How do we best prepare for drought?
The question and its many facets was asked at community consultations on the federal government's draft Drought Resilience Funding Plan.
The plan will be funded by the Future Drought Fund which has been given an initial $3.9 billion dollars and is expected to grow over time to $5 billion by 2028-29, with $100 million available each year from 2020.
Chairman of the Future Drought Fund consultative committee, Brent Finlay, said the fund is not about in-drought support now.
"It's about being stronger, more resilient, more connected so we can actually handle the hard times in the future," Mr Finlay said.
Communities and local businesses part of the plan
The draft plan focuses on three sections, economic, environmental and social resilience.
At the Wagga Wagga consultation it was social resilience that saw the most discussion between attendees, including several rural financial counsellors, a handful of farmers and former NSW Agricultural Minister, Niall Blair, in his new role as Professor of Food Sustainability at Charles Sturt University.
Mr Blair said a social framework and leadership needed to be developed so when the next drought comes we don't need to reinvent the wheel.
"I think better coordination is the key, our communities know what they need and to be frank quite often they don't need people from Sydney telling them what they need," Mr Blair said.
Mr Blair said what hadn't resonated in capital cities this drought was that good intentions sometimes have unintended consequences.
"For example, sending a load of groceries from a charity in Sydney to a drought-affected community, that could be at the expense of the local supermarket," Mr Blair said.
"Sometimes it's offensive to get a care pack in the mail that says we don't think you've been showering or brushing your teeth, here you go, here's a tooth brush and some soap.
"We need to make sure the people that want to help us, help us in the right way."
He said he thought the Future Fund needed to not only take into account the agricultural sector, but also regional and rural businesses that were indirectly linked.
"Today, I used the example of the local lawn-mowing business, there's not going to be too many of those if we don't get some rain. I think that needs to be acknowledged," Mr Blair said.
Farmer to farmer mentoring
Rebecca Peel of the Rural Financial Counselling Service, said she hoped the fund could help establish formal farmer-to-farmer mentoring programs so communities could help each other prepare for drought.
"It's about realising it's not tooting their own horn to say I've done this well, or figured out a way to do this in this area, it's actually helping farmers in the community," Ms Peel said.
"There are people that are doing well and have implemented strategies they learnt in the last drought. We should encourage them to share what those practices are so a lot more people can benefit from it."
Economically, attendees spoke about the need to improve access and knowledge of decision making tools.
Mr Finlay said every consultation had raised similar points, that there was no point developing data tools unless the work was being done to ensure farmers had the connectivity and knowledge to use them.
"We know a number of government departments have stepped away from extension, but the importance with extension is to carry that training, that knowledge transfer through," Mr Finlay said.
More farmers wanted at consultations
Local Marrar farmer, Bob McCormack, attended the meeting, but was disappointed not to see more people there.
"Those people who needed representation were not here, the right people haven't put their input into it," Mr McCormack said.
He had also been involved in previous drought support plans.
"If I'd just been a farmer I probably wouldn't have come and I just heard about it by chance," he said.
The consultations will continue until December 3.
- Visit haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/future-drought-fund for details.