When times get tricky

Help­ing hands, many ap­proaches

Central and North Rural Weekly - - CATTLE SUSTAINABILITY - KIRILI LAMB kirili.lamb@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

COUN­CILS are find­ing dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to giv­ing ru­ral pro­duc­ers a help­ing hand in a time of drought, en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards and eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties.

Craig John­stone, me­dia ex­ec­u­tive for the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion of Queens­land, said a num­ber of lo­cal gov­ern­ments in Queens­land were sen­si­tive to the needs of ru­ral pro­duc­ers.

“A com­mon ap­proach to drought and hard­ship as­sis­tance can be to of­fer in­stal­ment plans or rates re­prieve,” Mr John­stone said.

“While they can’t keep let­ting peo­ple off for­ever, coun­cils do what they can to keep peo­ple op­er­at­ing.”

Mr John­stone said coun­cils of­ten de­vel­oped re­sponses ad­dress­ing the par­tic­u­lar needs of their com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the im­pact on ru­ral pro­duc­ers within that com­mu­nity.

“There can be unique needs that coun­cil needs to con­sider, such as the im­pact of min­ing and gas op­er­a­tions,” he said.

Spe­cialised re­sponses de­signed to meet ru­ral needs have in­cluded fenc­ing pro­grams, wa­ter qual­ity ac­tiv­i­ties, men­tal health outreach pro­grams, or drought as­sis­tance ac­tiv­i­ties and rates re­lief, and these can form part of a raft of op­tions to make life a lit­tle eas­ier for farm­ers do­ing it tough.

Some re­sponses can be as sim­ple as lat­eral think­ing. Gunnedah Shire Coun­cil, in NSW, have as­sisted drought af­fected farm­ers by of­fer­ing ac­cess to wa­ter used to leak-test the town’s swim­ming pool cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion, rather than let it go to waste down the drain.

Ru­ral Weekly spoke to three coun­cils across Queens­land, and asked what strate­gies they had adopted to sup­port ru­ral pro­duc­ers in their lo­cal gov­ern­ment area (LGA).

■ Lon­greach Re­gional Coun­cil mayor Ed War­ren said he was proud of his coun­cil’s in­no­va­tive Lon­greach Wild Dog Ex­clu­sion Fence Scheme.

Coun­cil re­ceived ap­proval for a one-off loan of $17.9 mil­lion from Queens­land Trea­sury Cor­po­ra­tion to pro­ceed with the scheme, which will en­able the con­struc­tion of 2500km of ex­clu­sion fenc­ing, pro­tect­ing 900,000ha of land from wild dog pre­da­tion.

The game-chang­ing ini­tia­tive is cost-neu­tral to coun­cil; with the ap­pli­cants pay­ing for their fenc­ing through a spe­cial rate levied over a pe­riod of 20 years.

An in­crease of 200,000 sheep is pro­jected un­der the scheme over the next five years, a boost of around 40 per cent on cur­rent lev­els.

The ben­e­fit to the econ­omy is sig­nif­i­cant, with a fur­ther 130 jobs and a pop­u­la­tion in­crease of 500 peo­ple an­tic­i­pated.

Cr War­ren said the drought was af­fect­ing more than just farm­ers and that the scheme would ben­e­fit the en­tire com­mu­nity by bring­ing sheep back into the re­gion.

“We’ve been strug­gling with this drought for the last four or five years and it’s im­pacted

the whole com­mu­nity, not just the farm­ers. Peo­ple for­get about the busi­nesses and ser­vices that floun­der when there’s no money go­ing around in a drought stricken com­mu­nity,” Cr War­ren said.

“Sheep con­trib­ute much more to the econ­omy, be­cause even with mech­a­ni­sa­tion, they’re still shear­ing and press­ing bales much the same way they did one hun­dred years ago.

“So this scheme means peo­ple can go back into sheep and by get­ting on top of pre­da­tion it’ll also mean they can ac­tu­ally grow their flocks and get more pro­duc­tive over time. As they do that, they’ll need more help, and they’ll be able to in­vest in in­fras­truc­ture like yards and sheds – that’ll make a huge dif­fer­ence to the whole com­mu­nity.

“When you have shear­ing teams and roustabouts com­ing back into the re­gion, that’s more money into lo­cal busi­nesses, and more kids in

our schools, and it makes whole com­mu­ni­ties more sus­tain­able.”

■ Mackay Re­gional Coun­cil deputy mayor Amanda Camm said Mackay Re­gional Coun­cil val­ued the con­tri­bu­tion its ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties made to the lo­cal econ­omy.

“Specif­i­cally, as a proud su­gar grow­ing re­gion, coun­cil is con­scious of the need to sup­port our ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties,” Cr Camm said.

“Our re­cently adopted new Mackay Re­gion Plan­ning Scheme is heav­ily fo­cused on not only pro­tect­ing prime agri­cul­tural land, but also on al­low­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for new agri­cul­tural in­dus­tries to grow and de­velop.”

Cr Camm said other coun­cil ini­tia­tives, like its Fa­cil­i­tat­ing De­vel­op­ment in the Mackay Re­gion Pol­icy, placed a high im­por­tance on sup­port­ing agri­cul­tural in­dus­tries.

She said pol­icy gave the high lev­els of in­cen­tives to ru­ral tourism, which was a key op­por­tu­nity for the re­gion.

“We have sup­ported lo­cal farm­ers look­ing to di­ver­sify their crops and em­brace value adding ini­tia­tives to create new and sus­tain­able in­dus­tries,” she said.

“Coun­cil also sup­ports pro­grams like on-farm im­prove­ments through our sus­tain­abil­ity pro­gram to help farm­ers make their land use more ef­fi­cient, and we also pro­vide event sup­port fund­ing for events like lo­cal field days.”

Mackay Re­gional Coun­cil is will­ing to work with any ratepay­ers, in­clud­ing ru­ral prop­erty own­ers, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties to come up with an ac­cept­able ar­range­ment in terms of rates pay­ments.

■ West­ern Downs Re­gional Coun­cil (WDRC) mayor Paul McVeigh said coun­cil was ad­dress­ing live­abil­ity in the pre­dom­i­nantly agri­cul­tur­ally-based LGA.

“We’re see­ing a real gen­er­a­tional change in the West­ern Downs, and with young fam­i­lies com­ing back to the land they want to be con­nected in all sorts of ways: through safe roads, re­li­able telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works, or just so­cial in­clu­sion, we all want to be a part of a com­mu­nity and our ru­ral pro­duc­ers are no dif­fer­ent – with such an ex­pan­sive re­gion this presents a chal­lenge,” Cr McVeigh said.

“We talk about live­abil­ity in our towns, but we also need to think about live­abil­ity in our ru­ral re­gions.”

Two no­table as­sis­tance pro­grams de­liv­ered by that coun­cil were the Pest Man­age­ment Fund­ing Pro­gram and the Not Just for Laughs re­gional com­edy tour.

Not Just For Laughs has been an an­nual event since 2015, held in com­mu­nity hall in smaller cen­tres across the LGA.

“Coun­cil be­lieved in ac­tive and vi­brant com­mu­ni­ties and we know how im­por­tant it is to pro­vide these so­cial and fun op­por­tu­ni­ties for our val­ued pro­duc­ers and farm­ers,” Cr McVeigh said.

“Liv­ing in the bush is a way of life, but it’s no sur­prise that it also comes with its hard­ships. The Not Just for Laughs Re­gional Com­edy Tour is all about lift­ing the spir­its of our ru­ral res­i­dents do­ing it tough, while also hav­ing im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions about men­tal health.

“That’s what I love about Not Just For Laughs, it was about giv­ing our drought-af­fected com­mu­ni­ties a fun night full of laugh­ter and so­cial con­nec­tion – which is some­thing our res­i­dents don’t get many chances to do dur­ing times of drought.”

Ap­proach­ing as­sis­tance in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way, WDRC’s Pest Man­age­ment Fund­ing Pro­gram fund­ing is spe­cific to as­sist­ing ru­ral pro­duc­ers with pest man­age­ment is­sues around feral pigs and wild dogs.

“With ru­ral land­hold­ers across the re­gion feel­ing the pres­sures of grow­ing feral pig num­bers on lo­cal agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, our Feral Pig Aerial Shoot­ing Pro­gram was able to erad­i­cate 86 per cent of the feral pig pop­u­la­tion over an area greater than 350,000 hectares,” Cr McVeigh said.

“Af­ter the suc­cess of the pro­gram last year, coun­cil are now of­fer­ing fund­ing specif­i­cally to as­sist ru­ral pro­duc­ers with pest man­age­ment.”


PAS­TORAL CARE: Ru­ral pro­duc­ers face fi­nan­cial pres­sures around com­mod­ity prices and cli­mate ef­fects like drought and cy­clone.

Prac­ti­cal as­sis­tance, such as pro­tec­tion pro­grams around wild preda­tors, can be a mean­ing­ful way for coun­cils to as­sist ru­ral pro­duc­ers. PHOTO: FILE

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