WHILE rain might have arrived in recent times and given parts of SA's driest areas some reprieve, a group of Upper North farmers believe there are still "plenty of conversations" needed about how communities are coping with the impact of drought.
Laura Agricultural Bureau member Andrew Kitto, Gladstone, and fellow member Nigel Clogg decided that filling a bus with farmers from the region for a 'mystery tour' could help get these conversations started.
In December, Andrew came up with an idea to travel from Gladstone to drought-affected towns on a Blokes Bonding Beyond Booleroo Big Bus.
"Most farmers had finished harvest and a lot of people were not very optimistic about the year ahead - there were a lot of heavy heads," he said.
"The idea really grew from sensing that our communities needed something to help change their frame of mind, which was unfortunately spiralling into a bit of despair."
Andrew said that because southern communities were worried about their northern neighbours, the idea of a bus trip was to also connect farmers to hear about other people's situations.
"Many are in the grip of a horrendous drought and I think they need something to divert their thoughts a bit and hear that other people understand," he said.
The trip, nicknamed 6Bs, will leave Gladstone on Monday.
It will include visits to local farms and guest speakers, such as Salter Springs agronomist Craig Davis and WA inventor Ray Harrington, who will speak at Orroroo's Blacksmith's Chatter during lunch.
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Andrew said the trip was called a 'mystery tour' to provide an element of surprise to farmers and therefore a special guest was planned to arrive at Booleroo Centre.
"Once the bushfires started, the drought impact in the north has been forgotten so we wanted to create some surprise," he said.
"We are still seeing truck loads of hay driving past our properties going to NSW - it was an attempt to get people away from the farm and chat to someone different."
Andrew said musical chairs will be played on the bus, too.
"We will change seats regularly throughout the trip and give everyone a few pointers to discuss different topics and something unique about them which is not related to farming," he said.
"We hope that southern blokes feel like they have helped the northern blokes and visa versa but one rule is whatever is talked about on the bus, stays on the bus.
"It is about social inclusion and getting people onto a bus to talk."
Andrew also said the trip was just for male farmers.
"We decided to do it that way because women speak often to each other about what they are going through, whereas men are not so open with each other about their troubles," he said.
"We might try and organise a ladies day in the future too because we know everyone is affected."
"The main objective and outcome we hope for most is that people leave the bus trip in a better frame of mind."
The trip will be funded with $5000 from the Rotary SA Districts Drought Relief Project fund and an additional $1000 from the Port Pirie branch.
RELATED READING: Hay donated to drought-hit Upper North
Port Germein farmer and agriculture consultant Barry Mudge was also a part of the group that helped to get the project up and running.
Barry is also a member of the community drought committee led by PIRSA.
"PIRSA group leaders said they had seen a lot of hurting in the drought-affected areas, particularly in the north, so we thought it was important communities pulled together to help those who might be struggling to see light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
"The funding was paramount to bring the project to fruition, we wanted to offer farmers a free event.
"Although the project was very different to other projects that applied for funding, it fit the bill for our community."
Barry said it was the second consecutive season of "devastatingly low" rainfall in the northern areas of the region and hoped the trip would "lift morale".
"Farmers are saying that it's some of the worst consecutive seasons they had seen, it's very grim for many," he said.
"Working your way through that alone is not easy and the impact on communities has been big."
But Barry said farmers in the area had achieved a lot, despite the difficult conditions.
He said management of the drought-affected country by local farmers was "remarkable".
"It could be so much worse and although it has been a lot of hard work for many farmers, they are in a better position than they might have been.
"The reasonable rain received so far this year has helped but there are still plenty of conversations needed with farmers in those areas."
Barry said the challenge going forward for some croppers in the area would be finding a way to cover the cost of sowing another crop this year.
The Laura Ag Bureau and Natural Resources Northern Yorke will also hold a workshop at Gladstone the day after the bus trip.
Titled 20-20 Vision for Farming in 2040, the sustainable agriculture workshop will have experts in the field discuss what the next 20 years in farming looks like, sustainable agronomy and genetically-modified crop adoption.
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