The Other Vital Aussie Industry Being Crippled By Drought
"Being a part-time farmer, and blessed with living on the land, I am acutely aware of the current impacts of drought, including the social and human issues facing our rural communities."
I wake each morning to the luxury of looking out over this “wide brown land”, safe in the knowledge that my off-farm income immunises me from these devastating effects. I feel somehow meaningless compared to those most affected, as our family has the luxury of trading out of all the cattle that once grazed our farm.
As I rationalise this mixed fortune, my energies turn to an industry that keeps me gainfully employed in my day job. The heavy vehicle transport operators and their drivers, these unsung heroes and backbone of the Australian economy. They are the ones that keep communities supplied across this vast nation regardless of quality of roads, washed out bridges, or trying economic conditions and regulation.
More specifically, the livestock and rural trucking companies provide the first and last link of the supply chain for Australian farmers. I want to be sure they are not the forgotten ones in times of trouble.
Livestock transport operators are part of the fabric of rural communities across Australia. They’re small businesses and owner operators, who are based in, live in, and are a part of rural communities. They’re also extremely vulnerable to the economic impacts of the drought.
More than two-thirds of Australia’s agriculture is exported, comprising 20 percent of Australia’s export earnings. Australia’s farmers rely on trucking businesses to take their product to market. They are a vital and impacted stakeholder in the value chain.
Trucking businesses are partnering right now to assist farmers in responding to the drought. Trucks are transporting stock, food and water, making the everyday reality of living with the drought possible.
The recent NSW Government announcement for $190 million in Drought Transport Subsidies is an important step, and whilst it is recognition that transport is an important partner for farming, it is targeted at the farmers and not the operators themselves.
The NSW Livestock, Bulk and Rural Carriers Association, a member of the effective Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association, have remarked this package will help to keep the cogs turning while we wait for the drought to break, but drought doesn’t discriminate and this package will not be a silver bullet.
If small, rural based trucking operators hit the wall, rural communities will lose another source of jobs, another source of getting goods to market, and another member of these close communities.
The dilemma we as an industry face is the tide of support for farmers is always greater than that shown to our trucking community. It is more appealing for those in power to put their arm around a farmer in times of need, than a trucker. There is commentary around this week that this tide of sympathy may have gone too far. The modern day farmers with sustainable business management, and grazing practices, are making the point this week that not all is doomed. Like in trucking there are plenty of savvy farmers in the market who are well prepared for downturns with strong balance sheets and sound drought plans.
I don’t subscribe to it all being that simple as there are many in need.
We know that low freight volumes can increase costs for transporting goods to and from rural communities and our farmers, and it will be all the more difficult if we try to do that without the operators who are a part of the fabric of the communities that they service.
Protecting our farmers and our rural communities from the worst of this drought also requires protecting our rural and livestock trucking businesses.
We need to make sure that when the drought breaks, we still have our farmers, that we still have their supply chains and ability to truck their products to markets, and that we still have our vibrant rural communities.
I know that Government intervention is based on a mix of economic judgement , and a perhaps a little sentiment; and I understand modern societies are no longer built on a “survival of the fittest’ model. But what I do know is that when support is at hand, let’s make sure we consider all our neighbours in need, even those who reside in sleeper cabs and not just those who live on the land.
If you want to help Australian farmers in need, you can donate to a registered charity. Donate online to Rural Aid's Buy a Bale, Drought Angels, Aussie Helpers or Lions' Need for Feed. You can also support farmers by buying Australian grown produce at your local supermarket.
For 24/7 crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp.