Organisers of an annual hot air balloon festival in New South Wales are educating pilots not to land in paddocks with livestock or freshly sown crops.
Concern over a balloon landing in a paddock and potentially damaging crops has prompted consultation with farmers on where a pilot should try to avoid landing a balloon.
As well as crop damage, hot air balloons also have the potential to cause stress to livestock.
As the landowner relations officer for the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge in central-west NSW, it is Matt Rice’s job to get farmers’ permission to land in paddocks.
Given the scarcity of crops and available feed at the moment due to drought, it is important to work with the local farming community.
“Balloonists know that the countryside is the farmer’s livelihood,” Mr Rice said.
“You take off on a beautiful hot air balloon trip but then as it comes to a close you have to land somewhere.
“If you can’t land, you can’t fly.”
Having grown up in Canowindra, Mr Rice, who is training to be a pilot, said he knew a lot of local farmers and had been educating pilots about where they should avoid landing, especially when a crop had just been planted.
“We show the pilots photos of what a recently sown paddock looks like and what a ploughed paddock looks like,” he said.
“The pilots know to stay clear of landing there given how difficult it is to grow crops during this drought.”
There is also the potential impact on frightened livestock when a balloon lands in a paddock.
“Horses in particular are easily frightened as are cattle, while sheep that have just lambed may be separated from their mothers,” he said.
“Farmers understand that passenger safety is more important than damage to a bit of crop or your sheep running into the next paddock.”
Farmers around Canowindra work closely with balloon festival organisers.
They are busy sowing winter crops when the balloon festival is held each April.
“We haven’t had a lot of trouble with balloons landing in the wrong paddocks but it’s mainly the support vehicles getting lost on back country roads that’s more of a problem,” said Dom Townsend, a farmer from Canowindra.
He appreciates the effort put in by festival organisers to work with local farmers to try to prevent balloons landing on freshly sown crops.
“The number of visitors coming to our region has waned off recently because of the dry conditions.
“The economic benefits to the town are huge.
The drought has meant farmers like Mr Townsend are not able to sow a canola crop like they normally would.
But having several thousand people flooding into town during the 10-day festival has been a welcome relief.
“It’s a bit of a break and change of pace for us, it’s what we need,” he said.
The influx of participants and visitors in April for 10 days each year is lifting the spirits of Canowindra locals, who are battling a drought that has now stretched into a third year.
The event is a combination of competitive racing and joy flights for members of the public.
“We’ve had 45 balloons and 50 pilots here, which is more than ever before, and it’s very timely,” said Jan Kerr, marketing manager for the balloon challenge.
“We get 10,000 spectators alone on one night for the glow and night market, and to see the number of people and amount of money being spent at local businesses is really fabulous.”
One of the star attractions in Canowindra this year is Iwi the Kiwi.
Iwi is a giant hot air balloon from New Zealand in the shape of a kiwi bird, dressed in black, and emblazoned with a silver fern.
“It’s been a really major attraction this year especially for the kids,” Ms Kerr said.
“The special-shaped balloons are big but they haven’t got a lot of capacity for passengers.
“Once the pilot is in the basket, there is only room for one other person in there.”
Other popular attractions in Canowindra are a Hopper balloon, which does not have a basket.
“Instead it’s a seat, which the pilot sits in, that sits on the gas tank,” Ms Kerr said.
“The crowd loves seeing the balloon taking off with the pilot’s legs dangling over the edge!”