Drought is devastating by its very nature. It creeps up on the landscape and even after its end is declared, the impacts keep coming. That is the nature of Australia and drought, it is a part of our climate and we know to always expect it.
Despite this, our drought policy is not well established but we do seem to have a well-established pattern every time drought strikes.
Conditions set in and it's crisis time. It is all over the media, donations flood in from those far removed from the dry dams, dying stock and failed crops.
Months pass, no rain, no relief, more stress, debt and work. Farmers are in the thick of it, but why is everything quiet?
Twenty years ago, many of the questions on drought policy raised today were also raised. We need action on drought policy that will create lasting change and contribute to a innovative and sustainable industry into the future.
No money, assistance from charity or subsidy will provide long-term relief.
Long-term relief is possible through fair and adequate prices to boost the agricultural economy and investments in regional infrastructure.
There comes a point where no level of preparation will help. Costs of fodder is ongoing and only growing, water is limited and low soil moisture only increases the risk of winter crops delivering low yields.
Despite record prices for lambs, many can not achieve animals in the required condition or simply have none left to sell.
Our national sheep flock is at its lowest in 20 years, our beef herd follows a similar trend. Yet we are supposedly so much more advanced in farming practices than 20 years ago?
The reality is farmers are facing higher costs to produce the food and fibre expected by Australians, yet has anyone walked in to their local supermarket and not found produce to meet their needs?
No, because despite the hardest our industry continues to provide for this nation.
One of the greatest drought policy might not be a policy at all but rather continued consumer support. If everyone purchased locally produced food from local stores and were willing to pay a bit more because it's Australian and it's quality we'd see assistance to the industry. Drought spreads off-farm to our regional communities.
The loss of skilled labour and of small business providing services to the town is a real threat. Both state and federal government have committed vast sums to drought relief, which has provided avenues of support.
However the process is still confusing and complex, applications forms create added stress that we do not need. And farmers don't want to take on any more debt. Input costs are still rising so freight subsidies can continue to play a supportive role.
The freight subsidy should be broadened to include restocking. Restocking will be a vital but expensive process in drought recovery.
One of the key issues with current drought policy is the application process. A streamlined and simple system has been requested for years. The continuation of drought coordinators, funding for the Rural financial Assistance Authority are just some steps that the process is made easier.
The government must work closely with farmers to determine how best to use drought fund. The current Communities Drought Program is short-term. We do not need another 'fill-in' we need investments that will create lasting capacity and capability.
Regional infrastructure and better telecommunications to allow businesses to thrive also need to be addressed in any drought policy. Regional communities do not deserve second class treatment, it should not take a devastating drought to have our voices heard. These long-term investments are what regional communities are crying out for.
Rather than standing still we can move drought policy, regional communities and agriculture into the future. This does not just become drought policy but the rejuvenation of regional areas.
Tomorrow's Leaders Today
The Land's column 'Tomorrow's Leaders Today' is by contributors who are emerging professionals in the agriculture sector and rural community.
They represent a range of backgrounds from rural-based jobs such as country teachers through to agricultural industry professionals.
They have been through either the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Rural Achiever or The Land's Sydney Royal Showgirl programs.
They will be sharing with us their thoughts on challenges facing agriculture and rural NSW.
Meet this week's contributor:
Sally Downie is passionate about the dairy industry (especially in central west NSW) having grown up on a dairy farm in Forbes. She hopes to see much needed improvements in the industry as well as more dairy cattle being shown at shows across NSW.
She currently works as drought coordinator for Forbes Shire Council, which allows her to connect and support farmers and promote what the industry is all about.
She is also passionate about mental health in the farming community. She founded an incorporated association 'Grassroots Blueprint Inc', which is aimed at promoting well-being in the agriculture industry and advocating for locally based tailored mental health services for farmers.
This platform allows her to share her story, which she does through public speaking engagements to various audiences.
Current projects of the association include running mental health first-aid courses for people working in the agricultural industry.