Rethink drought preparedness approach

THE impact of this drought is shaping up as long term and has highlighted shortcomings in research and development that could otherwise have helped farmers adapt.

The usual factors which allow farmers to rebound when it rains are diminishing – such as cash flow for the next crop or restocking – and the Rural Debt Roundtable says the banks’ rural portfolios can’t possibly be in as good a shape as they would like us to believe.

The overall situation has left a lot of farmers feeling as

though society has simply walked away – and to rub salt into the wound, it has become popular to then tell farmers how resilient they are.

This drought is bringing a lot of farmers, not just the

inefficient ones, very near or if not to their breaking point.

When people are on their knees they don’t need to be

told how resilient they are, but this has become a standard fare cliché, which people use when looking in on the farming situation to try to say “we appreciate you, we’re trying to understand your situation, but you’re going to have to help yourself because we don’t

really know what to do”.

We don’t know when this drought will break, or how far it will spread before it does.

What farmers need is to see people recognising the situation, to show them they’re not the only one that’s struggling.

The switch to a preparedness approach, meanwhile, has been poorly executed by governments.

Nobody is arguing we don’t need better preparedness and better adaptations to prosper in our variable climate.

But farmers have been dropped into a drought without being appropriately equipped.

Farmers aren’t going to get to a better position without

new ideas, more education, and in the short term they

need more help to make it through the drought. Research that helps farmers adapt also needs more support. The less-than $600 million now spent on research and development isn’t enough.

To cut research funds concurrently with drought funding has undermined an important avenue for adaptation.

What farmers really needed was better methods and technology, as well as better knowledge before being told they should all of a sudden be prepared. Spending money on developing adaptation will pay itself back through increasing our ability to cash in on

our new free trade deals.

Andrew Norris

Andrew Norris

is the editor of The Land
A matter of opinionA selection of editorials from around the Fairfax Agricultural Media group covering the issues of the week.


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