Food for thought: Fifth-generation farmer Tim Bower feeding his depleted flock of sheep fava beans on his property, Stanley Vale, near Uralla in north-eastern NSW, Photo: Supplied
Welcome rains and drought aid are on the way to struggling farmers across the parched north of the state but will be too late to halt a major restocking under way.
Tim Bower, a fifth generation farmer near Uralla in north-eastern NSW, said saleyards in nearby Armidale are being swamped as graziers offload even core breeding stock.
Mr Bower will soon sell another 2000 sheep, reducing his flock to about 5000, after selling many of his cattle before Christmas. Rainfall for December and January - typically wet months for his region - is the lowest in more than a century, he said.
Tim Bower: "We're all in the same boat." Photo: Tim Barnsley
While farmers coped in the past by moving stock, this year's drought is so widespread it's not worth the freight to ship animals to more abundant regions such as Victoria. "We're all in the same boat," Mr Bower said. "It's the worst I've seen."
Statewide, NSW is enduring its 10th driest summer, while Sydney is in the midst of its third-driest.
Some temporary relief is on the way, with a big tropical low pressure likely to bring the best soaking rains over inland areas of SA, NSW, Queensland and the NT in as long as two years, Weatherzone said.
For the Armidale area, falls may be as much as 40 millimetres over the coming Friday to Tuesday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
The Armidale region was one of 20 local government areas across the north to be included in the O'Farrell government's emergency drought support funding on Wednesday. The areas covered now stretch from Broken Hill in the west to Tenterfield in the north-east.
The aid includes as much as $20,000 per producer to assist feed, water and stock transport, waiving of certain rates, and as much as $30,000 per farmer for water infrastructure.
The extra support is back-dated to January 1 and will cost $14.6 million to the end of June. It adds to aid already offered to the Bourke, Brewarrina and Walgett areas.
While welcoming the assistance, Fiona Simson, president of the NSW Farmers Association, said rural communities know little about the government's plans.
"You can't just have decisions being made in a vacuum or a thought bubble," Ms Simson said, adding a similar problem applies to federal assistance yet to be revealed by the Abbott government.
"We don't know what that trigger's going to be (for drought support)", she said. "We don't know how the communities are going to get into the federal package and what that package will be."
The National Farmers' Federation plans to unveil its drought support recommendations on Thursday. These include lowering the interest rate on farming finance loans to as low as 3 per cent from 4.5 per cent, and providing short-term wage assistance and household income support, said Matt Linnegar, chief executive of the federation.
"Unfortunately for many of these people, they went through an eight or nine-year drought, had two or three reasonable years to get back on their feet, and now they've been hit again," Mr Linnegar said.