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Australia - Drought despair as farmers face ruin

Widespread drought had pushed thousands of Queensland farmers to the brink of survival, with nearly half suffering a dive in their income to below 50 per cent of average years as the six-year drought persists.

The October survey by Queensland farm group Agforce revealed 80 per cent of farmers had pruned their sheep and cattle numbers by at least 25 per cent, with many destocking their properties and trying to exist without any income other than government emergency farm household welfare payments.

The survey comes as 100 farm and agribusiness leaders prepare to meet in Canberra today for the National Drought Summit, chaired by Scott Morrison.

Ahead of the summit, the Nat­ional Farmers Federation has called the current drought policy a failure, with little encouragement of long-term farm business resilience or any holistic plan for tackling dry times.

Instead of a hand-to-mouth approach by federal and state governments focusing on emergency funds to feed starving stock and cash-strapped farm families once a drought has hit, the NFF wants a national approach that encourages preparation, response and recovery, affordable agricultural insurance products to help farmers manage drought, simple-to-access financial support, more tax breaks and a regenerative agriculture program that rewards land stewardship.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also called for the drought summit to include climate change on its agenda.

“The drought summit will be wasted unless talks include substantial discussion on the lasting impacts of climate change and actions to limit emissions; let’s accept droughts are getting longer and more savage,” she said.

The Agforce survey revealed just 7 per cent of Queensland’s 17,000 farms reported being un­affected by the drought, with no loss of income.

More than 58 per cent of rural Queensland remains drought-declared — down from 66 per cent in 2017 — with 60 per cent of producers worried their water reserves for stock, house and irrigation needs remain depleted by more than a half this month

Releasing the results of its 2018 drought survey, Agforce president Grant Maudsley renewed calls for immediate, additional support for drought-affected communities doing it tough.

Mr Maudsley, who will attend today’s summit, said the prolonged, severe nature of the drought had taken an enormous financial, emotional and environmental toll on regional communities in Queensland, “over­whelming even the best efforts of many producers to prepare”.

“This survey lays bare the impact of the drought, with the vast majority of Queensland’s cattle and sheep producers running much lower livestock numbers and a quarter of the state’s grain growers not planting a crop at all this year,” he said.

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