The drought hits hard

By TOBY WALKER

SIX months ago Kangaroo Creek farmer Ken Ellem was putting a forgettable year behind him.

A dry 2004 had forced him to apply for financial relief through the Federal Government's Exceptional Circumstances Drought Assistance scheme, but when 155mm of rain fell on his property in January this year, Mr Ellem was looking ahead to better times.

Unfortunately further significant rainfall did not follow, and since January, less than 100mm has fallen at Mr Ellem's property.

With 63 years working the land at Booroo ? his 2000 acre property ? Mr Ellem is no stranger to struggling against the elements to forge a living.

It has barely been three years since bushfires tore through the Kangaroo Creek countryside, decimating two thirds of his land.

But even bushfires, damaging frosts and recent drops in cattle prices have posed less of a threat when compared to the persistent dry periods of recent years.

"It often takes you five or six years to get over a drought," he said.

"I'm not crying poor at the moment, don't get me wrong, but it's starting to get bad and if we don't get rain it's going to be really bad come July and August."

"I don't know of any farmer that's got an answer.

"You've just got to make the decision to cull cattle and keep culling.

"But how many years does it take for you to do that just to survive?"

Mr Ellem said he had not yet considered re-applying for financial assistance from the govern- ment, but would not rule it out if the current weather trend continued.

If he chooses to apply, the Howard Government's announcement of an additional $254 million to its $1.25 billion drought relief commitment will no doubt go some way to easing his burden.

Yesterday Grafton Rural Lands Protection Board manager Neville Collins said the Clarence Valley area was classed as marginally drought-affected by the State Government.



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