LOCAL farmers affected by the drought are taking on free courses to learn new skills and build their resilience.
Hunter Local Land Services has partnered with TAFE NSW, Training Services NSW and the Department of Primary Industry's Rural Resilience Program to develop the AgriSkills program.
It offers a range of local courses tailored specifically for local drought-affected landholders and farm workers.
The courses are fully subsidised for producers.
Regional drought coordinator for Hunter Local Land Services, Maria Cameron, said the AgriSkills program had been an important distraction for farming families 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," Ms Cameron said.
"More than 210 locals 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."
Ms Cameron said it was easy to register and get involved.
In addition to having their course fees covered, participants might also receive relevant personal protection equipment or tools to complete their training as well as an accreditation certificate on completion.
"It's really important to have a chance to get off farm. 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," she said.
"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, and I now have the skills to use the new welder I had bought and wasn't sure how to operate."
Courses on offer include:
- Digital farm mapping and drone training;
- Rural welding and fabrication;
- Farm engine and pump maintenance;
- Computer and digital media skills;
- Chainsaw operations;
- Wool classing skills;
- Chemical application and weed ID;
- Livestock nutrition and assessment;
- Farm business skills;
- Farm first aid; and
- MR truck licence.
For more information, phone 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.
To register for upcoming courses in your area, phone Lynne at TAFE on 6540 3218.