It is conflicting and confronting to watch the scenes of devastation caused by too much water in the Philippines as I contemplate writing about drought in NSW. It’s also a reminder that there is always someone suffering to a greater degree and that discussion about how best to cope with drought, whilst I still have water on tap, food in the fridge (with electricity to drive it) and a roof over my head, seems churlish in the extreme.
My rationale for continuing is based in the knowledge that members of CWA of NSW will, personally and through our affiliation with the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW), be offering financial, emotional and spiritual assistance to the people of the Philippines. The new World President of ACWW, Ruth Shanks (a Past NSW President) will no doubt be active in the dissemination of aid from societies across the globe.
Disasters come in varied forms; some horrendously swift with deadly consequences and others are slow and insidious. Drought takes the latter form and invades relentlessly, day by day. One of our members penned the following to me recently; “Our situation is very similar to others – feeding for 9 months now and no significant rain for 20 months. We had feed on hand in drought readiness but that only goes so far and this is a long drought. We would have sold much earlier (cattle) but the market was swamped due to the effect of Labor’s live cattle trade policy with Indonesia. We have now sold three quarters of our herd including breeding stock at record low prices. Queensland is helping their farmers and communities; we must be a sub-species in NSW!!!”
If the Government is going down the path of preparedness and being proactive rather than reactive their new policies should have been implemented prior to the current situation, or the old system kept in place until the details of the new, were finalised. Incentives to provide on-farm storage are useless at present, unless they come fully stocked with feed and the deferral of Special Conservation Scheme loans just increases the final amount to pay unless interest charges are also suspended.
There are those who do not believe in drought assistance and I know many farmers who would agree; pride, however comes second to starving stock.The majority of landholders would much prefer to be self sufficient and if income had kept pace with cost of production we would be able to do that. Of course the consequential increase to the cost of a loaf of bread or a steak for dinner would have consumer groups (probably rightly) up in arms. There lies the dilemma.
How “prepared” do farmers need to be; what time frame will be considered acceptable when we are deciding how much feed to keep on hand? How much money should be tied up, in storing feed, that could be used for other improvements like no till machinery to conserve moisture, fencing and increasing watering points to allow for rotational grazing which combined with sowing native perennials will increase groundcover to help store moisture .
There are some in the wider community seeking more holistic methods in the production of food and fibre whilst steadfastly refusing to provide support and at the same time demanding cheaper food. Something or someone has to give and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the weather.
Efficiency, economies of scale, sustainable management practices are some of the catchcries we’ve heard over the last few decades, but they only work for so long, eventually increasing costs encroach on those gains too.
Resilience, eternal optimism and the ability to take risks have long been defining characteristics of Australian farmers, but those traits and their spirit, is evaporating as quickly as the water in the farm dam on a 40° day.