By now it is implicit that the summer wet season did not meet the expectations of many Queensland farmers. Across the state, the hot summer saw a record number of days 35°C or warmer in 12 locations, with eight locations setting new records for their highest summer temperatures. Coupled with low rainfall in many parts of the state, it was a tough summer for Queensland farmers.
On the Darling Downs, cotton farmers have had to double their irrigation runs to maintain their crops. Sunburn and crop losses have been common in many industries, with the horticultural industry particularly feeling the pinch of the unrelenting and continued heat. Maize crops for many in the dairy industry have struggled, with some complete losses requiring replanting. Recently, the Bureau of Meteorology changed its ENSO outlook to an El Nino watch, so there is a chance that it might not be getting any better soon.
In the last two weeks the Bundaberg, Fraser Coast, North Burnett, South Burnett, Cherbourg, Gympie, Somerset and the remainder of Banana regions were added to the official drought declared list. There is now 87.47 per cent of the state drought declared – the highest level in recorded history.
Farmers in these regions now have access government support, such as the Queensland Government’s Drought Relief Assistance Scheme (DRAS) which provides assistance measures such as freight subsidies for transporting fodder and water, and a rebate on the cost of establishing water infrastructure for emergency animal welfare needs. For several Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) industry members, the Electricity Charges Scheme (DRECS), which offers a small concession for producers once their region is drought declared, will be welcome.
With climatic stress becoming more frequent, QFF considers government drought policies require a rethink. A more consistent and strategic approach to government support should provide better outcomes in the longer term than the current reactionary focus. For example, while the DRECS is welcome, farmers must wait until the formal drought declaration before receiving assistance, often long after the effects of the drought begin to be felt. So for many irrigators, the substantial electricity costs incurred over the summer months are now effectively a sunk cost, and the full intended benefit of the electricity charge relief is not received.
The best time to review drought policy settings is when farmers are not experiencing drought conditions. However, when farmers are experiencing good seasons, governments quickly disengage from drought policy making true reform hard. An increased focus on resilience planning and preparedness would be a good start. Supporting farmers before and after a drought with resilience planning and decision making tools should reduce the financial impacts of drought on their businesses and quicken the recovery.
Droughts are part and parcel of farming in Queensland and there are no miracle cures or quick fixes. To deliver better value for money for government and improve the quality of support for farmers we need to look beyond just reactionary measures. The state’s vulnerability to drought can be improved if the right investments are made. Although resilience planning funding isn’t a silver bullet, it is a necessary piece of the puzzle to better prepare and support our sector and the communities’ dependent on it from the effects of drought.
Queensland farmers seeking localised and industry specific drought assistance should visit the QFF site: farmerdisastersupport.org.au