Cobargo farmers put all into recovery

Ten months after the bushfires, Cobargo farmers are still fighting for funding

Beef
Cobargo farmer Warren Salway lost family members, livestock, houses, sheds and fences in the bushfires. Despite the huge losses, he says they have been excluded from much of the government recovery funding.

Cobargo farmer Warren Salway lost family members, livestock, houses, sheds and fences in the bushfires. Despite the huge losses, he says they have been excluded from much of the government recovery funding.

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Do the grants match the needs?

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Cobargo farmers Warren and Helen Salway were arriving home from their fifth Salway family funeral for the year when The Land met with them last week - indicative of what they have been through in the past 10 months.

Mr Salway lost his brother Robert and nephew Patrick in the bushfires which raced through Cobargo last summer.

On top of this huge loss, the fires took 150 head of their cattle, around 80 sheep, two houses, five sheds, six loads of hay bales, two sets of stockyards and 30km of fencing. There wasn't an inch of grass that wasn't burnt of their 450 hectares.

The couple have put everything into their recovery, working seven days a week to put their farm back together.

But, while they have many remarkable stories of the people who have helped them along the way, when it comes to government funding, the Salways feel they have fallen by the wayside.

Before the fires, the Salways had almost 500 head of cattle, close to 400 Dorpers, a small Simmental and Fleckvieh stud and a butcher business, marketing their cattle directly to the public. They now run 200 cattle and 40 Dorpers.

"Our foundation herd was virtually wiped out, 30 years of breeding just gone in the matter of half an hour, it was pretty horrendous," Mr Salway said.

The fire didn't distinguish between a beef farmer and a dairy farmer, it didn't stop at our shed. - Cobargo producer Warren Salway

In the past 10 months they've put two houses back, built three sheds and have done 20km of fencing.

Their initial challenges, following the fires, were feed and fences for the stock they had left.

"We had 325 cattle on the farm directly after the fire and we were going through 50 big squares (of hay) a week," Mr Salway said.

Acts of kindness 

This is when acts of kindness from fellow farmers started to appear.

"One farmer from the other side of Bega arrived out here with 33 bales of hay on his truck," Mr Salway said.

"We were in the middle of a drought so he was feeding cattle as well, I just couldn't believe it, and to this day he won't let me replace it."

Mr Salway said another producer turned up with a bull and five heifers to help them start up their stud again while a team of four backpackers from BlazeAid helped the Salways repair their fences for three weeks.

"Instead of him trying to battle on doing it all himself, he had people to talk to, he even taught them Aussie slang," Mrs Salway said of the backpackers visit.

A young Victorian couple from Colac, also offered them a lifeline - taking a mini B-Double of their cattle on agistment for free.

"They were unbelievable, they just said 'righto we'll take them, they'll be no charge, you're doing us a favour, we have a lot of feed and we want it eaten out'," Mr Salway said.

Restocking in an unprecedented market

Their generosity allowed the Salways to avoid selling what was left of their stock, but buying back in has still been a challenge with cattle prices through the roof.

"I went to the Bega store sale two months ago and I paid $2850 for seven cows and calves and came home with a $21,000 bill," Mr Salway said.

He said the one thing going for them was they had 50 heifers ready to join, which would fill a large hole in the herd.

But it will still take 18-months from when they are joined for them to produce an income.

The Salways have estimated the fires cost them $1.7 million worth of infrastructure and stock, yet they have struggled to access government recovery funding.

"When the $75,000 came out for primary producers, I thought that's very good, I didn't expect that," Mr Salway said.

"But, then these other grants became available and we're excluded from them."

Falling through the cracks? 

One of the grants Mr Salway referred to was the NSW government's $140 million Bushfire Industry Recovery Package, which offers assistance to certain producers within certain industries, including dairy, horticulture and forestry, but does not include beef or sheep farmers.

"Between the seven beef farmers which surround us we lost on average $965,000," Mr Salway said.

"The fire didn't distinguish between a beef farmer and a dairy farmer, it didn't stop at our shed.

"I feel by restricting the funding to those industries they catered for a very small minority and gave them a huge amount of money."

Mr Salway said although the Bega Valley was traditionally a dairy farming stronghold, many had now switched to beef.

A spokesperson from the Department of Regional NSW said the dairy, viticulture, aquaculture, apiculture, horticulture and forestry industries (included in the funding) had suffered enormously.

"This targeted funding package is providing financial support and helping countless businesses get back on their feet in the short and medium term," they said.

"The livestock industry has also suffered greatly through record drought and bushfires, which is why $75,000 special disaster grants have been made available to eligible primary producers, along with a $10,000 small business bushfire support grant."

The Salways were also unable to access the NSW government's Natural Disaster Transport Subsidiary because they direct marketed their own livestock through their butcher business, and therefore do not classify as deriving 50pc of their income from primary production, an eligibility requirement.

"This is even though we solely rely on income derived from primary production and don't have any off farm income," Mr Salway said.

"Unless you fit neatly into their box, you fall by the wayside."

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