Farmers suffer through drought and high dollar while mining industry escapes blame

Intro

After suffering through an Angry Summer of bushfires and scorching temperatures, the exceptionally warm and extreme weather has continued into May, giving Australia its second-hottest start to the year on record. Grain belts across NSW are already threatened by the heat and lack of rainfall, and there is little relief in sight for farming communities across South Eastern Australia. At the same time, one-third of Queensland has now been declared a drought zone, enabling farmers to access relief funding and leaving many hoping an incoming cyclone will bring needed rain, while Western Australian farmers are being warned that their state faces permanent droughts. The extreme weather toll is adding up, with wheat exports potentially dropping to around 14-15 million tonnes in 2014, decreases to canola production could amount to as much as 30%, and ginger crops – 80% of which are grown in QLD – are down 20%. Farming communities around Australia are struggling,  not just from the weather, but also due to huge financial pressures stemming from the high Aussie dollar, and while the impacts and their causes are clear, the discussion remains inadequate to drive needed change. The link to climate change, for example, is only being made softly in some reports, if made at all.   At the same time,  the contribution of Australia’s mining industry to the troubles facing Australian agriculture is barely being discussed at all, which is remarkable given it not only contributes significantly to global climate change, but is also one of the drivers behind the high Australian dollar and a direct threat to generational farming via its destruction of fertile land and rural communities.

 

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Key Points

  • The extreme heat and weather we saw in the Angry Summer has continued, giving Australia the second-hottest start to the year on record, threatening food production around the country.
  • One-third of QLD has been declared a drought zone, joining many other parts of the country where farmers are struggling with harsh, dry seasonal conditions that are being driven by climate change.
  • Farming communities are being hit with a double whammy, as not only is the harsh weather impacting their livelihoods, the high Australian dollar is compounding their financial woes. Climate change is recognised as an increasingly important driver for their struggles, but Australia’s mining industry’s contribution to the changing climate and the high dollar is largely ignored in media coverage and other public debate.

Resources

Tools and Resources

Coverage

ABC RN BreakfastSMHSMHBusiness SpectatorThe West AustralianSevenMining Australia

Reports and Studies

Key quotes

  • “It’s not just about the drought, it’s about the declining terms of trade in agriculture, particularly in Western Australia, because we are an export provider which contributes to the Australian economy. But with the high Aussie dollar, wheat growers in Western Australia are in the same position as a car maker or any other manufacturing organisation trying to export overseas, and so the profitability of those industries drops.” Rural Financial Counselling Service WA chairman Julian Krieg.
  • “The mining boom is great if you work in the mining industry. But for other sectors in the Australian economy which rely on export earnings the boom has come at an enormous cost. Our farmers are price-takers not price-setters. This has meant that the surge in the Australian dollar due to the mining boom has had the knock-on effect of reducing the value of their exports.” The Australia Institute senior economist Matt Grudnoff.
  • “Earlier in the season we had no rain and growers were running out of water quite quickly. Then to get that sheer flood of rain – it’s one extreme to the other and we’re just not used to that quantity of rain.” President of Australian Ginger, Anthony Rehbein.
  • “No grower has escaped the weather that we have received earlier in the year – that being the dry weather before the rain and then the extensive quantities of rain that we received. Everyone is down in production – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a tomato or a zucchini grower who grew through that period, anyone who’s got crops in has got a reduced tonnage.” President of Australian Ginger, Anthony Rehbein.

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