Climatic volatility an urgent concern

A system which allows farmers to better manage climatic volatility would create even more value

AFTER a woeful couple of years, it has been a lovely festive period for drought-stricken farmers in Queensland, with many centres in the Maranoa and Warrego regions receiving their best falls in two years.

Should this promising start translate into a meaningful turnaround in the rural economy in northern Australia - and farmers return to a more even keel - it would also signal the perfect time for meaningful debate on government drought reform in this nation.

The time for discussion on how to best manage our notoriously fickle climate is not when cattle bones glisten whitely on a backdrop of parched, bare earth. That is a time for emergency provisions and getting people through as best as they can.

No, the time for rational discussion comes when the seasons are better and people are able to think clearly about what to do to ensure resilient rural communities.

Drought encourages action for action’s sake, such as the well-meaning, but ultimately futile push for a drop in interest rates for farmers.

A 2 per cent drop from already historically low rates is unlikely to mean much to long-term viability of the drought-affected.

Too many drought measures have been like this, described by someone as a band-aid for a gaping wound.

So – where to from here?

The current system, or lack thereof, stinks. The one redeeming feature is that it gives the relevant authorities complete carte blanche to start completely afresh.

To start with, those involved with agriculture want a chance to be able to help themselves.

No bail-out packages which benefit risky farming practices and no snide commentary from the city-based media about ‘hand-outs’ (all the while conveniently forgetting years of propping up a manufacturing sector).

What is needed is more products, such as farm management deposits or multi-peril crop insurance that allow farmers to store away funds or insure themselves adequately against these inevitable poor seasons.

Systems that allow farmers to set up their own defences against poor years can be set up easily and relatively cost effectively compared with current drought aid packages through tax concessions and other incentives.

Obviously, the government can’t provide the simplest solution to drought – make it rain - but any further investment in medium-term weather forecasts allowing farmers of all persuasions to have reasonable faith in the forecast for as short a period as a month would create billions of dollars in value.

The government needs to have faith in Australian agriculture. It is a risky, but profitable sector that generates valuable export dollars. A system which allows farmers to better manage climatic volatility would provide an important platform in creating even more value into the future.

Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


31/12/2014 3:55:11 AM

The current government has swept the issue of climate change adaptation right under the carpet. Unless farmers are actively being warned to adapt their crops and practices to a new and different future climate, the issues reported in this article will just keep happening.
31/12/2014 6:31:51 AM

We need to get over the fact that the climate changes all the time, some changes are slow some are quick, its not caused by humans burning a little coal, and you just have to adapt to whatever earth throws at you.
31/12/2014 9:29:25 AM

Gumtree, you are muddling two facts together. Yes, of course the climate has changed, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. But human history, a short 10,000 years, has happened in a relatively stable climatic era, the Holocene. The changes which we are now causing are not unique in global history - but they are unique in human history, and happening very quickly. For a scientific explanation, see: files/Quintero%26Wiens_Ecol_Lett_ 2013.pd
31/12/2014 11:23:20 AM

" Changes we are now causing " pffff, your imagination is running away with you again Nico. The changes that have happened in the last 150 years with the climate have all been good and I doubt we caused any of it. Your imagining a problem that has clearly been a benefit.
31/12/2014 11:32:13 AM

Do you refuse to read the several papers which I have cited, Gumtree? My imagination has nothing to do with the climate research to which I referred. And do you have any evidence to back your assertions?
31/12/2014 12:44:32 PM

What are my assertions Nico ? They are not assertions. They are fact. There has been about a 0.7 deg C warming over the last 150 years since the end of the little ice age. Nothing unusual , and totally beneficial. Fact. There has been about a 100ppmv increase in the atmospheric rate of carbon dioxide , nothing unusual and highly beneficial. These two things may or may not be connected. They have both been highly beneficial to life on earth. Fact. Only a crank would suggest otherwise.
31/12/2014 12:48:15 PM

'Several papers' Nico ? I counted one in your reference above! I am of the same view as Gumtree. Your contrarian attitude towards those who choose to speak out against the hypothesis that man is responsible for the warming is laughable. No point in giving you references you won't read them because your eyes are wide shut.
31/12/2014 3:08:58 PM

The government has to make a call and stick to it. Either help everyone or help no one. The current system of only helping those who have got themselves into serious trouble (and are in the loop). Just encourages people to take bigger risks in the good seasons. The younger generation have grown up seeing the risk takers being bailed out, and are starting to copy them.
Old mate
1/01/2015 11:56:18 AM

Hear hear, Qlander - how's this for a new year's resolution? time to break the destructive cycle and like Mr Heard says, start over with a proactive not reactive plan.
2/01/2015 6:15:04 AM

Gumtree, your assertions are merely assertions until you provide some evidence. You haven't been paying attention, daw. I have asked Gumtree to respond to papers including Quintero & Wiens (rate of climate change), Steenworth et al (Agriculture and Food Security), and Svoboda, (Uprooting the ‘Carbon Dioxide Is Plant Food’ Argument). Contrararian? I just report on mainstream science. Please give me references, daw, but to reputable scientific publications, not to ideological blogs or tabloid journalists. (And have a good New Year).
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A matter of opinionA selection of editorials from around the Fairfax Agricultural Media group covering the issues of the week.


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