Farmers Flip on Climate Change as Drought Worsens

“The season is probably one of the worst we’ve seen”. That’s how Robert Lee, a sheep and cattle farmer from Molong describes the situation.

Bore water is being stretched to its limits in Molong NSW (Source: Nic Ford)

“We gear our enterprises to depend on Spring, so that when Spring comes we just got grass growing everywhere and you need as many mouths eating as possible… and we are now looking down the barrel of not getting a Spring. It’s just so dry in the ground.”

Robert has been forced to send a third of his cattle off to the abattoir despite being only six weeks away from calving, which he describes as “very dramatically premature”.

Robert, like thousands of farmers across Australia, is doing it very tough. Last month was the driest July in 16 years, on top of 15 months of below average rainfall, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. This drought has been described as the worst in living memory and most farmers are not receiving the extra support they need to survive. But it has also been a wakeup call for the agricultural sector to the serious effects of climate change.

Farmers across Australia have noticed a pattern in the climate and many admit it is getting worse. Verity Morgan-Schmidt, the CEO of Farmers for Climate Action, says more and more farmers are speaking up and are pushing for the government to be tougher on climate change.

“We are seeing a massive movement of Australian farmers who are actively embracing renewable energy,” she said. “Not only is there strong evidence actually backing what they’re observing [farmers are] looking out their kitchen window and seeing exactly what changes are occurring to our climate.”

Photo from a drone above a farm in Molong NSW (Source: Nic Ford)

Farmers, who are on the front line of climate change, have been historically against renewables and emissions reduction or as Robert Lee described it “farmers are a notoriously conservative bunch”. But he and a lot of other farmers are starting to shift their beliefs. “Definitely, climate change is having an impact on this drought… it makes the drought more extreme. And I think the fact that we’re getting more of these droughts more frequently I think is a result of climate change,” Robert said.

In the past, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has been adamantly opposed to renewable energy and emissions reductions. In 2011 when Labor released their Emissions Trading Scheme, the NFF was on the front line of campaigning against it. But Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers’ Federation says that isn’t the case anymore. “We have turned quite a corner ourselves,” she admitted to the Guardian. The NFF now supports the coalition’s emissions reduction scheme known as the ‘National Energy Guarantee’. “While we are a land of droughts and flooding rains, absolutely at the moment people are seeing enormous swings in what would be considered usually normal,” Simson said during the interview.

Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers’ Federation represents the turning off a tide on climate change policy (Source: National Farmers Federation)

Even the Nationals seem to be coming around, however slowly. David Littleproud, Liberal National Party member and the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources admitted earlier this month on ABC’s television show Q&A, “I am in favour of renewables, make no mistake. It will mean we will have cleaner air to breathe, there is nothing to fear in that.” This is a massive turnaround from a party previously under Barnaby Joyce that refused to even use the words ‘climate change’.

Parliament has resumed this week and the government’s National Energy Guarantee will be high on the agenda. With the drought only worsening, divisions are springing up inside both the Liberal and National parties on energy policy. But farmers like Robert Lee want action on climate change now.

“It really makes me cross that the political party that’s meant to represent regional Australia is the one that the most aggressively supports coal. It’s not only stupid, it’s bloody criminal,” Robert said.