Helping Victorian farmers face challenges such as droughts, floods and bushfires are all in a day’s work for this experienced man of the land.
Fifth-generation farmer Peter Tuohey – whose 1800-hectare property 100 kilometres north of Bendigo produces cereal, hay, wool and lamb – couldn’t imagine not living and working on the land.
“Farming has always been my passion,” he states. “There are the sights: harvest, newborn lambs, sheep being shorn, wool going into the bale.
“And the sounds: firing up the tractor and header, the auctioneer’s cry and the shearing shed banter.”
That heart-felt connection is ideal – some would even say essential – for the job Peter took on in 2019 as our state’s inaugural Rural Assistance Commissioner, on top of the role he already held then as President and Chair of the Victorian Farmers Federation.
Peter fully “gets” the farming industry and the urgent risk management challenges it faces.
“Having met and talked to so many farmers and agricultural service providers right across the state has given me a great insight into what’s happening in rural Victoria on a regular basis,” he says.
So, what does his Assistance Commissioner role entail?
In short, Peter advises the Victorian Government on the suitability and type of grants that would help farmers respond to bushfire, drought, dairy transition, climate change and COVID-19.
Added to that, he also provides face-to-face and online support to encourage uptake of grants.
Peter has made many visits to drought and bushfire affected areas in Victoria over the past two years. What has the mood been like?
“Generally, farmers understand there’ll be tough times,” he states. “But now the cost of farming is making it much harder for them to battle through. In drought-affected areas, there’s been desperation about how long recovery will take, and in bushfire areas there’s fatigue due to the amount of time they’ve been battling fires, and then pain from the loss of livestock, fencing and fodder.
“Fortunately, most farmers have a good community that has rallied around. Farmers have appreciated visits from me, Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas and Agriculture Victoria staff. They want government to understand what they’re going through, that the government understands their plight, is listening and is on their side.”
Peter’s messages make sense to those in the bush because he’s “putting a farmer’s face and knowledge to what is normally delivered by government agencies. When you’ve experienced many of the same problems farmers are going through, it helps. So does speaking the same language and using a common sense approach.”
He understands from lived experience the “not knowing when it’s going to rain so the grass or crops will grow again, the financial struggle that follows two, three or more years after drought, and the issue of rebuilding stock numbers.
“Key challenges are quickly getting income stream for farmers to help build optimism.”
Of course, meeting those income stream challenges is far from easy. The path to recovery is often tough and stressful.
But in his role, Peter is doing his bit by helping farmers across the state carve out a strategy for a brighter financial future, supported by good seasonal conditions returning to Victoria.
Go to Agriculture Victoria for more information about agriculture support and programs.