Not a pretty picture, however one I believe could have been mitigated against to some degree. Charlie Massy in his ground breaking book ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’ identifies methods and practises of farming and grazing utilized by farmers that have, to put it bluntly, created landscapes and businesses that are essentially drought resistant. Where water, mineral and solar cycles are still healthy, biodiversity and ecosystem functions remain active and vital, and animal production maintained and often highly profitable because of the valuable grass and livestock resource that has been retained. One can group the practises that help land managers cope with dry periods and produce the outcomes mentioned above in this way as regenerative agriculture.
Whilst the physical landscape impacts of drought are obvious and often take years and sometimes generations to recover, the mental impacts are much more difficult to identify. Whilst females have the inbuilt tendencies and mechanisms for sharing and connection, males tend not to seek the ear and support of others. Couple this with the pressures of being a ‘stoic farmer’, as is the cultural expectation, and images we now see everyday, male farmers are not generally equipped to deal with the massive mental strain that drought conditions impose on them. And if they have identified the need to address the mental suffering they, and no doubt their families are experiencing, there are few effective and long term avenues that they can turn to.
Government subsidies and handouts can ease the financial pressure to some extent, though given the extent of the drought, in both time and space, this relief is short term, and does not help put in place long term strategies to mitigate the long term impacts of drought on landscapes and peoples mental health. The outcomes of the generous financial and social support of the general public is similar. Help is immediate, however short term, and does not consider the farmers need to avoid the impacts of the next inevitable drought.
‘Drought strategies’ promoted by state government ag agencies are band aid ‘solutions’, short term, and often exacerbate the already disastrous impacts extended dry periods have on the physical landscape, not to mention the square foot of real estate between farmers ears. Essentially a culture of ‘fighting the drought’ is encouraged, and an often life long battle with nature is perpetuated.
To be brutally honest, I believe droughts are man made, and I’m not talking necessarily about climate change, I’m talking about the ability of farmers to respond to extended dry periods is a function of their attitude to the resources they have available, and how they prioritize the management of them. Simply loving my grass more than my livestock was a turning point in my ability to manage my grass, water, solar, soil and biological resources through dry periods. If I loved my livestock more, then all my grass gets eaten to feed the livestock, my landscape is denuded of vegetation, the solar cycle virtually comes to a stand still, and if there is rain the pasture is not ready to respond effectively, my soil microbial life and health is depleted through lack of biological activity and water cycling, and also prone to erosion, and my livestock health and productivity suffer through inadequate fresh nutritious feed, requiring fodder to be bought in at huge expense, because everyone else is buying in feed, and consequently my financial situation is under massive strain, not to mention my mental health and that of my family’s. And all this with no clear view of when the drought will end to elevate the many self perpetuating negative ecological, economic, production, resource and mental health cycles I have created in my life and business.
Loving grass more than your livestock and making decisions based on that principle takes the pain away from extended dry periods, allowing planning and management to take place to maintain the very resources required to run a business in good times, let alone tough times. I’m talking about water, soil, sunshine, biology (above and below ground), infrastructure, finances and most importantly people, the farming families and communities reliant on Nature for their well being, livelihoods and fulfilment.
‘Call of the Reed Warber’ offers not just hope, but real solutions to creating resilient landscapes, businesses and, as a consequence, people. It doesn’t just identify the myriad of on ground strategies and practises to mitigate the physical land and resource impacts of exceptionally dry periods, it highlights the necessary breaking of ones personal and business paradigms as the first step to a new way of thinking, one that works for, and partners with, Nature. It is the prevailing widespread ‘mechanical mind’ thinking that has primarily lead to the current horrendous impacts we are seeing all over the Eastern states at the moment.
Scott Hickman, the grazing support officer facilitating the widely successful and effective ‘Growing the Grazing Revolution’ program in the Mid Lachlan river region of NSW, offers farmers a number of personal and group support mechanisms that create the foundation for sound business and resource decision making, and ultimately provides farmers the forum for connection and peer support that they so dearly need but historically and culturally have avoided or not had access to. Scott takes us thorough that process in a video interview I did with him back in May.
Last November, Tommy Herschell facilitated and I hosted a farmer retreat weekend at Hanaminno, Boorowa, called Farmers Friends, its aim was to bring together like minded farmers with a regenerative farming focus, and its intention to create a safe forum for sharing and connection. Nick Schmidt summed up the weekend in his positive testimonial. ‘A range of interesting and cleverly designed group activities encouraged an honest and open dialogue on a wide range of issues facing farmers today including sustainable farming practices including biodynamics, rotational grazing, leveraging technology, successional planning, and mental health. I came away from the weekend invigorated, and also with a great network of likeminded farmers and friends with whom I plan to keep in touch going forward.’ Expression of interest in joining us on our next retreat can be made here.
There are opportunities for farmers to start changing their thinking about how they respond to ‘drought’, stop the battling with forces out of their control, and managing extended dry periods by working with Nature and its cycles to create resilient families and businesses. These are just a few.
If you’re a farmer, or know one, go and buy yourself and them a copy of ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’ and read it. In the least you’ll be able to see this extended dry period and the current state agriculture and our food system in a new perspective, and in the most you might just help save a few lives.