Photo: Michael Nolan

Farmers are pushing for equality in drought funding

ANGUS Ferrier's dam is basically mud.

The Traprock stonefruit producer has about 3percent water capacity in storage and if rain does not return soon he will lose heritage trees, worth more than $50,000 a hectare.

Mr Ferrier was part of a team of Southern Downs horticulturists who met with Queensland drought commissioner Mark O'Brien as he toured the region yesterday.

Top of the list of their concerns was reducing a discrepancy between livestock producers and horticulturists for emergency water infrastructure funding.

Eligibility for the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme prioritises graziers who prove the drought caused an 'animal welfare issue'.

Mr Ferrier wants this to stop.

"While I fully accept the necessity to look after animal welfare, the commercial impact of a water shortage on a permanent tree crop can be just as devastating,” he said.

The program funds laying pumps and pipes to move water around a property more efficiently.

Unlike drought preparation projects - like de-silting dams and covering them with shade cloth - Mr Ferrier said emergency pumps and pipes had an immediate benefit.

"It will help us better use what water is on the farm now,” he said.

For his part, Mr O'Brien agreed the scheme was flawed.

"If you have yearly crop but no water maybe you should not plant, or if you do and there is no rain, well that's a risk you take,” he said. "But there are people with long-standing trees, you cannot let them die.

"You can't replace them next year when it rains and there needs to be some consideration of that.”

Mr O'Brien will prepare a report for Premier. In it he will recommend reducing the paperwork for drought assistance applications, a greater focus on mental health resourcing and funding long-term water infrastructure.

Back in Stanthorpe, Mr Ferrier said the commissioner should lean on Dr Anthony Lynham, the Natural Resources Minister, to approve Emu Swamp Dam.

"It would be a long-term drought mitigation benefit, as well as an immediate morale boost for struggling irrigators,” he said.

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