DROUGHT PROOF: Southern Downs at forefront of future plans
TRAVELLING in Australia to consult with those worst hit by drought, Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee chairman Brent Finlay was continually reminded the future of agriculture depended on its ability to adapt.
A third-generation Southern Downs farmer, Mr Finlay had already seen first hand how the unprecedented dry – labelled by experts as Australia’s worst drought in 800 years – had impacted the nation’s farming community.
“The last year on our farm, we had 127mm of rain. The lowest ever recorded before that was 300mm,” he said.
“It was absolutely devastating for us, as it was to this whole region.”
With the Future Drought Fund to be rolled out from July, Mr Finlay said the support – beginning with $3.9 billion in credit and eventually growing to $5 billion – would help fund drought-resilience projects and research into farm-production methods that could adapt with a changing climate.
It was a reality, Mr Finlay said, farmers couldn’t afford to ignore any longer.
“Climate change is real, climate variability is real,” he said.
“I’m in my 50s, with 35 years of farming experience, and have seen how the climate has changed and is continually changing, how evaporation rates have increased and how our summers are hotter for longer periods.”
“It’s not about getting into the politics, but about what the climate looks like now and what it will look like into the future.
“If we have better information about climate forecasting and outlooks, areas like Warwick and the Granite Belt will have a better idea of what that means.”
Other projects include supporting soil and storage in the landscape, and financial planning help for primary producers.
With the fund set to deliver $100 million annually, the chance to give input on what the money should go towards was one the former National Farmers’ Federation president couldn’t refuse.
“This is incredible opportunity for rural and regional Australia,” he said.
“It is unique – with my history of agricultural boards and being a farmer, I can see how unique it is.
“We finally have a fund to help farmers to focus on the next drought.”
Pointing to the agricultural industry’s long history of accusing government bodies of dropping drought initiatives once rain was in sight, Mr Finlay stressed the importance of creating a fund that would continue to prepare farmers long after water supplies were full.
“This is not in-drought support – it is not about now but about the future,” he said.
“We know drought impacts somewhere in Australia on a regular basis and this drought is not finished yet either.
“It is important this is here every year into the future to recognise how serious drought impacts the whole country.
“The outlook of agriculture is bright but is changing and we need to adapt to that.”