Parkes Shire Council hosts drought forum to discuss ways to tackle drought

Reduced land rates, a one-stop-shop coordinator and more mental health services for farmers – these are just some of the suggestions that have emerged from the Parkes Shire Drought Forum on Tuesday night.

For two hours 90 farmers, retired farmers, business people and residents from around the shire gathered for a brain-storming session hosted by Parkes Shire Council at the Parkes Services Club.

Attendees split into groups to discuss their experiences through the drought, and short, medium and long term solutions.

They were also asked for ideas and projects on what they believe council should be spending the $1 million drought assistance funding the Australian Government announced for Parkes – and 59 other councils in the country – on August 19.

“We’ve called this meeting basically to try and get a bit more coordination into the drought effort in Parkes,” Mayor Ken Keith OAM said on Tuesday night.

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“There’s a lot of passion out there for what’s happening in the rural scene and business scene, and I think it’s important that we as a council respond in the best possible way we can to support the community of the shire at this difficult time.

“The potential of this drought is only in its infancy is the big concern I have and it could get a lot worse before it gets better.

“I think it’s important we have some strategies in place right from the beginning to make sure the relief that’s needed is getting to the people who need it most of all.”

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Among the main issues and concerns raised were how long the drought is going last and what does the future hold; access to fodder and keeping breeding stock alive; the health and welfare of farmers and business owners, as well as stock; time involved with feeding and handling livestock is huge and lack thereof for maintenance; lack of coordination for fundraising and distribution of donations; more professional support; and the flow-on effects to small businesses.

One participant said grain and hay has become too dear for farmers to purchase, with some farmers purchasing grain and hay from as far as Western Australia.

Hobby farmer Barbara Weaver said farmers are running out of house and stock water, and people in town are experiencing high water bills.

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Reduced land rates, a one-stop-shop for farmers to access the help and services they specifically need and the formation of support groups were some of the suggestions to help farmers through the drought.

Sixteen people also attended the agency forum, held earlier in the day on Tuesday.

This forum included representatives from non-government organisations, service providers and support agencies.