MONEY has started flowing to Wimmera farmers through a landmark State Government support program.
The government announced a $25-million dry seasonal conditions support package in October to help farmers manage current conditions and prepare for future challenges.
The Drought Infrastructure Grant Program is one element of the package, and is open to farmers in 22 Victorian municipalities – including five in the Wimmera.
About $700,000 has been paid out in grants so far.
Robert O’Shannessy has been appointed to the new role as Agriculture Victoria’s north west dry seasonal conditions co-ordinator.
He said farmers could apply for grants of up to $5000 – matched dollar for dollar – for projects that would help them better prepare for dry seasons.
“Some of the things we’re seeing applications for are stock containment areas, soil moisture probes, on-property weather stations, and a lot of bits and pieces around precision agriculture,” he said.
“So far there have been 1392 applications, with 1131 approved in principle and 154 applications completed and paid out.”
Mr O’Shannessy – one of three dry seasonal conditions co-ordinators across the state – said his role was to work with councils and other relevant agencies to ensure support services were rolled out to any communities that required it.
He said demand for support was variable after a tough 2018 in many parts of the Wimmera, where a late break followed by below-average growing season rain meant crops faced an uphill battle.
“There are pockets were farmers will get cost recovery – some farmers will make a small profit,” he said. “But we’re also seeing some farmers who had a real wipe-out, particularly those areas that had a double-whammy with rain and frost. That was quite a lot of areas through the north-west.”
Mr O’Shannessy said the government package also provided funding for increased mental health support.
“We’re partnering with local governments and health providers to deliver deliver additional psychological first aid training, and also funding to support health and well-being of farmers through counselling and other programs,” he said.
Mr O’Shannessy said there was also additional funding for technical decision-making support for farmers.
“Agriculture Victoria has been leading the delivery of that in collaboration with other service providers,” he said.
“We had 90 farm-focused workshops in 2018 and there will be many more coming in 2019. We’ve had 1809 farmers and 520 service providers attend the workshops so far across the state.”
The workshops focus on topics including animal health, feed budgeting, land management and stock containment.
Mr O’Shannessy said his role would exist as long as there was a need.
He encouraged people to reach out to others and ensure they sought support.
“Don’t go it alone. Stay connected with friends and your community, and pop in and see people. If you notice you haven’t caught up with someone in a while or they’ve been a bit quiet, pop in and say hi,” he said.
“I want to stress the need for people to keep in touch with others, and to not be afraid to give Rural Financial Counselling Service a call – they do a fabulous job.
“So many farmers I’ve spoken to who have used their services have said they’ve got them on the right track.”
Mr O’Shannessy said the Look Over the Farm Gate program, led by the Victorian Farmers Federation with support from Agriculture Victoria, was also an important tool for connecting communities in hard times.
The program provides grants up to $1500 for community events, with a number already hosted in the Wimmera.
Mr O’Shannessy said people could visit www.agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons or call 1800 260 425 for information about the range of services and grants available.
The infrastructure grants are open to people in Hindmarsh, Horsham Rural City, Northern Grampians, Yarriambiack and Buloke municipalities.
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