'Why drought was a lesson we needed'

Taking Stock: Why this drought was catalyst for big change in NSW

Opinion
This drought was harsh but was it the catalyst for change this industry desperately needed? Photos: Lucy Kinbacher

This drought was harsh but was it the catalyst for change this industry desperately needed? Photos: Lucy Kinbacher

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The Land's livestock editor has her say in the Taking Stock column.

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Looking out the window a storm of remnant soil raced my vehicle along the bitumen road.

Not even the filter of my sunglasses could soften the harsh reality alongside me - NSW agricultural land was blowing away.

The last soldier of grass had fallen on the battle field some weeks ago and all that remained was a colour set so dull that even artists would struggle to recreate it.

Welcome to NSW.

As a former Queensland-based journalist my move to the blue state had coincided with one of the worst droughts on record.

I'd tell myself, "Just remember, it can only get better than this".

Not even the greatest gamblers could have predicted the almost sudden revitalisation of our landscapes when rain finally began to start filling in the cracks.

Beyond the landscape recovery, this drought was the catalyst for a much bigger momentum shift.

While nobody can control the weather, decision making paralysis meant the impacts of drought varied between fence lines.

Some people held on far too long at the sacrifice of their stock whilst others never calculated the lasting financial strain of their loose approach. It was a brutal but arguably needed shakeup that will transform producers for the better.

Just like man's best friend, farmers are silent achievers. Often they go unnoticed, unsupported and under appreciated so they operate with a degree of autonomy.

Just like man's best friend, farmers are silent achievers. Often they go unnoticed, unsupported and under appreciated so they operate with a degree of autonomy.

Have you ever tried to teach an old dog new tricks?

Better yet, have you ever tried to offer an experienced farmer different techniques?

Neither is easy, but it isn't impossible.

Just like man's best friend, farmers are silent achievers. Often they go unnoticed, unsupported and under appreciated so they operate with a degree of autonomy.

They go about their business, often on their own. They discover their own successes, push through their failures and develop a model that suits their operation. But this drought was different.

Suddenly all the techniques of the past were no match for this beast and history wasn't enough to make it into the future. What happened next surprised me.

Sheds and town halls began to overflow with people as they gathered to hear lessons from Local Land Services and Landcare.

Early weaning and containment feeding tips were shared among the district, social media groups became a beacon of information and consultancy experts were on speed dial.

Even in the last few months LLS organised Excel training courses were oversubscribed as the Generation X and Millennials felt a need to develop their higher education.

Asking for help was no longer a sign of failure, but rather a means of survival.

Adapting to the changing environment and learning a new trick wouldn't have been easy.

University of Illinois researchers found "educated networkers" and "young innovators" are most likely to adopt news systems while those that are "money motivated" and "hands-off" were least likely.

Revolutionary farming ideas come at a huge cost. Those that are too good to be true usually are and a failed experiment can cost productivity and profits.

It's a gamble.

For those bold enough to look outside the square the lessons of this drought have already paid off. Stories of near 100 per cent pregnancy testing rates from early weaning and confinement feeding aren't rare, it's a common success.

But the biggest value hasn't even been seen yet.

For these lessons, skills and techniques are no longer emergency mechanisms, they are key business tools that will make our producers far greater than before.

This drought was harsh but it was also the catalyst for a change this state's industry desperately needed.

Because it can only get better than this.

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