer, Robert Walsh said his water supply has completely dried up and recent conditions have been the worst he has ever seen.

Fortunately Robert's farm has received more than 40mm of rain since last Friday which will go some way to help regrow pasture, although it hasn't made any difference to his dams. He hopes the extra water now flowing in the Manning River may mean restrictions placed on irrigators last week will be lifted soon. 

Currently milking 112 head of cattle, Robert has been filling troughs twice a day from hoses. The troughs are now the only source of water for the cattle and with dry, brown paddocks food is just as scarce.

Robert is purchasing feed but has dire predictions for farmers if significantly more rainfall doesn't eventuate. "I hate to think what will happen," he said. 

In the more than 60 years that his family has farmed at Killawarra, Robert said they have never run out of water before.

The knock on effect is that food is getting harder to purchase. "There's not a lot of hay to buy," he said. With NSW having just experienced some of the driest conditions on record, even well prepared farmers are running out of feed.

Currently the Manning Valley is not drought declared which means that recent government subsidies are not available to local farmers. 

Livelihood at risk

LOCAL families are feeling the pain of drought as recent conditions threaten their livelihood.

For local dairy farmers Alison and Steve Germon, the recent dry conditions have been devastating for the whole family. 

"No six year old should have to see cows dying," Alison said, admitting she has lost count of the number of cattle lost to her dairy recently. 

You can make money out of mud but you can't make money out of dust. - Alison Germon

Struggling to survive amid exceptionally dry conditions is putting the entire family under strain and Alison is doing everything she can to keep the humour flowing. She shows me a "felfie" - a farmer selfie taken on her iPhone, a source of fun that has been spreading through Facebook and Twitter lately. "It has been my saving grace," Alison said of social media. "It keeps me from feeling so isolated; it is good to know someone is out there."

The paddocks have been dry and the Germons are using their own stock of feed for the cattle but it is not enough.

"There is only so much preparing you can do," Alison said. "We prepared for the drought, and the one before that and the floods...we made as much silage as we could."

Rationing what feed they do have and buying in grain for the dairy is holding the condition of the cows but milk production has dropped by a third. With fixed costs the same, the financial impact is significant and Alison said it is hard on them all. 

She admits that belts have been tightened and all unnecessary costs cut from the family budget. "We don't know what else to do; we are too far in debt." 

Alison is currently hand rearing six bull calves because they can't sell them. With farmers across NSW experiencing similar difficulties, there is an oversupply of cattle at saleyards and prices are rock bottom, if they sell at all. The Wingham abattoirs are booked solid until April and farmers like Alison and Steve have few options available to them until conditions improve.

Alison cites a competitive milk industry as an extra burden on farmers. When asked what townies can do to help, Alison is quick to reply "stop buying the $1 litre milk from the supermarket," she said. "Milk that cheap is not profitable for farmers and doesn't even cover the cost of production."

The Germons have only been farming in Wingham for a few years, their previous dairy was at Coopernook and floods were a constant issue. But what Alison and Steve are experiencing now is unlike anything they have faced before. "We experienced flood after flood but milk production wasn't anywhere near as bad as it is now.

"You can make money out of mud but you can't make money out of dust" Alison said. "We need substantially more rain."

The good news is that since Friday the Germons have recorded more than 50mm of rain and paddocks have already started to green up.

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