Drought in Farming Communities

Farming communities have been in decline over the past two decades and many farmers have been unable to survive the impacts of continuing drought conditions. Many have had to walk away from their heritage, their livelihoods and their land.

Farming communities have been in decline over the past two decades and many farmers have been unable to survive the impacts of continuing drought conditions. Many have had to walk away from their heritage, their livelihoods and their land.

Drought is a major concern for farming across Australia. The lack of rainfall out in rural Australian farming communities is a real concern. The droughts are caused by many factors, such as domination of high pressure systems and El Niño.  El Niño refers to Christ Child, as it is more noticeable around Christmas. El Niño brings high pressure systems to the eastern parts of Australia, a cause of the drought in the early part of the 21st century.

Drought has had many negative impacts on farming communities resulting in rural decline today. About 70 percent of farms are drought affected and there are only 100,000 family farms still in business.

The lack of water means that farmers have little chance of growing any plantations/crops. This affects their ability to earn income from their farming business. Bourke is one of these farming communities. Bourke from 2001-2006 had a 20% population drop (730 people), the fastest rate of population decline in NSW. With people leaving, so does the need for local service (eg, shops and banks) and support industries (eg, trucking companies, abattoirs).

The farming communities in drought struggle to work socially together. A real problem is when farmers need more money/supplies and resort to theft (water, feed). Families in this situation can separate to move away from where the drought is the worst, with many moving to urban areas in the hope of earning enough income to keep their land. The separation can take a huge toll on some, leading to mental health issues like depression, and drug and alcohol abuse to relieve the pressures.

The drought has caused a problem to the farming lands, degrading it (erosion, lack of nutrients) causing a problem with growing plants and raising livestock. The water levels are also decreasing, causing limited choices in planting so that there is little biodiversity around the farms. The degrading of the land means properties can lose money, making the life for farmers out there even harder. Who can afford to buy a farm that cannot produce anything?

These economic, social and environment impacts have all resulted in a decline in the proportion of people living in farming communities compared to towns and cities.

The Federal Government gives income support to the farmers suffering form the drought. The newest being a one-off payment to leave their farm. The Australian Govt. Envirofund gave $20 million to farmers in need in 2003-2004. There are many more options for the farmers who need it including Employment services, personal and financial counselling, income support, interest rate relief, exceptional circumstances system and farm management deposits.

The state and local governments give income and financial assistance to farmers also. Some ways the State Government helps include the NSW rural assistance authority, the NSW drought assistance and transport subsidies. The Local Governments have public works and health and welfare services. Community groups also provide help with land care help.

It seems to me that farming has been the cornerstone of Australian growth and prosperity (for example, sheep, wheat and cows). Farming is the backbone of our nation and in the good times, farming communities supported and helped urban growth, so now that the agricultural industry is really suffering, Australia as a whole should be doing everything it can to support this industry. Times are tough for these people now, so if we help them continue during the drought, when times are better (and they will get better), we will still have these resources and we will not have to rely on overseas imports. We can do this by providing assistance like those mentioned above and also by intensive research in methods to ensure that when drought conditions arise in the future, we have the knowledge and expertise to avoid such disaster again. Scientific research into water conservation would be one example of this.

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