In the wake of The Mercury's feature piece last Friday about how savagely hit local farmers have been by the drought, we asked Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon for his thoughts. It is his area of expertise and, as a Cessnock local, he knows the extent of the problem up close.
Farmers are amongst our most highly respected Australians; right up there with our emergency services personnel.
They work long and hard hours to produce the food we eat, often in difficult circumstances.
One of those challenges is drought.
Once a rare event over long cycles, it now appears almost ever-present.
Let's accept it as one of the realities of climate change.
Forget the argument about what's causing it, our climate is becoming more radical and we need to do everything we can to ensure we are not making the situation worse.
Further, we must do more to adapt to the reality that drought is, and will, remain a regular phenomenon.
In addition to embracing economy-wide mitigation policies, we need a comprehensive land management program involving all levels of government.
Success will require four key elements: 1. Assist farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the farm level and to reduce energy costs.
2. The embrace of new farming methods which allow us to produce more food in harsher conditions and with fewer natural resources. This will also make farm production more sustainable and make our farm business more resilient in the face of drought. While change is progressing slowly we must accelerate the adoption of smarter farming methods.
3. Ensuring our limited soil and water resources are directed to the farming activities which produce the greatest economic return for both our farmers and the nation.
4. There must be a government funded safety-net and tax incentives for drought proofing. Both of these are already reasonably well done, but can be improved.
Despite all of our modern knowledge and technology, it is not possible for our farmers to adequately plan for the harshest and most prolonged droughts. There is merit in a role for government in ensuring our food production capacity is maintained.
There is no one response to drought and the current plight of so many of our farmers.
We need to quickly restart the policy development process.
This opinion piece was published in the Maitland Mercury on 7 February 2018.