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How young farmers are finding innovative ways and fresh energy to deal with drought

By David Marchese, Monday July 9, 2018 - 09:11 EST
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Jack Carrigan says farmers are "an innovative bunch". - ABC

For a farmer experiencing his first drought, Jack Carrigan is unexpectedly upbeat.

The 27-year-old says the stereotype of farmers constantly complaining about the weather is outdated and farmers are instead focused on being positive and getting on with the job.

"In mainstream and social media, farmers come across like whinging old cockies, I think," he said.

"I definitely don't think we're that.

"We're an innovative bunch. We're quite resilient."

Like Mr Carrigan, a new generation of young Australian farmers is experiencing drought for the first time.

But rather than being defeated, they are confronting the challenge head on.

Mr Carrigan is a fourth-generation farmer living four hours north-west of Sydney in the New South Wales community of Merriwa, which means "plenty of grass seeds" in Wiradjuri.



While the land currently falls well short of its reputation, Mr Carrigan is more energised about his job than ever.

"For me, it's another agronomic challenge at the moment," he said.

"I see it as an exciting opportunity to try to better myself in terms of water use efficiency.

"I never say I beat mother nature but it's always good to challenge her a few times."

Mr Carrigan is confident modern farming techniques, combined with a more scientific approach, is pushing the industry to another level.

"Our generation have got challenges like no other and we're going to have a lot of exciting opportunities to really advance the industry," he said.

"Then you throw a few curve balls into the mix like a dry time and a flood or two and it really is going to make stuff exciting."

Tackling drought for the first time

Ninety-nine per cent of NSW is now affected by a drought and some experts are saying is the worst in more than a century.

The dry spell is also .

This is the first drought 25-year-old Cassilis farmer Richard Martin has experienced.

It is hard work. Mr Martin shovels 14 tonnes of cotton seed every week to feed 1,000 hungry cattle on the property that has been in his family for more than a century.

"Every morning you wake up with the same sore, aching muscles and you know that you've got to do it every day for however long until it rains," he said.

"It hasn't been the best two years. It's very hard."



Then there are the sheep; 6,500 wailing merino ewes searching for food that is not there.

"We're spending about $20,000 a week just on stock feed alone, that's not including fuel and labour and costs," Mr Martin said.

"Just seeing how dry it is and never seeing the country so dry, it's mentally hurting."

The Martins have been without significant rainfall on their 4,500 hectare property, Dalkeith Olde, since March last year.

Once lush paddocks now bear a closer resemblance to the surface of Mars than prime agricultural land, but Mr Martin is undeterred.

"There is a bright future, it's just the last few years have been the hardest," he said.

"The next few years coming might be the best.

"That's part of living on the land. It's part of the landscape of Australia."

Fire another challenge to rural life

Few young people can appreciate the ferociousness of the Australian climate like 21-year-old Isabella Ghiggioli.

Like the Martins, Ms Ghiggioli risked losing everything when a bushfire tore through her Cassilis property in February last year.

The fire destroyed 30 homes and burnt out tens of thousands of hectares, including much of the property Ms Ghiggioli runs with her father.

But almost a year-and-a-half after the blaze, she is focused on getting through the tough times.

"You've got things that are dependent on you, hundreds of cattle that need you, they can't fend for themselves," she said.

"[Drought] happens, you've got to deal with it. Really the main thing you can do is have that support behind you."



Ms Ghiggioli credits a strong support network with getting her through difficult times.

"For me it's my Dad, and my friends in the area; they're always here to talk which is great," she said.

"I wouldn't be able to do it without them."

New approaches to old challenges

With the mental strain of drought contributing to many farmers taking their own lives, rural support worker James Cleaver said young farmers needed to ensure they had access to emotional support.



"A lot of it comes with being unable to make a decision," Mr Cleaver, who works for the NSW Department of Primary Industries, said.

"People have decided to hold on to their stock but they can't afford grain.

"The burden of it all is really too much.

"They're stuck on a hampster-wheel and they keep going around in circles."

While conditions were gruelling, many young farmers were using the drought as an opportunity to try out new ways of doing things, Mr Cleaver said.

"There are some young guys who are bringing [information] back to the farm, which is really promising.

"We've got these new techniques that we're taught at university and they're telling dad 'hey have we tried this?' or 'we should give this a go'.

"They're learning about drought so they can be more resilient in the future."

But Mr Cleaver said there was no substitute for experience.

"There are some core values around drought that our parents and other older farmers can teach us. We need to listen.

"Farming is not just a business, it's a lifestyle and it's not always easy but it is worth it."


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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