Drought-stricken dairy farmer uses Instagram following to open public, government's eyes

Toad Heffernan's farm doesn't have a blade of green grass left on it, he's down to a puddle in his one remaining dam, and every mouthful of feed for his 800 head of cattle is bought in.

He gets up at 3.30 every morning knowing that he's working hard only to lose more than $2000 a day.

"I don't want to be seen as a whingeing farmer...but the future's looking very grim," he says.

Toad Heffernan has used his burgeoning social media following to highlight the struggles of farming in the worst drought on record.

Toad Heffernan has used his burgeoning social media following to highlight the struggles of farming in the worst drought on record.

Toad is a seventh-generation dairy farmer at Candelo - and he holds out hope he won't be the end of that proud line of farmers.

"Every drought ends in rain," he says. "It's whether you come out with it at the other end."

Along with wife Mandy, the couple came to much greater prominence when they won last year's season of House Rules.

Now with a large, and growing, social media following as a result of their TV success, they have taken to Instagram to draw attention to the plight of farmers in the current drought.

An "honest and truthful chat" posted to Instagram on Sunday has already had more than 15,000 views plus been shared widely across Facebook.

In the video Toad tells his followers the extreme plight being faced by he and his fellow farmers and other primary producers in the Bega Valley - and beyond - during this ongoing drought.

"I can see who our audience is and I wanted to put it out there to let them know how [expletive] tough it is.

"But also how resilient farmers are - it's a lifestyle we choose and we still get out there every day.

"They're people who would otherwise not see this and I wanted to show them exactly what's going on."

He says the creek running through their property is "bone dry...and has been for a while", and they haven't irrigated for months.

He won't even put summer crops in the ground, "it's not worth it".

The dam featured in his video is the only one he has still with water in it, and little enough at that, with him walking his dairy herd to it daily for a drink.

"The further a cow walks the less milk you get. We can't afford to walk them, but can't afford not to either.

"The money we won on the show I could've blown on feed in no time at all," he says.

"Instead we're trying to set up a salon so there's some off-farm business."

It's around $2100 a day you're getting out of bed at 3 in the morning to lose

Toad Heffernan

Even with that, it won't be much of a festive Christmas around the Heffernan household. Toad says he is behind $64,000 just this month, and there won't be enough money to pay themselves a wage for December.

"I worked it out, it's around $2100 a day you're getting out of bed at 3 in the morning to lose," he says in his Instagram video.

"The government's got to pull their head out of their arse. I'm all for foreign aid [when times are good] but the people in your own backyard are the ones struggling."

Toad said more needed to be done by governments to get dams and water to those who are in desperate need. Moreso than low-interest loans that some farmers may not be able to pay back given the situation in which they're finding themselves.

He says he has spoken to farmers who can stand beside a river on the basin watching precious water flowing past them, but they can't touch it because the credits are owned elsewhere - and it's unlikely they could afford it even if the option was available to them.

"I don't know how much longer we can go for. This summer will knock a few farmers about.

"But we hold out hope. My grandparents set this farm up an there's no better satisfaction than working alongside family.

"But to keep it on pride? Until the bank tells you to close up?

"We're even in a better position that other farmers in the Valley. There are some leasing cows or leasing the farm and then still having to buy in water and feed.

"When you see the emotion of the older generation, when you see them worry, it makes you worry a bit.

"I can turn my hand to most things, but to walk off the farm or have a friend shoot themselves, that's the terrible bit - and it's happening."

With their 46,000 followers and 15,100 video views and counting, one can only hope the message is being heard loud and clear.

"I just want people to see it - and I hope that sparks something in the government. And I hope that the 'let's do something' happens before we finish up."

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