Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce to tour worst drought-affected areas in Queensland and New South WalesBy Peter Lewis, Friday February 14, 2014 - 21:56 EDT
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is heading to the bush this weekend for a first-hand look at the worsening drought across New South Wales and Queensland .
Mr Abbott will be accompanied by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who is finalising a Cabinet submission regarding more assistance for the hardest-hit rural communities.
Treasurer Joe Hockey has already signalled to other struggling industry sectors that the "age of entitlement is over", which suggests farmers may not necessarily be in for a sympathetic hearing.
The National Farmers' Federation believes there is a compelling argument for special consideration this time, but others question whether rescue packages only serve to carry struggling businesses from one drought to the next.
The Mayor of Boulia Shire in Western Queensland, Rick Britton, appreciates both sides of the debate.
Mr Britton is a fifth generation beef producer who knows that many of his neighbours and the wider industry are under enormous stress from the drought. However, he is frustrated.
"We have just gone through a terribly long drought across Australia from 2000 to 2008, the so called Millennium Drought," Mr Britton said.
"Then we had three to four really good seasons. That was when we should have really got stuck into working on a long term strategy for drought and if necessary, exit strategies for those struggling to remain viable,
"You can't work on it while you're fighting a drought, everyone's just in survival mode at the moment," he said.
Lack of rain dries out feed stocks
Mr Britton and his family operate five properties, covering around 200,000 hectares, around Boulia.
In a good year they receive 250 millimetres of rain but over the past 18 months they have only had a quarter of that.
"That severely affected our ability to grow feed, so last April we started selling off all our stock apart from our breeding herd," Mr Britton said.
"We didn't get much for those cattle but it did mean that we were protecting our pastures for the breeders because together they are the core to our business," he said.
Project learns from hard lessons
For the past 10 years, the Britton family have been working collaboratively with researchers from Queensland's Department of Primary Industry on a project assessing the impact of climate variability on the northern beef industry.
As part of the project, they have set up a series of monitoring sites across their properties to calculate the amount of feed available for stock.
Research scientist Dr David Phelps says it is that equation that determines stocking rates through good times and drought.
"And we are pretty certain those hard lessons, that we have learnt through experience and also through science over the last decade, will stand us in good stead," Dr Phelps said.
"We are really trying to, I guess have the best strategies in place for dealing with a fairly uncertain future in terms of rainfall," he said.
© ABC 2014
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