Coolwire 12               24 May 2005

Australian  wheatbeltAre Martians growing Australian wheat ?

 For months now, in autumn when the paddocks are usually dusty and rain is seldom plentiful, there has been a barrage of media articles beating up the notion of drought, detailing hardships being suffered and reporting the views of rural spokespeople pressuring politicians to increase drought relief.  Near record and very good wheat production figures for the 2003 & 2004 season mean that drought simply  CAN NOT be widespread in the southern wheatbelt. 
Click on the graph below for wheat production vs rain back to 1939.
93-04 Aust & NSW wheat prod v rain
Anyone watching rainfall since the 2002 drought will know that the southern Australian cropping region, or "wheat belt" has known many worse seasons than 2003 and 2004, they were overall pretty fair seasons in the wheatbelt.  This is borne out by near record wheat production figures from the AWB, Grains Council and ABARE estimates which suggest that any hardship due to low rainfall stems from a small proportion of land or that there is a subset of rural Australians who for a variety of reasons are unprepared or ill equiped to make a "go" of farming.   The sheer volume of media attention indicates these people can be vocal and the media fairly gullible in not setting news in context.
May 05 drought EC ares
There is a huge constrast between the relatively minor areas of arable Australia actually defined as being in drought by the BoM, (see map with red areas below) and the EC drought declared areas.
 This 22 May 05 map shows vast areas of NSW defined as EC (Exceptional Circumstances) from the website of Commonwealth Dept of  Agriculture, Fisheries and  Forestry.
Clearly there is a huge discrepancy in these silly EC maps for policymakers to repair when wheat production figures can be so good and the BoM  have only minor areas of the wheatbelt in drought

May05 12 mon drought by BoM
This map of drought areas from 1 May 2004 to 30 April 2005 comes from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) website;
and you can explore drought maps for various periods.  Those for 3 and 6 months show expamded areas but still not over most of the wheatbelt.  
And since when was an Autumn low rain period a big deal ??

People seeking a living from the land in Australia should understand the rainfall history of their region. 
New farmers should also guard against paying too much for properties.
The current para-normal situation where news articles have little relationship to data has roots in widespread exaggeration of the 2002 drought in all sections of the media by a wide variety of commentators and barrow pushers.
Just today a noted Canberra water scientist suggest that up to 10%  of  our agricultural land is unsustainable. 
Of course there is always land that lacks the natural advantages of some other land but this should be compensated for by value. It should cost less to buy into such poorer land.  Throughout history people paying too much for land have tended to go broke and other more shrewd souls quietly accumulate acreage at a price they want to pay.

There is much to be said for a policy of abolishing all drought relief assistance. 
Drought is a normal, natural, cyclic factor of our environment and if you can not understand and cope with that, maybe  you should not be farming.

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