Stop the drought mania, Aussie farmers are fine, says agribusiness boss

As early as June, farms such as the one owned by the Jerry family in Coonabarabran, NSW, were struggling to feed their livestock. Source: Brook Mitchell/Getty

Stop turning Aussie farmers into a charity case because, actually, they’re fine, says the boss of the peak body representing the country’s biggest agricultural companies.

Tim Burrow, the chief executive of Agribusiness Australia was speaking to The Australian‘s well-connected rural correspondent Sue Neales about the ‘drought mania’ he says is being driven mainly by a city-based media and is damaging the public’s view of a vital sector in the economy.

The past two months has seen countless reports of farmers struggling in the drought, with some posting images of dead and starving livestock, which has drawn millions of dollars in donations from the public through platforms such as Buy a Bale, Rural Aid and Fiver for a Farmer.

Australia’s biggest companies have made much of their own multi-million-dollar corporate donations to the cause, the big banks in particular, while Australian music icon John Farnham has pledged to headline a drought relief concert later this year. And at the end of July, the New South Wales government announced an additional $500 million in assistance for drought-affected farmers.  

But the Agribusiness boss says the crisis is overstated.

“This is not the worst drought on record and only a tiny proportion of farmers, even in NSW where this drought is centred, are in desperate straits,” Burrow told the newspaper. “Australia has always had droughts and always will have, but the vast majority of farmers are managing through it and coping fine.”

He reckons many farmers are frustrated by the way they’re being portrayed, in part because most planned carefully for bad drought conditions and don’t want kids giving up their pocket money or pensioners going without in order to donate to the farmers’ cause.

Burrow makes the point that Aussie agribusinesses are seeking international investment, and that stories of how they can’t manage through a drought damaged those fund-raising attempts.

The newspaper’s report does note that a drought is currently affecting the entirety of New South Wales and much of southern Queensland and is no doubt causing hardship for some farmers. But it quotes farmers who are frustrated by reports of other farmers shooting starving livestock, with some of the comments implying that those farmers weren’t sufficiently conservative in how they stocked their properties in the face of an usual dry period.

But the National Farmers Federation told The Australian that it was determined to avoid a ‘blame game’ that saw farmers who needed help painted as bad farm managers, pointing out that a single decision or event, such as a bushfire or a move to expand, could throw a farm into dire straits when combined with a long drought.

“The public has shown they are so generous and love and respect farmers, which is absolutely fantastic and so important when many farmers are going through a lot of mental stress and anxiety with the drought, and we thank the community for that support,” NFF president Fiona Simson said to Neales.

“But it’s a delicate balance. While we need to show empathy and support for farmers who are going through tough times, that is definitely not every farmer.”

Do you think the drought coverage is overblown or has it prompted you to donate to help the farmers? Do you think farmers can properly plan for drought?





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