How Drought Effects Food Production

I am often asked how much of a certain plant can be produced in an area of land … my answer is always the same … it depends on how much irrigation water you have access too.

It is quite clear that our climates are changing. When I first moved to Byron Shire 16 years ago, it was a much wetter climate. It would often rain for weeks on end without break. I remember this as my youngest child was a baby and as a high-spirited, earth conscious mama, I was washing her cloth nappies. Which was impossible in the subtropical wet season without a dryer – we rapidly progressed to  EC (elimination communication), and toilet training 🙂 Our houses would fill with mould, especially those living in the nearby valleys of Wilson Creek and Main Arm, and wellington (gum) boots were an essential item of attire in our wet season – traditionally late jan – february.

Since I have started farming, I have noticed along with many other people, how much dryer our climate is becoming, and our wet season seems to be coming later with less reliability. We are still receiving a lot of rainfall in comparison to other regions of Australia, however we are now receiving it all in 7+ big (often severe) storm events a year, rather than in the 50+ rain events a year that we have been used to. This is having a huge effect on the native vegetation in our region, which still has rainforest, and sadly recently has burned for the first time ever, taking out ecosystems that will not regenerate in the climate that we are now moving into.

The drying of our climate also has a significant impact on food production. The decreasing rainfall events means that growers everywhere are under pressure to adapt to the changing climate, and keep their farming systems in tact. Farms that relied on rainfall for irrigation in the past, can no longer do so. Farms that haven’t had to before, will need to purchase water to keep stock and crops alive, which will increase the food costs. Also, the storm events that we have now, can be severe, causing damage to crops and animals through flooding, hail, and high winds.

I will be moving farms within the next two months, and one of the key considerations I am looking at with the potential sites that I am considering, is the amount of water available now and in the long-term – I need approx 3-4 Megalitres per annum to stay in full production. I, like many other commercial growers, cannot rely on rainfall to sustain our farms. And ideally, I am looking for multiple water sources to ensure continuous production for my local community.

In Australia, we have put all our eggs into one basket – this basket is the Murray – Darling Basin, which is the largest food bowl for the whole country. As the Murray slowly dies due to political corruption and greed, food production from the region is now threatened and in decline.

The amount of any crop that a farmer can produce is directly applicable to how much water they have access too. As less food can be produced in the Murray – Darling Basin, where food production has been concentrated into large farms and  narrow distribution systems. We as a country are faced with the challenge of how we are going to fill the short fall. Production shortages will mean an increase in food prices due to increase water costs to farmers, and decreasing yields from the region. In the short term this may be filled by an increase in imports.

I would love to shift the conversation to SOLUTIONS, and how we can address this issue in the long-term by supporting and creating local food sovereignty strategies as a priority … to support more small to medium scale local farms who are engaged in organic regenerative agriculture practises, to have more access to the market. Thus enabling them to grow, and THRIVE for the benefit of Mother Earth!

It would be a great outcome to see more sales channels, and local distribution to increase the percentage of local produce bought by consumers and business. This supports a more sustainable, de-centralised, local food economy for all of our future.

from my heart to yours,

sheia x