Beating the cycle

Host: AgForce Queensland
Written by Amelia Shaw, AgForce Policy Officer.

AgForce has been the unifying voice for Queensland’s beef, sheep and grain producers since 1999. Our strength continues through our membership and a strategic vision to secure the productivity, profitability and sustainability of the agribusiness sector. AgForce has approximately thirty staff based in Brisbane and regionally around Queensland.

It takes a long time to get into drought and it doesn’t take one night of rain to get out of one.

Drought support is getting a lot of attention in urban media at the moment with 57% of QLD drought declared and 98% of NSW. However, since I’ve been at AgForce (September 2017) it has been an ongoing policy area that I’ve been working on – but 10 months of a Policy Officer’s time doesn’t equate to the total time and effort the organisation has spent on this matter. Since late 2015, AgForce has been working to change the discussion and the thinking around drought and supporting farmers to manage it better.

What started this?

Like any good policy there is a beginning – a point where someone has a lightbulb moment to look at the issue differently.  AgForce’s drought policy was first born in Warwick in late May 2015 with a discussion between Helen Lewis (cattle producer) and policy advisor Dr Dale Miller. Policy solutions at AgForce are developed through our committee format which comprises of members (farmers) from across the state, supported by Policy staff. Helen could see that many of the discussions about drought assistance were specific – outlying what programs were on offer to those in drought and what were the issues with those.

The lightbulb moment was that whilst discussing programs while there is a current drought is important, if we don’t help farmers prepare and recover well we will just be having the same conversation over again next drought. This continues the cycle of only reacting to an event that anyone in ag will tell you is frequent and expected.

Later that year Helen was on a flight back from a National Farmers Federation meeting in Canberra when she pulled out her notebook and formed the initial concept drawing of the AgForce Agricultural Business Cycle. The Drought Committee then further developed the Cycle over the next two years.

What’s the solution to drought?

We can’t stop droughts occurring, so we needed to help farmers prepare for drought as part of their business cycle. The Agricultural Business Cycle looks at drought beyond the event itself and seeks to extend government’s thinking from an in-event focus to the other farm business phases where decisions are often made to deal with drought before it happens.

It’s about ensuring producers have ownership of drought preparedness and are rewarded for proactive management and efforts to improve their resilience. It’s also about ensuring producers can access the type of assistance they need when they need it to manage drought and to recover more quickly.

Drought impacts not only farm businesses financially but also the regional communities that rely on those businesses. Governments need to ensure that the social fabric of our regional, rural and remote communities isn’t in jeopardy and producer efforts to protect the environment need to be acknowledged.

Cattle around Julia Creek.

How does the Agriculture Business Cycle work?

Australian farmers do take the primary responsibility for managing their climate risks, but they need government policies that facilitate and support their efforts to do so, and not act against them. Australia needs an enduring drought policy.

The Agriculture Business Cycle address the agricultural business across all its Phases – ‘Non-drought’, ‘Drying’, ‘Dry’ and ‘Recovery’ by ensuring relevant and useful programs are available when they matter most.

Success for the Agriculture Business Cycle looks like:

  • Producers have ownership of drought preparedness, knowing how to effectively manage changing conditions
  • Rewards proactive management by producers and their efforts on business resilience
  • Producers accessing the type of assistance they need when they need it to manage drought
  • Brings together the expertise needed to address all social, financial and environmental factors involved
  • Fosters best management practices and shared innovative approaches
  • Helps producers to continually improve their capacity over time to manage drought better.

What do farmers think?

What makes this concept different is that it wasn’t just dreamt up in an office in Brisbane, it’s been a piece of collaborative work shared by industry across the state. In the early days the idea was brainstormed by members and staff of the AgForce Drought Committee – which is made up of farmers and ag industry representatives. It’s been critiqued and workshopped by members (farmers) and elected representatives (also farmers) as well as other stakeholders. It has been created by farmers, for farmers.

It’s an evolving concept, like the cycle.

Is there appetite for change?

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to change the policy settings when you are in the middle of a drought and that’s why we need to ensure this important issue isn’t forgotten the moment it rains. As mentioned we have been working on this policy since mid-2015 and have taken it to all the necessary decision makers at both a state and federal level.

What’s next?

Farming communities experiencing the effects of drought are getting the much-needed attention they deserve right now. Drought has such a big impact on Australian agriculture and the wider economy and extended dry periods are a recurring feature, so we need governments at all levels and politicians on all sides to come together with industry to work on a sustainable approach to managing this issue now and into the future.

Recently in Canberra at Minister David Littleproud’s Drought Roundtable, which was attended by the National Farmers Federation, state farming organisations and banking representatives, AgForce presented the Cycle. This was a great opportunity to take the Minister, his staff, department staff and the banks through AgForce’s thinking. AgForce’s General President Grant Maudsley outlined the effects drought has had on Queensland over the past six years but also highlighted the strength and resilience of farmers.

Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud at the Drought Roundtable in Canberra.

AgForce General President Grant Maudsley and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud.

Overall, the roundtable was a constructive step towards the development of a better, long-lasting drought policy framework. Since then, we have seen several announcements of immediate support from the Minister of which AgForce is supportive.

I, along with the AgForce Finance, Agribusiness, Climate and Drought Committee (AgForce members), look forward to progressing this policy further and encouraging government to look at drought beyond the event itself.

If you are a farmer reading this post and want to know how you can help or provide further feedback. It would be great if you could answer this question for me:

‘What has helped or will help you manage drought?’

Feel free to call or email me on the contact details below.

Amelia Shaw
AgForce Policy Officer
07 3236 3100
Twitter: @ameliashaw91

AgForce Policy Officer Amelia Shaw.