By WAFarmers President, Tony York
On my family’s farm, 1 July is an important date as it is the day we can get a fairly good indication of how the remainder of the season is going to pan out. Unfortunately this year, we recognise that our hope of a reasonable season is unlikely due minimal autumn and early winter rainfall, despite a small amount of rain falling over the weekend.
WA’s south west is dependent on winter rainfall to grow its crops, and livestock pasture. In the north around Geraldton, the break of the season must start earlier as winter finishes earlier, while in the great southern areas of Esperance and Albany, it can start later as spring is milder.
By now, industry recognises that a large proportion of the state is in the same situation as my family’s farm in Tammin. We know it won’t be a reasonable season but we cannot tell at this stage just how below average it will be, particularly as we move towards winter and the potential for frost.
While this is certainly not an ideal situation to be in, farmers are a resilient bunch and continuously learn how to manage these situations. They have a good understanding of their management choices to work the season to its best, manage the stock with feed, and reduce the crop area and the input costs.
That said, farmers can and must continue to improve their preparedness for these events so as to reduce the impacts on-farm, and WAFarmers will play its role highlighting options that need to be looked at. This includes more incentives to use Farm Management Deposits to balance the good years with the bad, and income protection programs such as Multi Peril Crop Insurance that relate to climate events such as drought and frost.
There will undoubtedly be a financial loss for many this season, and the stress for all farmers and families will become intense. While a drought is yet to be declared by government, we know from history the devastating effects that it can have on farmers, their loved ones and the communities they live in, outside of financial loss.
With prolonged dry periods comes the increased likelihood that farmers will leave the industry and, potentially, relocate to more urban centres. Not only does this leave a hole in the community where the business once stood, but there is then less support for regional businesses and others directly along the supply chain. Many towns and communities in our Wheatbelt are already teetering towards being unsustainable, and we hope the new Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development will be able to address this issue.
This will be a season when community support resources will need to be accessible and comprehensive, with these including mental health services, support groups and rural financial councillors. On a grassroots level, we must all watch out for those who need help and support them however possible.
Government also has a role to play in supporting farmers, their families and their communities. They can offer some immediate practical help in advice, and short term financial help for livestock, transport, feed, and water costs. Any community or industry sector under stress would expect some support from their government, and agriculture is no different.
We recognise the ongoing efforts of the Minister for Agriculture and Food Alannah MacTiernan and the State Government in appealing to the Turnbull Government to consider drought assistance, and hope the Federal counterparts recognise the need for immediate action.
In the meantime, look out for your mates. Farming is a close-knit industry and it is in times like these, when people are in need, that the best in people is brought out.