It's been a tough call but Burrumbuttock Hay Runners founder Brendan Farrell has decided to postpone the planned Australia Day run to Winton this Australia Day.
In late November he announced that despite the uncertainty surrounding border closures aimed at containing COVID-19, the 1900km run up from southern NSW to drought-stricken producers in the Winton-Corfield-Kynuna-Boulia was on.
However, with three weeks to go and with a growing NSW outbreak seeing eastern states impose stricter border closures, he had to pull the pin.
"I had to," he said from Albury on Monday. "I have a duty of care for the public, I'd be a bloody idiot to put people across the (Queensland) border and spread it."
In addition, many in the drought relief support crew are from Victoria and could face the possibility of quarantining for two weeks, Mr Farrell said.
"That's a big ask," he said.
The decision was not taken lightly - the trek involving hundreds of prime movers and thousands of bales of hay was 80 per cent planned - and has resulted in a lot of disappointed people, both truck drivers and graziers.
"This is a once-a-year holiday for many drivers," Mr Farrell said. "They understand my position but they feel a bit lost now; they do this with me every year."
And it's their way of building a connection and learning more about the graziers in strife, their practices and how what the Burrumbuttocks call "the pill of giving" helps in reality.
One of those they would have met if the Australia Day hay donation had gone ahead is Corfield grazier Peter Ashman, who has been experiencing drought conditions since 2012.
All 5000 head of the sheep on Escombe, just south of Corfield, have been sold and he is down to a quarter of the 1200-head herd he had eight years ago.
In February 2019 he was on the eastern edge of the devastating monsoon, losing 25 per cent of his remaining breeders, and not getting much grass growth as a result.
"Too much (rain) in one go" is how he described it, saying he feels his country will need at least two or three years of average seasons with a low stocking rate before it recovers from the enormity of the drought it's still experiencing.
"A load of hay costs me $12,000 to $15,000 so it means I can save that and maybe put it towards another load - it goes a long way," he said. "It's disappointing that they can't come but that's how it's happening at the moment."
Some 85 ballot forms had been returned from the wider region for hay, and Winton Shire Mayor Gavin Baskett said three triple road trains of hay a week were going into the areas of his shire still badly affected by drought.
"The Corfield country had a battle with grasshoppers, they ran out of grass quickly this year, and there's bugger-all grass towards Kynuna," he said.
"It's disappointing that they're not coming but you can understand the worries about COVID.
"It takes a long time to plan and the way things are going in the southern states, anything could happen."
Mr Farrell said he'd review the situation in coming months with a view to making the trip north probably in July instead.
"This cyclone and wet weather might be a turning point or it might not," he said. "A lot of farmers are still be in trouble financially and mentally."
Mr Ashman said hay in winter would definitely be welcome.
"What rain we've had in the last few weeks - 50 to 100mm - is not growing grass in some parts," he said. "I've been here all my 68 years and this is the worst I've ever seen it."