From today's news ...
Drought-ravaged farmers head to WACA as WA's big dry hits hard
FARMERS will be bussed in from the country and given tickets to the cricket as the State Government tries to ease the plight of desperate landowners who are facing the worst drought in memory.
Forty farmers from the dust-bowl towns of Perenjori, 370km north of Perth, and Kondinin, 280km east of the city, will arrive next Sunday for a cooked breakfast and the Twenty20 clash between Australia and Sri Lanka at the WACA Ground.
It comes as mental health workers are put on alert in towns across the South-West and the Wheatbelt, as hundreds of farmers battle what the Department of Agriculture has now deemed a "hydrological and biological drought".
New maps released by the department this week show half of WA has suffered well below average rainfall in the past six months, while tens of thousands of hectares received the lowest rainfall since records began in the 1900s - causing crops to fail and forcing farmers to sell off breeding livestock to eastern states buyers.
Sport and Recreation Minister Terry Waldron said the cricket tickets would not help crops or ease financial pressure, but they would offer struggling landowners a short break and the chance to look beyond the "front gate" of their farms.
"This won't help the seasonal outcome, but sport and recreation and sport and recreation clubs are the glue that holds rural communities together," Mr Waldron told The Sunday Times. "They are places to meet to share stories and hopefully help break down isolation that can breed despair."
WA Farmers Federation president Mike Norton said State Government relief was desperately needed as parts of the Wheatbelt had become a drought "black hole" and many farmers would have nothing to harvest this season.
Mr Norton said the drought would soon hit home for metropolitan residents as well because prices for meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables would "go through the roof".
Lake Grace farmer Bob Iffla, the WA Farmers Federation regional president, said the drought was the "final nail in the coffin" for many cockies who had been hit by frosts and successive dry seasons.
"It's the worst season anyone has seen in their lifetime," he said.
"It's dire out here. We're in real trouble."
As estimates put the cut to WA's export harvest at $2 billion, Beverley farmer Jeff Murray said he had been reduced to hand-feeding his sheep to keep them alive because his crops had failed.
The Water Corporation said just 11 gigalitres had flowed into South-West dams this season - a tenth of the average and the lowest amount ever recorded - while the Agriculture Department elevated the drought to the second-highest level of its internal "incident rating" scale.
Wheatbelt Men's Health co-ordinator Julian Krieg said calls to the helpline had jumped 20 per cent as many farmers battled depression and stress.
Agriculture Department practice director David Bowran said large parts of WA were in the grip of both a hydrological drought - meaning dams were running dry - and a biological drought, meaning plants, animals and the environment were being devastated by lack of water.
Mr Bowran said some farms had had less than 70mm of rain in the past six months - less than a sixth of their average expected rainfall.
The Dry Season Advisory Committee said water shortages and bank finance had become critical issues facing farmers, with some bank managers threatening to shut second and third-generation farms.
A special land sales committee has been activated by the State Government to provide a mediation service for farmers under pressure to sell their properties.
Meanwhile, WACA bosses said the 40 tickets to the cricket had been donated for farmers and would be handed out this week on the ABC's Country Hour radio program.
I knew it had been a dry winter, but didn't realise it was soooo bad.