Across Australia, the impact of the extremes of climate is playing out with disastrous consequences for hundreds of families. Its been easy for some people in metropolitan NSW to think that the coastal rain and storms have been widespread. In fact the NSW DPI reveals in their latest Seasonal Update that the Combined Drought Indicator (CDI) has 99.8% of NSW experiencing drought conditions.
To break that down over a third of the state (36.8%) is classified as Intense Drought, The remaining areas of the state are considered wither in drought or drought affected. The impact of heat waves and above average temperatures, plus no rain has many producers on edge.
Of course the drought is not confined to NSW. Many parts of Queensland are now in the fifth or sixth year of drought. Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and parts of Western Australia have all recorded below average rainfall and are in drought or rapidly approaching drought conditions.
In Tasmania this has resulted in unprecedented bushfires. While many fires have impacted wilderness areas, there have been losses of homes, buildings and farming country.
Last week a huge part of North Queensland, some 20,000KM2 (almost the entire size of Kenya) was swamped by monsoon rain. This event has inundated stations, roads, railways and swept away 100’s of thousands of cattle. So many people in this region are struggling to start assessing the scale of their losses let alone even to consider rebuilding.
So what can you do to help? It’s a good question. The Australian way is to offer help and to want to look after those people doing it tough. I know that I feel that way myself.
The reality is, these events are huge. They will have an ongoing impact that will last for much longer than the news cycle or the next trend on Facebook. It extends across farms to impact businesses, towns and communities.
So any help that you would like to offer should be something that reflects the scale of the events and can be useful.
If you would like to offer or donate money, the Country Women’s Association have appeals that are directly focussed on communities. The CWA are community driven and have a long commitment of helping their community. In Qld, the QCWA Public Crisis Fund has been established to provide direct support in the event of disasters such as floods and fires. In NSW the CWA has established a fund specifically for drought aid. Alternatively the Australian Red Cross and St Vincent De Paul are charities that I have worked with and are focussed on direct assistance.
However, there are two other things you can do.
Go and visit these communities for a holiday.
When the worst of this is over, and communities start to rebuild, the money your visit brings in is essential. Small towns in the Huon Valley depend on tourism. In the Central West of NSW or the Far West, the difference your visit can make to a café, motel, and service station is just as important to a community as anything else you can do. And this is something you can do and make a difference in a real way over a longer term.
Support regional businesses.
It can be as easy as having an extra beef or lamb meal each week! However there are lots of small regional businesses that provide products and trade on line. Many of these support faming families with a little extra income. These little businesses are important to families, and communities so any support for them will have a direct benefit to people who need your help.
As communities recover over the coming months and years, don’t forget to check in on people you know. Keep visiting, keep supporting communities in these simple and practical ways. It will take a while to recover, so these are ways you can help for a longer time than just in the immediate aftermath of the disasters we are seeing right now.
How prepared are you if a fire starts on or spreads to your farm? As a firefighter, this is a question I think about a lot. Last week my crew was called to a grass fire on some grazing land close to Tamworth. The fire actually started with a car catching alight. But it quickly spread to the paddocks beside the road.
There were a couple of issues with this fire. The first was it was actually quite difficult to get to the paddocks to put the fire out.
The gate into the paddock was directly below a large tree, so there was no way any vehicle, let alone a fire truck could drive through the gate.
Secondly the paddock was being grazed by several horses. The horses were panicked by the flames, smoke, noise and trucks. I was very concerned that they would do themselves major injuries on the fence line as they galloped around the paddock to escape the fire.
Fortunately we were able to cut the fence, extinguish the fire and allow the horses owner to calm the animals down. But its had me thinking a lot about the impact of fire on larger holdings.
How prepared are you for a fire? If anything people are probably over confident in their fire preparations. Every fire is different. This is because the fuel available to burn, the temperature, the wind and the humidity are all different, and these impact on fire behaviour.
I reckon its essential that every year you make the time to review your fire plan. The NSW Rural Fire Service has a great checklist to help you plan and prepare for a fire.
Its called the Farm FireWise Checklist and Action Plan. Its designed to help you think through the areas you should be preparing, so that if a fire does occur, you at least have some measures in place to protect you life, your animals, your home and your infrastructure.
For example have you thought about things such as what is the plan for communications if a fire starts? Can you rely only on mobile phones? What is the Local Radio or CB channel?
How is access to your farm? Where would you direct fire trucks to go? Can they get into paddocks without having to cut fences? Where are your water supplies? Are you relying only on poly pipe laid across the ground?
In recent fires some producers fire fighting response failed because the poly pipe they were relying on melted in the fire.
Where will your livestock be safe? Can you move your stock to a location that has been cultivated or heavily grazed so that there is nothing to burn? Is it safe to muster your animals, or will it be quicker to cut your fences and allow them to move to safety?
After the fire has been extinguished or it has passed your property you need to think about checking there is no further risk to your infrastructure, such as smouldering posts or material.
For your livestock what feed will you have to provide them with. In most cases hay is the best option to provide to livestock following a fire. This is because hay is more suitable for all classes of stock than grains, and it is more rumen friendly, meaning there is less risk of digestive upsets and illness among stock.
You need to assess all your animals and treat those animals that have been burnt or injured. The NSW DPI has a useful guideline to assessing bushfire burns in livestock and you should refer to this guide.
Hopefully you will never have to experience the impact of a fire on your farm or in your local area.
Having said that, don't ever assume you won't be impacted by a fire. Even worse don't assume that if a fire happens you can handle it without some preparation.
Taking the time to update your plan, make sure you know how to respond, where to go, who to talk to and what your actions will be if a fire occurs is going to be the most important thing you can do this year.
If you do have a fire, ring 000 and put your plan into place. I reckon if we all do this, its going to help save lives, property and stock.
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