While 90 per cent of NSW is suffering some form of drought, the Northern Tablelands are in the very worst category.
Inverell has traditionally been a safe haven in a dry time, but some local farms have recorded the lowest annual rain since European occupation.
The strength of our community, like many rural towns, is the family farm.
While strong commodity prices will ensure excellent prospects for rural Australia in good seasons, the continued dry is placing the future of family farms in grave danger.
Federal and State governments need to adapt drought policies around climate change.
The resilience of rural communities and the preservation of the family farm can be supported with long-term strategies based on drought preparation as opposed to the present reactionary measures.
The Northern Tableland has low ground cover, zero soil moisture and has received minimal rainfall during the past six to 12 months.
Although drought assistance fund low interest loans for infrastructure are a great idea, the average farm in our district has little appetite for more debt in these tough times.
The current Federal and State infrastructure initiatives should apply for all family farms at all times, good and bad. This would further encourage forward drought preparation.
Family farms are more likely to spend on water and storage infrastructure when cash flow is positive. Infrastructure spending should be further enhanced with substantial tax deductions for fodder stored in good times for drought use.
The result would be an oversupply of on farm hay and silage: a nice problem. While the current subsidies on the cartage of fodder are appreciated, each government intervention invariably encourages fodder price rises. Preparation is a much more efficient and effective solution.
The family farm is disappearing. Ironically the success of agriculture is one of the reasons. Commodity prices and land values are at historical highs and interest rates are at all time lows. Multiple side by side family farms are legitimate targets for larger producers and corporates.
Family farms that are beaten by the dry can take advantage of fair land values and sell. Good for them, but when the season turns there will be no coming back.
Smaller rural populations will have dramatic effects on schools and local businesses.
Governments can prevent the loss of rural families and the accompanying social implications with prudent policy in good times.
Family farms are important to every rural community, proactive drought preparation will help retain them.
- Bob Jamieson is the director of Bob Jamieson Agencies, Inverell.