$5b drought fund only part of the solution

Recently, federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced up to $5 billion for a new, 10-year Future Drought Fund. I've lost count of all the inquiries, plans, and promises to deal with drought. None ever amounted to much. No one in power had the courage to ditch the ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff approach.

We will need to see how it works in practice, but the Future Drought Fund seems to signal a welcome shift. Finally, a plan with resilience and risk management baked in.

And not before time. Droughts, fires, and other extreme weather events are becoming more likely as greenhouse gas emissions shoot up. On my property in south-east NSW, last year's record-low rainfall halved the winter wheat crop. We saw the same drop in productivity right across the country. According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, two decades of wilder weather has robbed farmers of $1.1 billion.

This increasingly hostile climate can fray the social fabric of small, close-knit communities. But people can better cope when they have good leadership and are able to work together to exchange knowledge and support innovation. Communities need to be equipped to make choices in a changing climate.

Farmers for Climate Action has called on governments to help build this "soft infrastructure". Our recent Regional Horizons report outlined how it could be done. The Future Drought Fund seems geared to deliver some of what is needed to make rural communities more resilient, and Minister Littleproud has appointed smart, thoughtful people to oversee it. This gives us confidence.

Then again, as long as emissions rise unchecked, rural industries and communities are on a hiding to nothing. We're already wrestling with a little over "just" 1C of warming and we're on track for a catastrophic 4C.

This road we're on, says the Reserve Bank, leads to "irreversible damage", while Insurance Australia Group sees that hothouse world as "pretty much uninsurable".

Most farmers are already adapting. Many are finding deeply satisfying ways to reduce emissions that also lift performance and hedge against risk.

When governments act prudently, get out of coal and gas, and throw their weight behind clean energy and climate-smart farming, that's when we will see regions really thrive. The Future Drought Fund has real potential. Let's not squander it.

  • Peter Holding is a third-generation farmer in south east NSW and farm outreach officer at Farmers for Climate Action.
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