DROUGHTS can no longer be regarded as abnormal or exceptional events Down Under, the Australian Farm Institute says.
Australia is in the midst of a drought of historic proportions. January to September rainfall in 2018 was the second-lowest since 1900 for the Murray-Darling Basin bread basket and September rainfall was the lowest nationally since European settlement in 1788.
Executive director Richard Heath says climate science shows droughts will happen more frequently, be more severe and the periods between droughts will see more extreme weather, making recovery even harder.
“Climate change is fundamentally changing Australian agriculture’s exposure to drought and if the impacts of climate change are not explicitly addressed in drought policy then we are doomed to accelerating cycles of increasingly burdensome short-term measures,” Heath says.
The government’s response, he says, must move beyond emergency measures that provide relief from the impact of drought to measures addressing drought as part of a whole-of-agriculture policy.
Heath says improvements in farming technology and practice are resulting in production that would have been inconceivable not that long ago – harvestable crops that have received less than 25mm of rain; grazing properties maintaining ground cover through judicious pasture management, good stocking decisions and regenerative practices.
“Accelerated research into resilient farming systems …. must be part of any long-term drought measures.” Heath says.
“Accelerated research into resilient farming systems and incentivisation of practices which provide ecosystem benefit (often costly for the farmer) must be part of any long-term drought measures.”
But Heath says even with improvements in farming practice there will be periods of extreme climatic conditions, such as the current drought, that will significantly impact the ability of farm businesses to generate revenue.
“Climate change impact will mean a diminution in the periods of relative climatic stability during which balance sheets can be rebuilt in preparation for the next drought.” he says.
“As well, these periods are likely to be subject to other extremes such as heat waves, frosts and floods.”