The latest severe weather event experienced by Queensland farmers and the ensuing processes have again highlighted why the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) continues to push for changes to the current recovery arrangements. Six weeks after the flooding that caused widespread damage through the Wide Bay region, 40 per cent of affected farm businesses are yet to repair essential business equipment and infrastructure. Of the farmers who had repaired, 45 per cent had done so to a lesser standard than what was previously in place, leaving them more vulnerable to future events.
This insightful data was obtained from the recent combined industry and government technical flood recovery workshops in Monto and Bundaberg. QFF organised the pilot workshops to demonstrate the effectiveness of early engagement with farmers and the need for technical recovery advice to help farm businesses recover faster and more resilient.
Every year the Australian Government spends over $560 million on post disaster relief and recovery, with this number on the rise as climate change increases the frequency and severity of natural disasters. Feedback from the workshops demonstrated that the current recovery process was failing many farmers, with the majority not recovering to a standard any better than before the event.
Every natural disaster strips productivity and efficiencies from the sector. These longer term and less visible impacts flow through to local economies and deliver government ever increasing relief and recovery bills. This should ring alarm bells for industry and government. Clearly, we need to be doing better.
QFF has been calling for a ‘shovel ready’ disaster recovery program to deliver technical assistance in the initial stages of recovery to help farming businesses recover. Over 95 per cent of participants in the pilot workshops indicated that they would implement the technical on-farm advice, so the desire to recover to a better standard and improve productivity and on farm efficiencies is evident; farmers just need access to this support.
Category B and category C assistance was recently approved for affected parts of the North Burnett and Bundaberg Councils, giving impacted farmers access to some financial assistance to repair and restore on-farm production. It is hoped that the pilot workshops have put those farmers that attended in a better position to use this funding to realise stronger, more resilient businesses.
Natural disasters are stressful and emotional times for farm businesses. Years of hard work can be lost in minutes and the road to recovery is often long and arduous. Long term, strategic recovery planning and implementation is needed. The current recovery model needs to be rebalanced so programs that support farmers with technical advice to make the right decisions that payoff in the long term are available.
The case for change and a more proactive approach is compelling. $250 million national expenditure on pre-disaster resilience could generate budget savings of $12.2 billion across all levels of government and reduce disaster costs by 50 per cent by 2050. Further, natural disasters are playing an increasing role in limiting the potential of Queensland agriculture, so we must work towards reducing their impact. Empowering our farmers with the tools they need to recover even stronger is overdue.
QFF also looks forward to working with government to remove stamp duty on agricultural insurance, and continuing the preliminary work to develop suitable insurance products so farmers have access to commercial risk mitigation options too.