Drought-ravaged growers plead not to be forgotten
AS the spread of Covid-19 starts to subside, one very real problem for communities across the country remains.
One of Australia’s worst ever droughts and the impact it continues to have has slipped from focus.
The majority of the Granite Belt is still in the vice grip of drought.
There will be fewer fruit and vegetables produced again this year and some growers are contemplating carting water for a third successive year.
Angus Ferrier, president of the Granite Belt Growers Association, said despite rain in February and a small showering since, the drought was the region’s biggest adversary.
“Drought is our number one problem, number two and number three,” Mr Ferrier said.
“It remains our biggest concern, with daylight another too. It’s still that serious.”
Some patches of the Granite Belt have fared better than others.
“We know that west and north of town are particularly dry, with the southern area of the district having had more rain in February,” Mr Ferrier said.
“I think if we exclude the southern region, I would say the general feeling is of great uncertainty still.
“There has not been enough rain to fill dams, which means growers of annual crops face uncertainty of what they should do with ordering in the way of seedlings.
“Growers of permanent crops face an uncertain summer ahead with the supply of water for their trees and vines.
“That, compounded with the stress event on trees from last summer, is a very real concern in its own right.”
Member for Maranoa and Agriculture and Drought Minister David Littleproud said the Granite Belt wasn’t being forgotten.
“The Federal Government hasn’t forgotten the drought, with $200 million in infrastructure grants for drought communities announced only last week,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Another $100 million from the Future Drought Fund will start to flow after July 1.
“The Federal Government continues to provide other programs like Farm House Hold Allowance and zero interest on refinanced loans, saving tens of thousands (of dollars).
“There’s cautious optimism, but it will take at least two or three average seasons to get over the drought,” he said.
On the ground, Mr Ferrier said the funding wasn’t going to where it was needed and what had been made available had quickly evaporated.
“I think the lack of drought assistance for the horticulture industry remains an issue.
“I believe the current pot of money has been expended or exhausted.
“I would like to see a commitment of a new pot of money made available in the new financial year,” Mr Ferrier said.
Overcoming Covid-19 has come at a huge financial blow to the Federal Government and Mr Ferrier is worried producers have fallen down the pecking order.
“I’m very concerned agriculture will fall down the priority list.
“Of course we understand it’s highly competitive and priorities for funding might be different at the moment.
“We were considered an essential industry, so if that’s the case then surely we’re deserving of a high place on that priority list.”
In order to get through the year, some growers could be forced to again loosen the purse strings and cart water.
“I’ve only heard anecdotally that they might be preparing to cart water again,” Mr Ferrier said.
“I don’t know if there’s trucks on the road at the moment.
“We’ve been fighting for three years to be eligible for some drought assistance and we feel like we’re still in the dark on where it’s going to come from,” he said.
On a smaller scale, local charities continue to operate and provide water to residents.
Granite Belt Water Relief, while about to move premises, continues to offer assistance.
As does Granite Belt Drought Assist, which for the month of June will open its Walsh Dr headquarters on Saturdays.