By Robbie Sefton
Drought is an inescapable part of farming we all face in Australia. Because its impact is so wide – affecting output, productivity and income – it is also probably one of the biggest challenge farmers and the service providers they use face.
Bureau of Meteorology data shows we have just had the third-lowest April rainfall on record across southern Australia, with the lowest rainfall on record at several stations in New South Wales and Victoria.
However, while the weather is outside our control, how we approach drought is within our control.
Like all business people, farmers make decisions all the time. Drought means making tough decisions – decisions you may not want to make around destocking for example. Yet planning for dry times is critical but a necessary part of life on the farm.
The very nature of farming sees the link between farm and farmer almost inextricable. It can be very hard to separate yourself from something that is not just your business, but your life. And yet for us, what makes a tough decision just that little bit easier is knowing it’s the best one for our livestock and our land. It can be tough, but we know that removing the sentiment and sticking to the facts based on a plan that’s been developed prior eases the decision-making process. In this way we can focus on the long game, and not on the immediate anxiety. This helps to maintain a strong, positive mindset, even though we’re making really tough decisions.
In the millennial drought we learnt to make decisions and stick to them; to act quickly and resolutely. During that drought we invested in water and feed resources, helping us get through prolonged dry times. In WA, where we farmed prior to NSW, farmers have become proficient at feeding stock during the long dry spells each year. Look after your livestock and they will look after you. Don’t get caught up in the anxiety of knowing you have to feed and take it on as a challenge – you will soon see a return on your long-term investment. Similarly, don’t get too caught up in the ‘here and now’; concentrate on how quickly all will regenerate when it does rain: your joining rates, pastures, smiles!
Dealing with drought is a matter of managing our resources well. Managing land degradation is critical, while animal welfare is always a priority. So we’re not holding back on feeding our stock well; there is no compromise in the quality or quantity of their feed, because, being optimistic – like we all are – it will rain… And it’s swings and roundabout: we’re getting good prices for our cattle, sheep and wool, and good stock are still bringing very good prices. They will hit their productivity straps quicker at the drought’s end than if you didn’t go that extra mile during dry times.
Farmers are tough and resilient and are smart business people. We understand that during times of rapid change, good preparation is critical.
What to do
It’s also important to use the resources and knowledge around you. NSW no longer makes drought declarations linked to assistance measures, so primary producers don’t need to be in a drought area on the NSW Combined Drought Indicator to access support.
To get an understanding of what assistance is available, I encourage farmers, their families and rural communities to visit DroughtHub, www.droughthub.nsw.gov.au; or call the NSW Rural Assistance Authority on 1800 678 593.
This article was published in The Land newspaper on Thursday 7 June, 2018. Link to the article can be found here: https://www.theland.com.au/story/5448884/we-control-how-we-approach-drought/
Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in rural Australia as a farmer, producing wool, meat and grains and as managing director of national marketing communications company Seftons.