Help is on its way

Alex Ford

“THERE hasn’t been a drought that hasn’t broken.”

Ray Akers, a Heyfield Lions Club volunteer, has been running around the district, sourcing feed for farmers across Gippsland.

Despite how dry the paddocks have got, he’s still optimistic.

Much of Gippsland, from Yarram to Orbost, is suffering from a ‘green drought’ — the grass is green, but the nutrients are not enough to sustain livestock.

This has been worsened by winds that have dried topsoil, making it even harder for anything to grow.

Coming so soon after the collapse of Murray Goulburn, and with dry conditions across eastern Australia, it’s become something of a perfect storm.

Until the drought breaks, Mr Akers is determined to make sure Gippsland farmers are looked after.

“Don’t get me wrong, they need it up north, but that’s where all the attention’s going, and that’s where all the fundraising’s going — there’s Gippsland farmers in trouble too,” he said.

“People come up here and see the (Macalister) irrigation area and say what are you talking about there’s plenty of feed, but you look across, it’s green, but there’s no feed in it.”

With demand for stockfeed increasing dramatically, Mr Akers is organising a Need for Feed Festival, on Saturday, October 20 in Rosedale.

All proceeds will help buy bales and get them distributed to local farmers, which is becoming more challenging by the week.

“The main thing we want now is to source hay,” Mr Akers explained.

“We’ve sent so much up north, and (the price) has gone through the roof, and I’ve heard of people asking $500 a tonne, up from $180 — most of them are around $400.

“The worst trouble, what happened when New South Wales did their subsidies, the price went up $150 the next day, but their farmers got their subsidies and it didn’t really affect them, but here, they have to pay that $150 extra, it’s put them on the back foot.

“Some farmers are beginning to weigh up options — sell the farm? Continue buying $70,000 worth of hay a month? Let go of staff?”

In Sale, Portside Food and Wine at The Wedge will host Drink for the Drought: A Farmer’s Day Out on Saturday, September 22, for anyone with a farm as their main source of income.

Using money raised from every coffee sold and donations in the cafe, sisters Molly Work and Michelle Gerrand aim to give farmers a chance to forget their troubles for an evening.

“If we raised $5000, which is our target, it’s not going to go that far if we divvy it up between all the local farmers, maybe $50 a farm, which at the end of the day won’t buy them a bale of hay,” Ms Work said.

“We thought, why not raise money to put on an event here — it’s a night off, they don’t have to worry about paying for anything.”

Ms Gerrand said her husband, who farms near Stradbroke, was lucky enough to have a strong social network, but many farmers weren’t, having spent the last few seasons struggling.

“It could be a lifeline for those isolated farmers who don’t have those social networks and haven’t got time to get out and socialise, to just come in and speak to other farmers who’re in the situation they’re in, and bounce ideas off each other,” she said.

“I think that’s more valuable to the people on the land that are drought-affected to speak to like-minded people and support each other.”

At the Farmer’s Day Out, as well as plenty of food and drinks, the John Leslie Theatre will be open as a cinema for children, and mental health support agencies will also attend.

Similarly, at the Need for Feed Festival, Lifeline will be there to listen to people’s concerns.

Entertainment-wise, Mr Akers said to look forward to live music, a show ‘n’ shine car show, rides and activities for the children, and the Australian whip-cracking national champion.

Elsewhere in the shire, many pubs are continuing the Parma for a Farmer initiative, local schools have fundraising activities, and Sale Rotary Club recently received an anonymous $5000 donation for drought aid.

Mr Akers said direct donations would be welcomed for feed, with details available on the Need for Feed Festival’s Facebook page, and volunteers were also needed — people are encouraged to email needforfeedfestival@bigpond.com

Ms Work said the support was overwhelming.

“It’s a lovely thing to see our whole community come together,” she said.

“I’m sure it’s good for the farming community to know we’re supporting them, and the money’s not going interstate, it’s staying here.”