THEIR position is strong but they still lie awake at night and worry – about their own business, and about their farming friends and neighbours.
Brenda and Ian McColl are both from generations of farmers and “are no strangers to drought” but say this one is exceptional for its duration and extent.
“Politicians are now telling us we have to be ‘resilient’ – I agree, but the length and widespread nature of this drought is testing even the best of us,” Mrs McColl said.
“We don’t need the expense of politicians travelling around the countryside on ‘discovery’ and ‘listening’ tours.
“It is plain to see we are in drought and suffering.”
- Tablelands farmers say lucky few get rain as drought dominates
- ‘Praying that we made the right decision’ | The Big Dry
- Coonabarabran farmer gives up dream property to cope with drought | The Big Dry
The McColls live on the 957ha property Rocky Glen, 30km north-east of Barraba.
They run angus and angus-cross beef cattle, merino sheep for wool, forage crops, and merino/white Suffolk fat lambs if the season allows.
Like many across NSW, they’d had small but ineffective falls of rain over the last few months.
“The last ‘decent’ rain which was worthwhile for pasture growth was during October 2017, but the last rain that created sufficient runoff to top up dams was January-March 2017,” Mrs McColl said.
Like most, they had a drought management plan. And like most, they somewhat rolled the dice on if and when to enact it.
“When will it rain? How long will the drought last? Will we be able to get fodder? How long will our stock water last?
“They are tough questions to answer.”
Mrs McColl said they starting putting their plan into action earlier in the year “as we saw trouble approaching”.
They sold 50 per cent of their cattle and 40 per cent of their sheep.
Their dams were now all dry, but Rocky Glen had a small spring-fed creek that feed into their troughs.
“We are fortunate to have both this creek and stock water system; otherwise we would have sold all of our stock by now,” Mrs McColl said.
“We shall continue to hand feed our remaining breeding stock until spring.
“If it has not rained by then, it will be getting fairly desperate for us and a lot of other people.”
And the lack of rain was not the only natural event the McColls had had to weather.
“Hundreds of kangaroos and wild ducks were decimating our crops, which cost us $400/ha for brassica and $441/ha for oats to plant.
“A further 60ha of cultivation prepared for winter wheat has cost us $194/ha, but was too dry to plant.”
‘We chose this life’
Like many of the landholders who have shared their experiences in the media, the McColls said they appreciated there were others who had it worse.
Their business was in a sound position, they were a great team and they were “in good health, physically and mentally”.
“We chose this life and are very happy to live it through, good and bad,” Mrs McColl said.
“Though it is a challenge, we remain positive and optimistic.”
But they saw “the worry that other, less fortunate farmers are suffering”, and they were heartened to see people supporting each other.
“The sense of ‘community’ and ‘looking out for your mates’ is alive and well in rural areas and becomes stronger with drought,” Mrs McColl said.
“Rural people are very aware of the strong association between drought and mental wellbeing.
“The Facebook page started by Cassandra McLaren – One Day Closer to Rain – is just one example of how people are drawing together to support each other.”