Gus's Musings

July 29, 2018

Drought – Just my thoughts

Painting the picture – Well hey it is very dry across a large area of Eastern Australia and doesn’t matter if you call it a drought or not, things are bloody dire across NSW, a lot of QLD and a big slab of SA (Parts of Northern Vic and south eastern WA as well!).  This has been much drier and longer than most people thought or had planned for, that is why the impact now is so significant.  The shortage of hay and reasonable stock feeds, combined with water storages running or have run dry, rivers too like the Barwon Darling are at extreme low flows. This is also supported by higher saleyard and kill numbers, especially of breeding age livestock.  When this starts to happen then there are many other issues going on across our regional communities.

There is reducing groundcover, which in turn reduces water infiltration and also allows the soil surface to heat up and cool down (temp fluctuations), this makes for a hostile environment for anything to grow there unless there’s good growth conditions.  This loss of groundcover also means that there is more erosion, faster run off and added nutrients, salts and sediments to our rivers.   There are farmers and those providing services to them also looking at the parched land and under nourished animals daily (Native and domestic), this has a significant impact on your thinking and ability to make good decisions.  With reduced spending through rural towns and people with less time and energy to put into community groups (sport, Ag shows etc), the impact is long lasting as well.

Managing through this – Now isn’t the time to be talking drought management strategies, the time for that is when there is lots of grass in the paddocks.  Now is the time for “disaster mitigation – damage control” by this I mean just helping communities deal with this as best they can without judgement.  I reckon if we can work with those that can help themselves, support them and encourage them as much as possible then the small number of farmers that are in a bad way can be helped along by the majority or they can be given special individual support.

Here are a few ideas that I have:

  • I would like to see an increase in the number of Ag advisors that can give good advice and help farmers put together disaster strategies and manage what they have from now forward. They could work with bank managers to help put together budgets for money and grass.
  • I would like to see more funding put towards sustainable Ag and Landcare, the last round of NLP2 funding due to its demand meant that lots of community groups put in applications (430) and only 15 were funded, that sort of funding lowers morale at a time when the other was required.
  • Maybe there could be an increase in sports stars going out into the regions and working with clubs, that would boost morale
  • Important time for R&D now to understand requirements for now and future droughts, if this is done in rural Australia rather than being done remotely from large cities it would have a really positive effect too.

Overall we need to encourage communities to help themselves and provide what is needed for communities to function through tough times, by working with the majority and keeping them healthy, this will reduce the number that are at crisis.  We do and should always help those in crisis, I would like to see more effort put into keeping people out of crisis.

Long Term thinking – As I said now isn’t the time to be talking drought management, things that I reckon we should discuss when we are out of drought are:

  • Better adoption of grass budgeting tools (plenty out there) and management systems that operate within the constraints of the ever-changing seasons.
  • A value placed on groundcover this needs to be valued by all of us as can have a significant impact. If a monetary value was placed on ground cover, soil carbon whatever it might be this may have an impact over adoption of the dot point above.
  • Advisors actually understanding the cost of feeding vs selling and buying back in, most in this current drought have just spruiked on about feeding strategies due to a lack of understanding of selling/buying strategies this certainly has compounded current issues.
  • FMD’s have been fantastic and they are well utilised, farmers being very much like the rest of the community, dollars talk. Now however there is very little being said about money, it is all about the people, the stock and the land, how can we put in place FMD’s for them?

In closing – Remember good leadership is about being respectful, kind, good natured and having real empathy.  Now is the time that our rural communities really need those traits to be shown, so please do your bit.


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