Australian Farmers Struggle Amid One of the Worst Droughts in Living Memory
Some regional towns haven’t witnessed noteworthy rain since the beginning of 2012.
Inadequate rainfall levels and consecutive seasons of extreme heat have thrust eastern Australia into a relentless drought, leaving farmers in a state of hopelessness and financial despair.
During a visit to some of the worst-hit areas, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced further compensation would be offered to farmers. Two emergency lump-sum payments totalling $12,000 will be provided to eligible farming households to cover basic living needs, thanks to the Farm Household Allowance Scheme. Single households will receive $7,200.
The total emergency relief package will cost the government $190 million. The supplementary assistance, which includes additional funding for mental health support, brings total government spending on the drought to $576 million. Eligible farmers will receive the first payment on Sept. 1 and the second payment on March 1, 2019.
The Farm Household Allowance Scheme currently offers support similar to the unemployment benefit, totalling $16,000 a year.
“I fear this drought will be a long haul, that’s certainly what we’re being told,” Turnbull told reporters. “If farmers keep going and going in the hope it will rain and it doesn’t rain, they can go broke. And then they’re in more trouble. What we’re doing is keeping body and soul together for farming families who cannot afford to put food on the table.”
Sixty percent of Queensland and 99% of New South Wales are officially in drought. Similar relief efforts have been heightened across the nation in an attempt to deal with the crisis.
Rotary Australia, Channel 9, and the National Farmers’ Federation asked Australians to chip in and help struggling farmers by launching a Drought Relief Fund on Channel 9’s Today Show on Aug. 2. So far, the appeal has garnered $2,158,451.
Thank you so much to @TheTodayShow and @Rotary for stepping up to help fight for our farmers. Please give what you can. Visit https://t.co/Npw6GjTRus to donate. #agchatoz#ausag#drought18pic.twitter.com/xfiRfFgWh6— National Farmers Fed (@NationalFarmers) August 1, 2018
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced in last month's state budget that the government would provide an extra $500 million toward drought relief. The additional assistance includes interest-free loans of $50,000 for up to seven years.
For Brian Egan, the co-founder of rural support charity Aussie Helpers, the loans won't go far enough and instead hold the possibility of placing farmers in further debt.
"At the moment it's a tragic nightmare,” Egan stated. ”We've got farmers living in poverty for God's sake, we've got farmers living in third-world conditions. There's no water. Farmers are having to go to service stations to have a shower."
Egan further revealed that many farmers were forced to sell their breeding stock to cover their day-to-day costs.
"Our main job at the time is trying to keep breeding stock alive. Farmers are having to sell, and have sold, 52% of the breeding stock in New South Wales because they can't feed the damn things. So they have to sell them for slaughter for meat so they can pay hay bills and other bills. It's becoming a natural disaster."
Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Rural, and Regional Australia Joel Fitzgibbon stated that while the government's “long-overdue” support for farmers should be applauded, the government needs to primarily focus efforts on attempting to deal with climate change.
“If the government is serious about responding to drought it has to recognise the climate is changing and becoming more challenging,” he announced in a statement. “We need to follow the science and build farm sustainability and resilience in a range of ways including helping farmers embrace new technology and best-practice farming methods.”
“Climate change has contributed to a southward shift in weather systems that typically bring cool season rainfall to southern Australia. Since the 1970s late autumn and early winter rainfall has decreased by 15% in southeast Australia, and Western Australia’s southwest region has experienced a 15% decline in cool season rainfall,” the report disclosed. “Climate change is also driving an increase in the intensity and frequency of hot days and heatwaves in Australia, exacerbating drought conditions.”
For cattle farmer Tom Wollaston and his wife Margo, the uncertain and unrelenting drought has affected not only their land, but also the mental and emotional health of the entire farming community.
“Drought is a little bit like cancer,” Wollaston stated. “It sort of eats away at you, and it just gets drier and drier and more severe and more severe.”