Managing with drought

It's said there are few things in life as certain as death and taxes. In Australia we might add periodic drought and flood. As growers in the north and east are staring at another season of drought, the Federal Government and producers (including grain growers through the GRDC) are looking to the long haul and have funded 10 drought-related research and development projects. The goal is to better cope with the recurrihg ups and downs of the weather. The bottom line is staying in business — productivity and sustainability.

The federally-funded Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation (LWRRDC) will be spending $700,000 each year for three years to coordinate and strengthen research and development related to drought.

An additional $2.6 million is being contributed by commodity research organisations, including the GRDC and the cotton, wool and meat corporations and their partners.

A LWRRDC spokesperson said the research should lead to more accurate weather monitoring and forecasting; better understanding of drought impacts; more easily available management information; tightly targeted rural assistance measures, and; a list of future research priorities.

The following organisations and projects funded under the National Drought Program for 1993-94 are of most interest to grain growers:

  • The Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre aims to improve seasonal climate predictions, using global sea surface temperatures as weather predictors. A better prediction rate should help farmers make the right decisions about production, cropping area, cultivar and fertiliser selection.

  • The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics will combine information from ABARE's broadacre farm surveys database with climatic indicators to see how drought has affected the performance of farms during the 1980s. The goal is to better estimate the regional impact of droughts. The results should inform farmers of methods that reduce the impact of drought.

  • The Centre for Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of New England will develop material for extension work with farmers, focusing on farm management models that relate to drought. The project is aimed at farmer self-reliance. It will provide cost-benefit analyses of common on-farm drought management strategies. It will identify those which are most profitable within a framework of sustaining the land.

  • Agricultural Risk Management Pty Ltd will develop the basis for Australian insurers to offer rainfall and weather-based insurance programs for the farming community. Insurance is increasingly popular internationally as a way of underwriting farmers' incomes during drought.

  • The South Australian Research and Development Institute will focus on management strategies that help farmers make crop production decisions when there is a large element of risk due to climate. This is specifically relevant to Australia's dryland cropping regions.