Drought raises the the hard questions

Like the rest of the world agriculture has a diverse population of people who farm.

For simplicity and this post I am going to put the people in agriculture into five boxes based on the feedback I get from my interaction with the people I have met on my journey. It goes without saying that a Venn diagram would be much more appropriate

  1. Self-absorbed – those who do their own thing and believe Darwinism will decide who survives and who perishes.
  2. Self-promoters who want to save the world
  3. Putting one foot in front of the other
  4. Taking one step forward and two steps back
  5. Move between 2 & 3 depending on their circumstances ( and how much support they garner when they put their hands up to be in box 2)

Coming from a family that for generations has admired the people in box 3 and striven hard to stay there I am definitely an outlier

I am fascinated by, and admire people who want to save the world. I totally understand why they need to be a self-promoter. After all how you can save the world if no-one knows your values and what you stand for and whether you have what it takes to achieve your vision. I also understand why this has to be a team effort and taking people with you is pivotal to success. Realistically how can you build a team if no-one has ever heard of you? Whilst farmers are the ones feeding the world they cannot do this alone and food security is a shared responsibility between everyone along the supply chain.

Farmers in boxes 2, 3 and 5 all tend at some time to suffer from survivor remorse.

Is this good for agriculture as a whole is a question we all need to ask ourselves?

What sort of agriculture sector do we want?

Should farmers like government become devotees of this mantra?

Governments need to commit to a long term reform path that recognises that the primary responsibility for managing risks, including from climate variability and change, rests with farmers. See here

This is something for us all to ponder. For I am afraid that until we answer these questions we are never going to achieve full potential in our agriculture sector.

Equally James Warden makes a very valid point here

People have got to take responsibility of their businesses and not rely on government bailouts. But there are times when there are exceptional circumstances and we are now in exceptional circumstances out here. James Warden

and this from Thoughts from the Midst

I read a comment piece the other day by an economist saying that agriculture isn’t a special case, tourism doesn’t get any special help when they experience a downturn due to the weather. No, that’s true, they don’t. But unlike agriculture, they don’t see their expenses rise, and their income fall, they are a discretionary industry, not the staple provider of the staff of life, they are not personally responsible for the welfare of thousands of living, breathing, feeling animals.
So tomorrow, I’ll get up and do battle again trying to do the best for the animals in my care with the little that I have…. But the Weather Bureau is optimistic again…. surely it will rain soon…..

See just how bleak it is in some parts of the country here via these heart wrenching photos from Latelines Jason Om

“From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot in front of the other. But when books are opened, you discover you have wings” Helen Hayes


See a great blog from Lucy Broad Preparing for drought key to agriculture’s image here 

Drought – Bringing Solutions to the Table

I left Jamberoo last Saturday which could do with a little rain, travelled up Jamberoo Mountain to the Southern Tablelands which could do with a lot of rain, past Goulburn which is dry dry dry to Crookwell home of Young Farming Champions Adele Offley and Jasmine Nixon. Jasmine and Adele’s family farms like all of those in the region are desperate for rain.

I was in town to speak at the 2014 Zone 3 The Land Showgirl Finals and despite the conditions I couldn’t get over how resilient the farmers are. I sat opposite Jasmine’s father at the dinner. He wasn’t complaining or whinging and readily acknowledged that drought in Australia was now an average year.


Jasmine with some of her beloved Angus heifers that despite the drought were in superb condition


Thanks to their diet being supplemented with grains by hand feeding


Jasmine and her horse Holly

Jasmine who was the 2012 RAS The Land Showgirl is rapidly rising through the ranks at Teys in Wagga but her father has high hopes she will return to the farm and I am confident that is exactly where Jasmine sees her future.


Crookwell is a region where the farmers are actively  involved in Landcare and are very proud of the way they are changing the landscape through restoration and rehabilitation.

From Jasmine’s farm at Rosyln I travelled the 10 kms to Laggan where Adele’s family have been farming for five generations ( Meet Adele’s grandmother here )


Laggan Pub


Adele and her family grow crops


and run 5000 merinos.

Together with Adele, her dad Bruce and Jesh (Adele’s partner) we went out to hand feed the sheep.


Adele and her dad off to hand feed the sheep


Despite the dry conditions thanks to the dedication to animal care, like the stock at the Nixons, the sheep on the Offley looked equally well fed and happy

Hand Feeding the Sheep

These days Crookwell attracts Pitt St farmers and the Offley’s have over 20 neighbours


Neighbours who often don’t realise that when you have no feed for your sheep you certainly cant spare any for the increasing kangaroo population that is often encouraged by lifestyle farmers

The Offley’s at great expense have added two metre star picket posts and an two extra rows of wire to their boundary fences to help keep the kangaroos out.

It was heartbreaking to see this 150 acres planted with buckwheat looking so barren


With the seed  only spouting in a couple of moist areas with the remaining plants look very parched.

Buckwheat paddock

This paddock of buckwheat


should look like this

Again like Jasmine, Adele dreams of the day when she can return to the farm she loves so dearly


With drought being an average year just how do we encourage and support young people to come back to the farm and rural communities?

Here is an example of what a group of QLD farmers who have found themselves in a position of financial difficulty due largely to extreme weather events are doing.

They are proposing a reintroduction the ARDB (Australian Reconstruction & Development Board) This would involve re-establishing an agriculture specific board to design a framework to assist on a micro scale; farming families to survive droughts, floods and other extreme events and avoid the situation of their banks either limiting their cash flow to survive these situations or selling them up. On a greater scale it is hoped that by securing the future of agricultural enterprises this will have positive follow effects to the rural townships through Australia and ensure agriculture remains a viable pursuit for many generations to come. Ultimately this board would offer those in financial difficulty essential carry on finance at a rate that is far lower than that available through the banks. Ultimately this will have flow on effects in the future such as facilitating farm succession.

Barnaby Joyce has now agreed to formally take the proposal to the Coalition. The project has also garnered support from Bob Katter.  The Economic Committee of the senate will review the proposal in the coming weeks. The group is encouraging people to submit a submission to the senate in support. The deadline is 10th February 2014

Submissions don’t have to be of personal experiences they can simply be in support of such a proposal. This link  that will allow you to what others are saying and provide an opportunity for you to make a submission.

I am not saying this is the solution but it is imperative that farmers bring solutions to the table. Farmer like James and Manny Walker.  Please take the time to see what they are doing here

In the meantime in the words of Milk Maid Marian farmers are putting one foot in front of the other

Sadly I know too much about drought

Bessie Blore is a wonderful journalist, a girl from the city who married a boy from the the bush and I am so proud to know and work with her as one of Art4Agriculture’s Wool Young Farming Champions

Our place “Burragan” is 110km from the nearest town, 200km from the nearest supermarket, and 330km from the nearest major centre – Broken Hill. When I’m not out in the paddock helping with sheep work, I like to write, keep up with global issues, and uncover the strange secrets of our beautiful bush landscape.

Bessie writes a wonderful blog Bessie at Burragan where she shares the highs and lows, the laughs and the not so funny moments with her readers

I have been away for a week and the drive up the hill on Friday tugged at my heart strings.

The front paddock tells it all, the cows rotate around the farm every 14 days. It is 14 days since they were in this paddock and whilst it has a green tinge there is nothing for the cows to eat.

On my travels last week I went through Tamworth on my way to Gunnedah – there is no feed in the paddocks for the cattle there either. It was depressing and unfortunately those  farmers are not alone. Much of NSW and a great deal of Queensland are once again in drought.

Unlike me Bessie is new to the ravages of drought but she tells it so like it is in this wonderful blog post

I don’t know much about drought. Even when I saw her face, I didn’t recognise her.
Years before I moved to Burragan, we visited ST’s mum and dad one summer. Their house yard was a true oasis in the middle of a desert, in every sense. Outside the confines of the garden fence, they were feeding hay to cattle and saving animals from of empty, muddy dams. At the time, I didn’t realise that was what she looked like.

I don’t know much about drought. But I know that she’s inevitable.
I am lucky – or perhaps unlucky and lulled into a false sense of beauty and romance – to have moved to Burragan in the middle of several great seasons. This year, we’ve already had our annual average 11-inches of rainfall. We are thankful for that. And yet it’s dry. It’s dusty. It’s only getting hotter.

I don’t know much about drought. But I can feel her creeping up on us.
The signs are there. Selling stock. Buying hay. Blowing bores. Boggy dams. Empty tanks. Moving stock. Fierce winds. Thunderstorms that are no longer viewed as salvation, but instead, as fire threats. Those afternoons that smelt like rain; but when they came, they looked, and felt, and taste, like dust. Perpetrations for a dry summer.

I don’t know much about drought. But I know she’s more than a lack of rain.
She’s stress. She’s suffocation. She’s the haunted eyes of men whose strength is buckled by the weight of the world, and women who wish they could take the load off.
I don’t know much about drought. But I wonder if we will recognise each other, when we meet again.
I know we can’t be friends, and yet, to survive in this environment I cannot view her as the enemy.
We might have to learn to get along for quite a while.

Clover Hill one day in paradise

How I long for the farm to look like this again and for farmers everywhere to see drought pack its bags and go into hibernation