How You Can Help Drought-Stricken Farmers

Aussie farmers are facing an enduring drought, and they need your support to survive it.

A woman with no working stove and practically no food left in her pantry was handed a small yet much-needed lifeline when she was gifted a hamper by her community.

“You have no idea what this means to me,” she said.

Another waited until she was inside her car before she broke down in tears, so grateful -- yet ashamed -- to have received help.

"Farmers are a proud bunch. We don’t want a hand out all the time, but sometimes we do need a hand up,” Lynette Keanelly, who runs an apple and orchard farm in Oakdale, NSW, told ten daily.

Farmer Lynette Keanelly wants Aussies to be aware of what goes into making their food. Image: Emma Brancatisano

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Keanelly is one of four farmers behind the 'Dilly Drought Drive,' set up to support others in the Wollondilly Shire who are struggling through an historic drought.

It joins a raft of other registered rural charities and communities that are working together across the country to deliver stockfeed, water and other essentials to those who need it most.

But they, too, are running dry. So, how can we help?

‘Help those who are helping us'

Dilly Drought Drive founder Sharon Robertson has seen how drought is draining her community and friends. It is what drew her to set up the drive only months ago.

“We’re supporting 14 farmers now,” she told ten daily, “we like to keep it local. We have more people applying each week.”

The farmers behind the Dilly Drought Drive, supporting those in the Wollondilly Shire, on Sydney's south-western fringe. Image: Dilly Drought Drive Facebook

With charity ‘Lions Need For Feed’, the drive has now donated up to 600 hay bales, mostly from Victoria, and about two million litres of water through organised water runs via a local carter.

Keanelly, who volunteers with the drive, has sat on both ends.

“The team has been helping us out with water supplies and other products to help us insulate for spring,” she said.

“Everyone has different needs. Mine are different to those of a dairy farmer. So what I would ask of able people is that they donate to those who are helping us -- like the Dilly Drought Drive -- so that money will buy what we need.”

Local dairy farmer Gavin Moore, who offers his property in Glenmore to store hay bales, agrees.

“There are certainly positive vibes coming from the community. But these organisations need their help to be able to keep helping rural industries get through tough times,” he said.

“All of these organisations need funds and support because it takes a toll on the volunteers who run them as well.”

The drive, with Lions' Need For Deed, arranges hay runs to deliver feed to desperate farmers. Image: Dilly Drought Drive Facebook

In Wollondilly, Robertson said she is lucky to arrange a water run -- which costs about $2,000 -- once a month, despite most farmers needing weekly top ups.

“We just don’t have the money. But if someone says they are desperate, we’ll find a way.”

Other registered charities working directly with farmers include Rural Aid's Buy A BaleDrought Angels and  Aussie Helpers.

Rural Aid is hosting its inaugural fundraising ball in August next month, with all proceeds going directly towards its programs. Tickets can be bought here. 

Buy Australian branded products

With every day of drought, farmer’s crops are decimating – and the flow-on effects are huge. Drought has historically seen a surge in food prices and industry analysts have warned this time will be no different.

Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute Richard Heath told the Daily Telegraph prices of vegetables, bread and margarine are set to rise -- while red meat prices will fall as farmers are forced to de-stock cattle they are unable to feed.

Dairy farmer Gavin Moore urged Aussies to buy local, branded products. Image: Emma Brancatisano

Moore, among those dairy farmers who endured a crash in milk prices during the GFC and the ‘dairy crisis’, said it is now more important than ever to buy locally.

“Sourcing local produce is a big start, and certainly one of the easiest ways to help."

“Moving away from the cheap homebrand products and back to branded products increases the overall value of dairy products that are in the market -- the flow-on effect is farmers get a lower farm gate price for milk," he said.

‘Be tolerant’

At markets nearby her orchard in the Wollondilly Shire, Keanelly said she is marketing a piece of fruit that is flawed.

“We have customers who say they can’t feed their children a piece of fruit because it has a mark on its skin,” she said.

Farmer Lynette Keanelly urges Aussies to be aware of what goes into making their food. Image: Emma Brancatisano

“But I say to them that that piece of fruit will still feed your children just as well as the perfect piece that is next to it.

“I have been asked why I can’t produce every piece of fruit perfectly. My answer to that is, I’m not manufacturing it in a factory. I’m manufacturing it outdoors and it is exposed to the elements.'

The orchardist urged Australians to show tolerance as they walk through the grocery aisles.

“People need to understand what it takes to get their foot onto a plate. There are people working long hours and in dry conditions to produce that food,” she said.

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‘We need the government to stand up’

Banks and politicians are too coming to the aid of desperate farmers. But as many grapple with loan repayments and other bills that need to be paid, many believe its assistance is not reaching far enough.

Fairfax Media has launched a NSW Drought Petition urging the state government to do more, and needs 10,000 paper signatures tabled to bring about a debate in NSW parliament.

The petition calls on a complete freight subsidy to help farmers with the cost of freight on food sourced in NSW and interstate as well as relief on water costs and Local Land Service fees.