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Many farmers still in need of a hand

MISSING OUT: Paul Stace’s farm has missed out on vital rains so he is forced to drought feed some of his commercial angus cows.
MISSING OUT: Paul Stace’s farm has missed out on vital rains so he is forced to drought feed some of his commercial angus cows. Linda Mantova

WHILE the Warwick district has received some relief in the form of storm rain in the past week, the reality of drought feeding is still biting those who missed out on the rain.

One such landholder is Paul Stace, of Clifton, who has been struggling with drought feeding cattle and sheep on his New South Wales property for many months now, having transported 10 semi-trailer loads of feed down south during that time.

Mr Stace and his wife, Carolyn, operate Stace Farms on their 303 hectare Clifton property, Ercildoune, as well as Forglen Pastoral Company, on their 1012ha Armidale property, Forglen.

While the Clifton cattle and grain producers are not in the best situation they still feel compelled to try and help out those less fortunate than them, and would like to see a program, such as "Adopt a Farmer", put in place to help landholders gripped with drought in the west of the state.

The Staces joined 300 commercial angus cows this year on their New England property, as well as running 35 black limousin stud cows. They are also currently running 2000 "odd" merino ewes and 1000 crossbred ewes on their southern country.

Mr Stace has been drought feeding his cattle and sheep since the beginning of winter, and he knows too well the stress and hardship felt by anyone doing the same.

"I watch television and see producers contemplating shooting their cattle, and it is very disconcerting," he said.

"We had no spring rain on our Armidale property last year, and we got caught out a bit, but we had good summer rain thankfully.

"I bought barley straw from one of my neighbours up here, so I would never get caught out again."

Mr Stace started buying and storing barley and oaten hay for his livestock last Christmas, and gradually transporting it down to Armidale.

Since then he has transported 10 semi-trailer loads of feed down to Forglen, in his own prime mover.

"We started utilising the feed about half way through winter down there, as well as dry lick," he said.

"By the time winter was finished we were through most of it, and had almost run out, so I then mowed and baled another neighbour's crop of oats."

Mr Stace said the last of that oaten hay went south just last weekend.

"I took a semi load down, along with some lucerne hay off my son, Christopher's place, here at Clifton," he said.

"Those 40 bales will last, at a stretch, for about two weeks, and if we don't get good rain then I will have to start buying some serious feed.

"Initially our plan to buy here in Clifton was to drought proof our property down south, by growing grain and hay to supplementary feed steers to get to feedlot size," Mr Stace said.

"I also planned this year to grow barley up here specifically for use down on our Armidale country, but we are still waiting to get it off."

Stace Farms has 36ha of barley awaiting harvest, and

Mr Stace hopes it will yield about 150 round bales, which may keep things going a bit longer.

"My original intention was to shed it for next winter, but that's not going to happen," he said.

He is currently endeavouring to purchase as much barley hay as he can source.

"Barley hay is under-rated as a feed, as stock always seem to do well on it," he said.

Mr Stace's cattle and sheep are in reasonably good condition now having been supplementary fed all through winter.

However, he confesses he was overstocked leading up to the dry conditions of recent months.

"I was caught a bit overstocked going into the dry, as I probably should have only about 250 breeders and 1000 sheep on "Forglen"," Mr Stace said.

"Fat lamb prices took a dive 12 months ago, as did the cattle market, so I hung on to them, but it has probably cost me close to $30,000 to feed them, plus freight down and back," he said.

Mr Stace plans to "unload a lot of sheep and cattle once things improve".

"We just have to hope and pray for some good summer rain," he said.

"Every farmer you talk to is hanging on, waiting for things to improve, but there is always something to contend with, the Global Financial Crisis for example, or drought, floods etcetera.

"For some reason Australian farmers have an insatiable resilience when it comes to hardship, and they just keep going.

"But it all takes its toll, for example losing crops, livestock and not being able to plant after floods etc.

"We only had floods here at the beginning of the year, and now we are in drought.

"I feel fortunate in many ways, compared to people out west, and I would like to help them out."

Mr Stace believes farmers should do more for each other.

"One farmer who has been more fortunate could help a farmer not so fortunate.

"It is probably a biblical principal to set aside a certain percentage to help someone less fortunate, but it is achievable I believe," he said.

"So much of the nation's charity goes elsewhere, and it doesn't seem right."

Topics:  drought drought assistance flood recovery