Farmers fear losing battle with pests destroying livelihood
ONE Southern Downs farmer says he needs more than financial support despite the controversial Invasive Pests Control Scheme levy being suspended as part of a comprehensive coronavirus recovery plan.
On Friday, Southern Downs Regional Council revealed the first stage of its COVID-19 Economic Recovery Package.
Initial measures included an extension of utility payments, waiving interest on overdue rates and a moratorium on the scheme.
Over the three years since the scheme has been in place, it has been a topic of contention for many farmers who struggled to afford or understand the "penalty-based" system during drought and other financial hardships.
Under the scheme, landowners have to demonstrate they have protected the region from weeds and feral animals, with a failure to complying costing landowners a levy anywhere from $500 into the thousands.
Spending countless hours and dollars on pest management, Karara farmer Ian Cullen said a growing population of feral dogs was driving him and the few sheep farmers remaining in the region to financial desperation - more so than the impacts of coronavirus.
"You don't want to add that cost up, you just can't think about it or you won't survive," he said.
"We've had 70 dogs trapped since January 10.
"We've just got over the drought and can have a bit of a season, but we can't buy stock and we're not going to because dogs are going to bloody kill them.
"It's a level we've never dealt with before and we need all the help we can get."
Just recently, Mr Cullen lost 20 sheep in one night, as well as having traps stolen from him, and said council needed to employ more full-time trappers if they truly wanted rescue the livelihoods of Southern Downs producers.
"They give us bait but that may only kill one dog - that's only one dog less in a pack," he said.
"We need traps set up 24/7 to do anything."
Agricultural councillor Cynthia McDonald said the decision to place a temporary moratorium on the levy came after seeing first-hand the pressure of coronavirus on the agricultural industry.
"I can see myself as beef farmer, in my farming capacity, that it is very very difficult to buy cattle at the moment and those in feedlot and abattoir industries are feeling the pinch as well," she said.
"There's the saying you can't get blood out of a stone - at a point, farmers and businesses don't have enough money for food on the table, let alone rates and council is cognisant of this fact."
Cr McDonald acknowledged the controversy of the scheme and said with the levy on hold, now was the perfect time to put the it under review.
"As a farmer, I'm aware of how it can take its toll on small farmers who are in no position to keep up with rates," she said.
"We will be working with the community to see what they find effective about the scheme, whether it's achieving what it's expected to achieve.
"We have a new council, it makes sense to do that now."
Southern Downs Regional Council Mayor Vic Pennisi said that the announcement of the COVID-19 Economic Relief Package was the foundation for the region's recovery.
"This package is the starting point for a recovery process that supports our community and local businesses to minimise the long-term impacts to the region's economy," he said.
"Council will continue to listen and respond to the needs of the Southern Downs community.
"The second phase of our recovery process is equally as important and will focus on consulting and engaging with the community so that a tailored package of relief measures can be developed."