Farmers are constantly adapting to climate variability and with the uncertainties of a changing climate, they must have the tools to bolster their adaptation plans and be able to build greater resilience into their businesses. The Queensland Government’s Queensland Drought Program Review released last week marks the start of a process of drought reform that essentially moves away from historical transactional-based support measures towards a greater preparedness and risk management approach.
Drought reform is never easy for farmers or government. The ideal time to progress drought reform is when farmers are not in the middle of dealing with it, least of all when 65 per cent of the state is drought declared. However, over roughly the last 25 years, there are only two short periods where parts of Queensland have not been drought declared – from 30 June 1999 to 31 October 2000, and from 28 February 2011 to 1 April 2013. With that in mind and considering the centerpiece drought policy – the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme (DRAS) – was introduced in the 1960s and has existed in essentially the same form ever since, it is hard to argue that reform is not needed.
Replacement programs recommended by the independent panel include the provision of low interest loans for replanting, restocking, storage and infrastructure for fodder and molasses, water infrastructure, alternative power infrastructure and new generation technology. Financial support for farmers and agribusinesses to develop individual business risk management plans has also been recommended, while the Drought and Climate Adaptation Program (DCAP), which funds the current adaptation focused projects, will be retained.
Having made the decision to shift its focus around drought support, government must acknowledge and accept that the hard work has only just begun. The challenge now is to get the right settings, timing and funding levels for the new programs, and will require proactive rather than reactive investment. The future drought policy framework and replacement programs will only be successful if they enable farmers to genuinely become more drought prepared.