BETTER DAYS AHEAD: Central Highlands Cotton Growers and Irrigators Association president Aaron Kiely.
BETTER DAYS AHEAD: Central Highlands Cotton Growers and Irrigators Association president Aaron Kiely. Kristen Booth

Declaration a welcome relief

FARMERS will now have access to much-needed funding following a recent announcement.

After more than 18 months of campaigning, the Central Highlands region has been fully drought declared following recommendations from Local Drought Committees (LDCs).

Central Highlands Regional Council mayor Kerry Hayes said while landholders had been able to apply for individual drought declarations for their properties, this collective declaration meant that "everyone is treated the same”.

"Up until the announcement, (in) the southern part of the Central Highlands below the Capricorn Highway, there was 90 individually droughted properties and there'd only been 10 individually droughted properties north of line,” Mayor Hayes said.

"Well, subsequently another 30 properties have declared because of the patchiness of the rainfall.

"So effectively now 130 properties would have been drought declared, which as a number probably doesn't mean a lot but it means certainly a great area of the Central Highlands was (drought) declared and it was easy to make the full (drought) declaration.

"By having a collective declaration everyone is treated the same. Then those subsidies on either freight or fodder and then on diesel fuel is available to everyone.

"That benefits irrigators who are using pumps to shift water around on their properties and certainly agriculture more broadly.”

Mayor Hayes said there was "a bit of irony” in the declaration as it had taken so long.

"If you look around parts of the Central Highlands it looks okay, (with) reasonable pasture conditions and farmers planting, and then we've now just been fully drought declared,” Mayor Hayes said.

"And yet four or five months ago when it was quite dire, we couldn't achieve full declaration even though there had been no rainfall for pasture and farming.”

Mayor Hayes said over the past 18 months, he had suggested that LDCs meet up quarterly and that meetings are made mandatory.

"The reality is, particularly in this region, ours is a very average rainfall,” Mayor Hayes said.

"There can be an extremely wet summer and a very dry winter, which tends to be on the average side.

"But there's no guarantee of that and quite frequently there's variations to that rainfall during the year.

"So whilst you might pick a time that might be arguably the right time to assess, the reality would be to do it quarterly and that way you actually catch when the rainfall does come or does not come rather than saying, let's wait until April and see what the dial looks like then.”

Mayor Hayes said council would continue to support regional and rural landholders who might be affected by drought, such as when it came to paying rates.

"Certainly the DAF (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) website has been the point of truth, but things like hardship when it come to paying rates, that's obviously an opportunity that's extended to all our regional and rural ratepayers,” Mayor Hayes said.

"Council obviously has to take into consideration the sort of assistance we can provide and in the past, we'd provided molasses opportunities at Springsure, Rolleston and Emerald.

"We'd be looking at making sure that whatever services we provide, we get them up to scratch and then by extension of the full LGA being declared, there might be some opportunities for council that we'd like to pass on to ratepayers.”

Central Highlands Cotton Growers and Irrigators Association (CHCGIA) president Aaron Kiely said it was great to see the whole region drought declared to give everyone equal opportunity.

"With irrigation, it (the declaration) will give people the opportunity to change to a different tariff, tariffs that could change after June 30,” Mr Kiely said.

"With the change of tariff, it will give irrigators and stock and domestic people a better rate throughout the drought.

"It gives graziers an opportunity for freight and fodder subsidies.”

Mr Kiely said the previous drought declaration which was split along Capricorn Highway had "divided” the irrigation scheme down the centre, but the new declaration meant everyone could benefit from available tariffs.


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