Peak Hill farmers donate hay to drought-stricken Walgett through NSW Farmers

Terry Sim, November 5, 2014
Walgett woolgrower James Foster with a load of donated hay.

Walgett woolgrower James Foster with a load of donated hay.

Walgett woolgrower James Foster hasn’t had decent rain for almost four years but he and others like him are still fighting.

Driving his old 79 Louisville truck, Mr Foster is now continually seeking cheap sources of feed on the days he is not feeding his sheep.

“This drought here is probably the worst one we’ve ever seen.

“There has been virtually zero break in it and not a speck of green on the ground.”

He has travelled as far as western Victoria and across to Wagga in NSW sourcing hay, grape marc and grain. Recently he helped transport donated hay from farmers at Peak Hill in central west NSW.

“We started feeding back in 2011, but only had to feed for six months.

“It was very wet in the start of 2010 and then it dried off,” Mr Foster said.

“All of 2011 was dry and then it rained in 2012, but it only gave short relief.

“We were back feeding again by the middle of 2012 and we haven’t stopped since,” he said.

“We halved our sheep numbers in 2010 and the last time we joined ewes was 2012 – it was too dry to have a lambing in 20013 or 2014.

“My last lambing was 2012 and even then it was only a small lambing – they didn’t join very well.”

Sheep flock had to be halved

Mr Foster had about 7000 sheep in 2010 and has had to drop his numbers to just under 3000.

“I’m hoping to sell another 500, but you just can’t get the price for them – the buyers come out and offer you peanuts.”

In most cases farmers around Walgett had completely or partially destocked.

“It will be years before they will get up to full production again.

“Probably the biggest thing is that next to no crops have come in for two or three years now,” he said.

“It is not only the farmers that are suffering, the towns are suffering in a big way.

“The biggest worry is that we are going to start losing the services in town.”

Mr Foster said rural financial counsellor Julie Casey was providing a vital service to district farmers.

Two inches of rain and follow-up falls needed

Mr Foster said areas around Brewarrina, Bourke and Enngonia are also affected by the drought and urgently needs two inches of rain for summer feed and follow-up falls within a week or two. Since April this year he has spent $32,000 on freighting grape marc to his properties Westleigh and Remington.

He has also helped deliver donated hay from Peak Hill to Walgett district farmers for the cost of delivery – about $20 a bale.

Despite a recent downturn in seasonal conditions around Peak Hill, members of the NSW Farmers’ Peak Hill branch have found spare round bales of hay for their north-west counterparts.

Peak Hill farmers make kind offer

NSW Farmers’ western regional service manager Caron Chester said a Peak Hill member contacted her with the kind offer of quality round bales hay for farmers in need.

“It was a wonderful call to get – I knew farmers in the Walgett region were experiencing severe drought conditions and were in need of fodder.

“The donated fodder was ready to go, but with the absence of government freight subsidies for donated feed, I was not sure how to get it to Walgett.”

Ms Chester said she discovered Mr Foster had been driving around the state and Victoria in a 35-year-old truck buying fodder for his 2000-plus sheep flock.

“Not only did I find a truck to transport the fodder, I also found a truly deserving farmer.”

Mr Foster picked up two loads of donated fodder from Peak Hill and is sharing it with another six local drought-affected farmers in the Walgett district.

“I could use all the hay myself but I feel that I’ve got to get it out to other people as well.

“It’s a fantastic offer from the farmers at Peak Hill who would simply not take anything for it,” Mr Foster said.

“It’s about a 400km trip to Peak Hill on some dusty back roads, but I just take it easy in the old 79 Louisville truck.”

A group of farmers of Peak Hill have also organised for a load of donated grain to be delivered to farmers north of Walgett, with a local freight company in Parkes providing free transport.

“What we’ve had so far has been fantastic – I can’t thank the people at Peak Hill enough,” Mr Foster said.

Those with fodder to donate can contact NSW Farmers or Mr Foster on (02) 6828 9305 or 0428 838 977.



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