Critical need: Robert Turnbull and his son Robbie feeding the sheep. Their 14-month-old sheep have never eaten growing grass. Photo: Anthony Johnson
NSW farmers in drought-affected areas are urging the government to reinstate the interest rate subsidy, an axed program that helped stop them from falling into deeper debt.
Farmers in the Bourke and Lightning Ridge regions say they are in critical need of the cash, as they face the first drought since the assistance package was changed.
Bourke farmer John Oldfield, 80, said the changed policy had failed.
''There's nothing in this new drought reform which helps us recover once the rain comes,'' Mr Oldfield said. ''Its focus is on being prepared and ready for drought - but we're already in it.
''The subsidy was how we survived the last drought - because once it finally broke, we had enough money to restock.''
The new National Drought Program Reform, a $99.4 million investment, is aimed at helping farmers prepare for and manage risks, but NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said the policy was only half formed.
''They have developed a policy to help farmers prepare for drought but there's not a lot of help for farmers currently in drought,'' Ms Simson said. ''If we have nothing on the table, then the best thing the government could do is to reinstate the subsidy.''
Lightning Ridge farmer Robert Turnbull, whose property has received less than 100 millimetres of rain in the past 18 months, is thankful for the state government's $7.6 million drought assistance package - which helps farmers transport stock and install pipes and tanks - but says it is not enough.
''The interest subsidy was our long-term survival plan,'' Mr Turnbull said. ''We were prepared for this drought; we had 1400 tonnes of grain on hand and 1500 rounds of hay - but that lasted six months and the drought still hasn't ended.
''We need some sort of prop-up.''
The subsidy closed in June 2012 because, according to the state and territory primary industries ministers, it was ''ineffective'' and could result in farm businesses being ''less responsive to drought conditions''.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said: ''As part of the agriculture white paper process, the government will deliver on its election promise to review, in consultation with industry, whether current guidelines relating to both drought preparedness and in-event drought measures are adequate.
''The white paper will be concluded within 12 months. Any requests for redesign of the current scheme that was introduced earlier this year has to be agreed to by all governments.''
Mr Turnbull said he could not wait that long.
''If we don't get rain by May, then that will be another year without a cent in the bank,'' he said. ''Farmers out here are shutting down, they are physically and mentally exhausted and we're all really struggling.''
Mr Oldfield agreed. ''We're hoping for rain on the horizon but until that happens … there needs to be something to help us.''