Hundreds of Upper Hunter properties have run out of water, says a council boss who told Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about the effects of the drought on the weekend.
While coastal parts of the region are having a wet few days, Scone, Merriwa and surrounds remain parched.
Scone has recorded 98.6mm of rain so far this year, compared with 427.4mm at Newcastle. Merriwa has had 162.8mm of rain, but 61mm of that fell in three days in February.
When Upper Hunter Shire Council general manager Steve McDonald met with the Prime Minister on the weekend, he explained the severity of the situation.
Mr Turnbull was in the Hunter visiting his property before he and several ministers kicked off a tour of drought-affected parts of NSW and Queensland.
Mr McDonald explained to Mr Turnbull the urgent need for water security measures and help for farmers to cope with the cost of food transport. He said many farmers were buying water because they could no longer access it at their properties.
“It’s very severe,” Mr McDonald said. “Hundreds of properties have run out of water for the first time. As a result of this drought, stock numbers will be down for many years to come.”
Mr Turnbull told reporters in Trangie, west of Dubbo, on Monday he had been learning from the people he met in drought-affected areas, including “a couple of very experienced farmers in the pub at Murrurundi”.
“The reality we face is rainfall has always been variable in Australia. It appears to be getting more variable, certainly in this part of the world and back where Lucy and I are in the Hunter,” he said.
“So how do you manage that? Do you run fewer stock? Some people I was talking to [on Sunday] in the Hunter were talking about that but of course if you have fewer stock, you have lower incomes.
“It’s a mix of things but I think the important thing for people in regional and rural Australia to know is that we understand how big a challenge this is, we really do.”
Merriwa farmer Ron Campbell is one of the many living that challenge. He said conditions had “certainly worsened” since he first spoke to Fairfax Media in February – feed supplies were depleted and breeding stock was being affected.
“Agistment is almost non-existent, with the cost of any grain and hay increasing substantially,” he said.
Labor agriculture spokesman and Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon accused Mr Turnbull of leaving the Hunter off the itinerary for his tour with the ministers.
“After five years of inaction on drought policy, Malcolm Turnbull is obviously looking for a photo opportunity but what farmers need is sound policy responses,” he said.
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