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Dealing with drought: secure today, but prepare for tomorrow

4 October 2007

“TO MEET the challenges of a changing climate, we need a visionary new approach in the way Australia deals with drought,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie declared today.

“The Australian Government and broader community have responded magnificently to the current crisis. Words cannot express the gratitude of the farm community.

"In a measured and timely way, Australians have united to deal first with the priority of supporting farm families through the worst drought on record.

“With this unprecedented drought now deepening following the failure of another winter crop, the Prime Minister moved to tackle the crisis ‘head on’ with a $1.14 billion package, sensibly protecting Australia’s vital agricultural productive base.

“This package represents an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis. We must tackle the ‘here-and-now’ and this is being done.

"But, ultimately, all Australians – including farmers – recognise relief is a stop-gap measure.

“So much hinges on our farmers’ ability to meet climate challenges. We’ve come to a point where we must think strategically about how we – as a nation – plan for, and deal with, drought.

“The current drought has already slashed three-quarters of a percent off Australia’s national economic growth.

“Our farming base supports 1.6 million Australian jobs – more than half in the cities, covering retail, wholesale, transport, processing, packaging and more. It also accounts for 20% of our national exports ($30 billion a year) and most of the daily food needs of the Australian population.

“That’s why, beyond the ‘here-and-now’, both sides of politics must show leadership and commit to a long-term willingness to work with farmers in safeguarding productive farm lands and the agricultural economy.

“We are proposing a new targeted ‘mutual obligation’ system to partner with farmers in investing in drought preparation, planning and recovery.

"That is, for every dollar the Government invests in drought preparedness, participating farmers must match it, either dollar-for-dollar or in-kind.”

The NFF says, to be effective, climate management strategies must be available to all farmers who pass eligibility criteria; have a drought management plan, or a business plan that incorporates drought management strategies, to counter a changing climate; and have already implemented drought mitigation activities.

“It is essential that these strategies not be restricted to those farmers already in drought (EC) declared areas,” Mr Crombie said.

“If the full benefits of effective drought preparedness and management measures are to be realised, they must be available to all farmers so they can prepare for, and mitigate against, the impact of climate change ‘before’ they are in the midst of drought.

“We envisage the strategies covering a variety of approved activities, including trialling new drought-resistant technologies or different farm systems, to implement long-term sustainable stocking levels and innovative farm practices to boost drought resilience.

“It is a positive plan... a quantum leap in dealing with drought, particularly in the face of any long-term climate change.

“It also recognises, and builds upon, the environmental management practices already in place on 92% of Australian farms. The overwhelming majority of farmers are already doing ‘the right thing’, the problem is they can’t do it all alone.

“We can better drought-proof Australia, and we need to. Bolstering and augmenting current drought management practices and gearing towards future drought preparedness, is essential.

“It is smarter to invest in more drought-resistant practices today and, over time, reduce the need for drought relief.

“We know this is a generational shift in thinking. But it’s a necessary, commonsense and forward-looking approach. Ultimately, we need to move from the necessity for drought relief to drought management and preparedness.

“Farmers recognise environmentally-sustainable farming is essential to their survival.

“They must be better equipped to deal with drought today, safeguard against climate change and future droughts, and lessen the severity of drought impacts on Australia – economically, environmentally and socially.

“This is precisely this shift in thinking that our 2007 Federal Election Policy Platform, released on 19 September 2007, was designed to stimulate and foster. If not now, then when?”

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250

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