AT the NSW Farmers’ annual conference last July, the Deniliquin branch moved a motion that the state government fund exclusion fencing in areas where kangaroo numbers are high. We think it’s time the government accepted that in large numbers kangaroos are pests and help fund farmers to keep them off our properties.
My husband Steve and I run a cattle and cropping enterprise south of Deniliquin in the southern Riverina where kangaroo populations are out of control. One of our properties, Heatherleigh, is adjacent to the Murray Valley National Park. When we bought it in 2004, we could see roos across the paddocks and down by the creek, but we weren’t concerned about them. Over the years, however, we’ve seen their numbers soar and watched them slowly take over.
Last year was one of the driest on record and the toughest we’ve known as farmers. Hundreds of starving kangaroos came out of the park every day in search of food.
They would eat every green shoot they could find, leaving paddocks bare. One of our neighbours barely has a blade of grass left on her property.
With a zero general water security allocation in the southern Murray-Darling Basin for the past two years, farmers need to preserve every blade of grass and protect cropping country wherever possible.
Kangaroo populations cause farmers thousands of dollars in damage
Kangaroos decimate crops, compete with livestock for pasture and cause havoc on the roads, sometimes breaking down fences allowing livestock to escape onto highways. They tangle wires, rendering electric fences useless. Their damage bill is easily in the thousands.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010 report on Australia’s environment identified both livestock and kangaroos as putting pressure on vegetation cover and soils. The Kondinin Group estimated the kangaroo dry sheep equivalent as 1,000 roos to 625 sheep. I think this is an underestimation of their dry sheep equivalent.
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Like some of our neighbours we’ve engaged shooters in the past, but the kangaroo export industry has been very uncertain in recent years. The lack of demand for kangaroo meat is pushing commercial shooters out of jobs. They’re no longer motivated to come and shoot roos because it’s far less profitable than it once was.
Farmer spends thousands to invest in kangaroo exclusion fences
In 2016 we spent $35,000 on exclusion fencing. It has certainly made a difference to the numbers of kangaroos we see grazing on our land, but at $7,000/km we can only afford to fence off three sides. The highway side is still unprotected. We need government assistance to complete the job.
Kangaroos destroy crops and leave paddocks bare says Amanda Barlow. Source: Theo Allofs.
Why aren’t roos classified as pests?
Another part of the problem is that kangaroos are native animals and not classified as pests. Yet, that begs the question, when does a native animal whose numbers are out of control become a pest?
In 2016, the NSW government offered up to 50% funding towards the cost of pest or exclusion fencing through the 2015-2016 Pest and Weed Drought Funding program. This money was then distributed by Local Land Services, but not all areas were included in this funding and the emphasis was on pests, not kangaroos. Our Local Land Services office saw no funding at all.
The NSW government does offer interest-free loan schemes to help pay for exclusion fencing, such as the Farm Innovation Fund
and Drought Assistance Fund
, but what farmer wants to take on more debt – especially during a drought?
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Queensland has led the way with exclusion fencing. Since 2015 the Queensland government has committed $19.74 million to assist regional communities with the construction of cluster fences and the control of invasive plants and animals. This investment has been complemented with $13 million from the federal government.
A grant program such as this makes a huge difference not just to farmers, but to regional communities as well. We are seeing with this drought that when farmers stop shopping, rural towns feel the loss.
An investment like this would benefit regional businesses in NSW and create local employment. It would also encourage resilience in people who are threatened by climate and who need to make the most of every drop of moisture we can get.
*These are the personal views of Amanda Barlow. At the time of going to print, Amanda had contacted Local Land Services and the Smart Farms Small Grants program for funding for her fencing, and was awaiting their response.