National Farmers' Federation

A Christmas of drought and flooding rains

Christmas Message
Jock Laurie
National Farmers’ Federation

THIS is a land of extremes. Our folklore tells of a harsh landscape and the extraordinary people who make it work. The resilience of our farmers and rural communities is legendary for a reason. They’re tough. Year in, year out they roll up their sleeves and make the best of whatever circumstances they find themselves in.
The bitter irony of 10 years of drought only broken by flooding rains leaving behind drowned and damaged crops across much of three eastern states – crops that promised so much just weeks earlier – takes a toll not lost on any Australian.
Understandably the human interest story in the mainstream media has focused on the anguish and frustration of those at the coalface – farm families, local businesses and entire regional communities. Yet, the Aussie smile and sense of humour still manages to shine through.
At the same time, some farmers in Western Australia are praying for just a little of what the east has copped as drought takes hold, production is halved and spirits slump. Meanwhile, others in the Gascoyne region have just been hit by worst-ever flooding and are waiting for water to ease before assessing the damage.
There can be no doubt that our thoughts this Christmas are with those still mopping up, those enduring the long dry, and all counting the costs and wondering what the future now holds.
And it’s this last thought that, I think, proves there is ‘more than meets the eye’ in the bush. Optimism springs eternal, droughts do, indeed, break and flood waters do subside.
To farm families I say there is a lot to look forward to.
With fresh water again coursing through the Murray-Darling river system, we’re seeing regional areas blooming once more, species not seen in a decade returning to breeding grounds and dams full or filling.
The high expectations for this crop may not come to full fruition for fruit, sugar and grain, especially for those farmers still looking to get their crops off.
Still, despite downgraded production, this season is set to be the best grain crop in 10 years, made better by world commodity prices at record highs and no sign of that changing any time soon.
In no way does that detract from the natural and human disasters affecting so many people right now, but I see a steely resolve buoyed by the knowledge of renewed river flows and dam storage capacity and soil moisture levels at 100%.
There is a uniquely Australian sense of humour that gives rise to optimism in the bush. In the east and far west our cup, indeed, runneth over. Despite the immediate pain caused by the deluge, in the aftermath, there is a lot to look forward to.
While many are salvaging water damaged crops, homes, businesses and community facilities this Christmas, in the west there is another human story unfolding. To those farmers in drought I say it will rain again and to flood ravaged communities the waters will subside… and when both extremes do, there is a lot to look forward to.
This Christmas, wherever you are across this wide brown land, I hope you can keep your spirits high as you contemplate the future. I hope you can see the great opportunities ahead for the Australian farm sector.
Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous 2011.
Jock Laurie is a farmer from Walcha in NSW and President of the National Farmers’ Federation.

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