AS Upper Hunter farmers continue to be affected by the drought, many are taking time away from the paddocks to learn relevant skills.
More than 210 locals have now undertaken refresher courses as part of a successful local drought support program.
Hunter Local Land Services (LLS) has partnered with TAFE NSW, Training Services NSW and the DPI's Rural Resilience Program to develop the AgriSkills program, which offers a range of local courses tailored specifically for drought-affected landholders and farm workers in our region.
With extra personal support on offer, AgriSkills provides an opportunity to get off-farm during the drought and learn new skills in a supportive environment.
All workshops are fully subsidised for producers.
Hunter LLS regional drought coordinator Maria Cameron said for many farming families, it had been an important distraction from the pressures of the drought.
"With the drought unfortunately continuing across the Hunter, many producers have chosen to destock completely or reduce stocking rates, which has had a huge impact on not just their workloads, but also morale and day-to-day activities," she explained.
"In excess of 200 people have now completed AgriSkills courses, in everything from rural welding and fabrication to chemical application and weed identification, and digital farm mapping and drone training.
"We've had overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants, and 98 per cent of the students have completed their courses, thanks to the caring peer environment and extra support being offered by Stuart, Lynne and the team from TAFE NSW, our local DPI rural support worker Karen Sowter and Hunter Local Land Services staff."
It's easy to register and get involved and, aside from having your course fees covered, you may also receive relevant Personal Protection Equipment or tools to complete your training as well as an accreditation certificate on completion.
"It's really important to have a chance to get off farm," Ms Cameron said.
"Everyone needs a break sometimes and to be able to meet with like-minded producers has created an avenue for a social outing, that's also a learning opportunity.
"You can refresh skills you haven't used for a while like wool classing or first aid, or take on a totally new challenge, as part of our efforts to provide drought assistance and support farm recovery."
Duncan McIntyre and his wife Jill have completed three courses so far and are encouraging fellow producers to sign up.
"We found this such a great opportunity, it got us off the farm for a few hours each week and gave us a chance to upgrade skills and stop focusing on the drought," Mr McIntyre said.
"We were really well looked after, even got home cooked meals, and we built up a strong network of local producers who are going through the same things as us.
"To be honest, it's been a great way to keep myself sane, having something to look forward to each week.
"I now have the skills to use the new welder I had bought and wasn't sure how to operate."
TAFE NSW AgriSkills coordinator Stuart Murphy said the successful partnership program had already garnered positive feedback, with farmers enjoying the networking opportunities and information nights and requesting specific skills focuses within the workshops.
"Participants have already said that they haven't learnt so much in years because most haven't been enrolled in formal education for a very long time; many have learnt from their families on the farm," he added.
"Now, TAFE NSW Agriskills is opening the farm gate and teaching new relevant skills and safe work methods to pass on.
"We have worked hard to tailor the timing and location of the courses to suit what the farmers want to do in their local community."
Courses on offer include:
- Digital Farm Mapping and DroneTraining
- Rural Welding and Fabrication
- Farm Engine and PumpMaintenance
- Computer and Digital MediaSkills
- Chainsaw Operations
- Wool Classing Skills
- Chemical Application and Weed ID
- Livestock Nutrition and Assessment
- Farm Business Skills
- Farm First Aid
- MR Truck Licence.
To register for upcoming courses in your area, phone Lynne at TAFE on 6540 3218.
If you would like more information contact Hunter Local Land Services regional drought support officer Maria Cameron on 0409 636 765 or DPI rural support worker Karen Sowter on 0400 869 136.