Like all Australians I’ve been watching in horror as Australia’s south east went up like a tinderbox in recent weeks. As I write, this crisis is still far from over, but already the loss of life, property and livelihoods has been unthinkable.
Hundreds of farmers have lost everything, and others have been forced to make gut-wrenching decisions to prevent their stock from suffering. These life changing moments often come on the back of days with little or no sleep as farmers volunteer on the front line to keep neighbouring properties safe.
Even as a farmer, it is hard to comprehend the loss many have suffered. To farmers, the land we look after or the livestock we care for aren’t just material things. They’re not something an insurance cheque can replace.
There’s bugger all I can say to improve the situation right now. I only encourage those affected to seek the support of friends and family, make sure you’re informed about the help available and apply early, and remember there are services available to assist if the distress is overwhelming.
From the NFF’s perspective, we’re doing what we can to ensure the response is adequate and coordinated.Fiona Simson, NFF President
I’m speaking regularly with the Federal Agriculture Minister and the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management to encourage them to act quickly and in a way that meets the needs of farmers.
We’re also supporting our member organisations where we can. Groups like the Victorian Farmers’ Federation, Livestock SA and NSW Farmers are working around the clock, liaising with their state colleagues and playing a critical role in coordinating emergency fodder and raising and distributing relief funds.
I’m seeing first-hand the enormity of the response playing out across the public and private sectors. This is exactly where the focus should be right now, with fires still burning and dangerous weather conditions set to return in coming days.
Where the focus shouldn’t be is on finger-pointing.Fiona Simson, NFF President
I’ve been saddened to see pollies and pundits getting stuck into partisan mudslinging about whose policies are to blame for this disaster. No future climate change or land management policy will extinguish the fires still threatening homes this week, or provide any comfort to those trying to rebuild their lives or bury their loved ones.
I don’t for one moment dispute that these are important policy discussions. I’m the first to hope that we take a thorough look at climate policy, land management and funding of emergency services in the wake of this disaster, but let’s do that at the appropriate time.
For now, let’s keep our focus on those being impacted today, and what they’ll need in the coming weeks and months.
One thing I’m keeping my focus on is the impact this will have beyond the fire zone, for those farmers continuing to battle the slower-burning disaster of drought. The extreme dry has shown no signs of abating over Christmas, and even the best prepared farmers are now entering this new decade unsure of how much longer they can hold on.
The fires will generate significant new demand for fodder, as fire-affected farmers turn to hand feeding their surviving livestock. That means increased demand for fodder – one of the drought’s most scarce resources. I’m strongly encouraging government to take this into consideration.
It’s a sobering start to the 20s for Australian agriculture, but I remain confident that this decade will be a hugely positive one for our industry. How quickly we can recover from the drought, fires and floods that have dominated the past year will influence our potential in the coming decade. To meet our aspirations for the future, we have to get serious about supporting our farmers in the here and now.