Chance sees the drought dramas

27 Jul, 2006 07:00 PM
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AGRICULTURE Minister Kim Chance compared his visit to WA's northern agricultural region last week to arriving at an airplane crash with a packet of band-aids.

Mr Chance flew to the region last week to speak to growers and inspect conditions on drought-hit farms in Northampton and Morawa.

Although an estimated $1 billion damage bill has been attached to this season's drought, Mr Chance has access to limited resources.

Any help the State Government is able to provide will do nothing more than put a slight dent in that bill.

Despite the obvious restrictions, Mr Chance remains optimistic about what can be achieved with a combination of band-aids, positive attitudes and rain.

"A good dose of rain over the next week or so will change our approach to the season," Mr Chance said.

"It will help contain some of the drought and mean we are dealing with a smaller group of people: a more localised group.

"While the season is now essentially over for the northern Wheatbelt, a good dose of rain would still be welcomed.

"It's not going to create anything more than a well below-average season, but it will help maintain the limited numbers of stock that are still there.

"It will certainly mean a better environmental outcome for some farms by providing ground cover where it has been disturbed through cropping."

Mr Chance said rain would provide welcome relief to the drought, even if it escaped the immediately affected areas.

"Some areas are already green and would benefit enormously from a big rain," he said.

"It would take a huge amount of pressure off livestock problems by making more agistment available in different areas.

"Most of all it will instil confidence in the availability of grain and fodder this summer for those areas that don't get any rain and will probably not see any opportunities for at least 10 months."

Mr Chance invited Farm Weekly to observe his visit to WA's northern agricultural region for meetings with growers and local government officials from the Northampton, Mullewa, Morawa and Perenjori shire councils.

Mr Chance used the meetings to gain feedback on the drought to help manage a response.

He will consult with drought advisors to help convert the information he gathered into strategies for implementing assistance schemes to the regions hit hardest by the drought.

Mr Chance was joined on the fact-finding mission by Agriculture Department farm business development manager Bruce Thorpe.

Mr Thorpe will help the Minister by providing technical analyses of the conditions and liaising with the Dry Seasons Advisory Committee (DSAC).

"Conditions in the northern agricultural region are severe and clearly the worst we have ever seen at this time of year," Mr Chance said.

"Paddocks and fields that are normally green in mid-July are now brown, bare and devoid of growth."

While the cropping season in the north has basically been declared over, there are still some signs of life.

Some paddocks south of Mingenew are sprouting healthy signs of crops; fortunate enough to be under a cloud at some stage in April, May and June.

Mr Chance said speaking to locals had enabled him to identify issues that would help guide his handling of the drought.

"One priority that needs to be addressed in the short term is the identification of future sources for emergency seed," he said.

"This is something that will have to be done almost immediately and is a realistic request.

"We also identified a number of health issues.

"Some of these we have already started working on but we will need to follow through with the Health Department to make sure we are on top of it.

"The Agriculture Department and the DSAC will take further action and I will certainly speak to the Health Minister about those issues."

Mr Chance fielded requests from growers seeking relief from added freight costs associated with the agistment of stock and feed transport.

"I will look at these requests and that's all I've undertaken to do," he said.

"It was more enthusiastically supported in some places than others, but there is only so much we can realistically achieve."

In conjunction with feed issues, labour and job opportunity issues also were identified.

Mr Chance said he would instigate discussions with the mining industry to explore potential opportunities for sharing labour supply.

"There are some opportunities where accessing and sharing jobs between various industries with common skill bases can be achieved in a more organised way," he said.

Mr Chance was enthused by the potential for developing closer alliances between these groups that would serve to maintain the supply of labour.

Mr Chance also fielded requests for public works to be moved forward.

"Road works is something that has been done in the past and I will certainly look towards that in the future," he said.

Mr Chance said the most pressing concern was the absolute lack of feed in the northern agricultural region.

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