By Kirra Grimes
FARMERS in the Nyora area, and elsewhere in the South Gippsland Shire, received notices by mail a few weeks ago telling them that they must slash their paddocks by January 1, 2019 or else.
The ‘or else’ is that the shire is threatening to call in contractors to do the work themselves, and charge local farmers for the cost.
It’s supposed to be a fire prevention measure, but established farmers, with paddocks locked up for hay, have also been caught up in the fire prevention drive and they’re concerned, (1.) that they are being forced to cut their hay at a time not convenient to them, or before the grass is fully cured, and (2.) that they might be fined and charged by the shire for the work.
The issue was highlighted by local resident Karen Thornell who posted a message on the Nyora Community Noticeboard sympathetic of the farmers’ pedicament.
“I am totally appalled by the South Gippsland council they have been issuing properties with a fine if they don’t cut their paddocks yet these paddocks are being grown for hay and they should know this,” said Ms Thornell.
“We are in a crisis with a shortage of hay yet people in this area are not allowed to cut their own paddocks for hay without being told when it needs to be cut yet they cannot cut the council grounds which is growing so high, as if we don’t know when it’s ready to be cut for hay but yet they seem to be able to push people to cut it or be fined. This is purely a money-grabbing exercise!! And I am appalled. Who else has been told to cut their paddocks?” she asked, and got plenty of response.
Karen also spoke to the Sentinel-Times, that she had heard from several people who had received notices and she was struck by the unfair treatment by the shire “when they haven’t cut their own land themselves”.
Among those caught by the apparent unfairness of the shire’s action is Jason Kelly of Nyora.
“We’ve had the block for 14 years and we cut the hay every year to help pay the rates. It was scheduled to be cut again this year when we got the notice from the shire.
“We did it before the end of the year to avoid the fine but the grass wasn’t ready to be made into bales and we lost quite a few bales because the ground was so wet.
“The tractor and trailer got bogged while we were trying to do it so you’re not going to have a grass fire start when the paddocks are that wet.
“A bit of commonsense would be appreciated,” he said.
“Other people have been having the same dramas. We’re being over-governed and the shire is making it progressively more difficult to operate a farm.
He said there used to be a local laws officer who got in touch with hay contractors to find out when some farms were due to be cut for hay and there was never a problem.
“We got a letter the first year but once they knew we were cutting the block for hay, they left us alone until this year.
“Now they appear to be going by the book again.
“It’s pretty impossible to get hay done in South Gippsland until the first weeks of January and it’s unfortunate the shire can’t be a little more flexible when we’re basically at the mercy of the busy contractors’ schedule.
“I understand they have to have rules in place and we’ve got a neighbor and the last thing we want is a fire hazard.
“But most people are in the same boat, needing the hay to feed their animals and pay the rates and we’ve been forced to make inferior hay at a time we weren’t ready to do it.”
Mr Kelly said the other problem, a serious one, was that if hay went into a shed wet, there was far more chance of it causing a fire than sitting in the paddock, ready to be cut for hay.
And he’s not on his own.
Several other farmers and ag contractors in the area are just as annoyed.
Contractor Toby Garnham has been cutting hay in the area for 60 years and says there’s no logic in what the shire is doing. He’d like to see the whole policy reviewed.
“Some people in Nyora are getting treated like dirt and it’s the hobby farmers who are being the worst affected – people who are on two, three, four acres of land that do hay for their horses but feel they are being threatened by the shire.
“The council is being unreasonable. Years ago they’d ring me up and I’d give them a list and they wouldn’t annoy those people.
“Nyora is the last place in South Gippsland that you do hay because the season is traditionally later and if we get a bit of rain, you might not cut hay until mid-January.
“And Nyora wouldn’t burn at the moment.”
He also drew attention to what was clearly the worst fire hazard in the town, is straight up the railway line, and it’s not just Nyora.
“That’s your worst problem right there and the shire isn’t taking any action to clear up that mess.”
He said he knows at least 20 people who unnecessarily received notices, telling them to cut to 75mm when they’ve got sheep and goats, some of them, feeding on the grass.
The solution: treat people like human beings but “we’re dealing with shire people who know nothing about hay”.
“They need to learn a word called commonsense,” he said.
At least one local farmer, Simon Hewitt, has applied to the shire for an extension and got one. He’s allowed to hold off until January 20. It was the first time in 10 years he got a notice.
What the shire said
THE Sentinel-Times asked the South Gippsland Shire Council for a response to the apparent inconsistency of requiring the farmers to cut their paddocks while at the same time not forcing Vicroads and other government departments to do likewise.
The Council’s Coordinator Local Laws, Luke Mullen responded:
• A total of 790 fire prevention notices were issued across the Shire.
• 56 Fire Prevention Notices were issued in the Nyora area.
• A seven-day extension period is usually given to all properties owners on request if they are experiencing difficulty in complying the Fire Prevention Notice.
• The fine for not complying with a Fire Prevention Notice is $1612.00 (CFA Act 1958)
• As is the case for all infringements, any person can request an internal review or request that the matter be heard in the Magistrates Court. (Infringements Act 2006.)
• In relation to farmers we understand that they are conducting business activities so we work closely with them during the Fire Danger period. If farmers intend to cut a paddock for hay, carry out other works, or put stock on the paddock, we work with the farmer to reach a suitable outcome. Depending on the fire risks associated with the particular property they still may have to cut a fire break or complete other works as directed by the Municipal Fire Prevention Officer. (MFPO)
• The MFPO have a good working relationship with VicTrack and work with them throughout the year to identify areas of VicTrack Land that require attention. The VicTrack land to the South of the Nyora Station along Mitchell Street has been identified and reported to VicTrack for attention. I am informed that these works will be carried out in this year’s (2018/2019) fire clearing works.
• 16-22 Hewson Street, Nyora was identified during the first inspections as requiring attention. The Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) have been notified and this property has been added to their contractors list to be completed during January 2019.