LONG spells of hot, dry weather are nothing new in the Central West, but last year the drought hit the local, state and national headlines like never before.
Farmers across the region were already subject to failing crops and stock left without water and feed, but in early August it seemed the entire nation was made aware of the conditions.
On August 8, the entire state was declared in drought and the NSW Department of Primary Industries said 61 per cent of NSW was either in drought or intense drought, while nearly 39 per cent was drought affected.
It was much the same in the Central West.
The drought prompted visits to the region by the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who visited Trangie in June and August, while current Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Blayney in October.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian visited Newbridge near Bathurst in late July.
The visits coincided with drought funding announcements for farmers and helped to raise awareness of the conditions to those in urban areas.
Central West agronomist Glenn Shepherd said the visits may have helped raise awareness and subsequent donations by the public, but he feared that footage and photographs taken by media at the time of “starving sheep” and “wind blown paddocks” did not “paint agriculture in a good light”.
“It’s a highly progressive industry and most people aren’t aware of the technology we have,” Mr Shepherd said. “I’m worried it showed farmers as backward and always expecting a hand out and most people aren’t like that. Most people are pretty resilient.”
Central West farmer Wayne Dunford has properties near Parkes and Brewarrina and alongside his cropping operations also runs fat lambs and cattle.
He has been hand-feeding his stock since mid 2017 and in the past six months has sold more than half of his breeding cattle.
Mr Dunford agreed that while political visits did a lot to raise awareness and subsequently donations to drought charities, there were down sides to the publicity.
About 14 months ago, locally-sourced hay cost around $350 a tonne including freight, but thanks to the declaration of drought in NSW and huge donations by the public to drought charities, he said the cost of hay skyrocketed.
Mr Dunford said drought charities were bidding against farmers for “sheds full of hay”.
“The sad fact is that the amount of money that was donated put the price of hay though the roof,” he said.
“Hay costs went up $100 a tonne in two weeks.”