“It’s an incredibly personal battle”

“It’s an incredibly personal battle”

By Brigid Price

Imagine waking each morning trying to maintain hope amidst growing debt and the feeling you’ve failed your family’s legacy while jeopardising your children’s future.

That’s the inner battle being faced by farmers as the “cancer of drought” takes hold of their homes, their land, their mental health and their communities, according to Queensland grazier Brigid Price.

Speaking from her property near Injune recently, Ms Price told Dear Molly the images of drought may be similar, but for the people enduring it day-in, day-out, it was an “incredibly personal battle”.

“There’s a dialogue going through your head that you’re a loser,” she notes.

“You don’t want to be the one to let previous or future generations down. And you wonder…is your legacy going to be the one who couldn’t hold onto the family farm?”

As an organic beef producer and the founder of Rural Resources Online, Ms Price says she’s fortunate to be in a position where only one of the family’s four properties are in drought, but she notes what many fail to appreciate is that most farmers plan for and actively manage the risk.

Like any business with an associated threat, dry years are incorporated into farm management strategies. In primary production, this risk is often also based on generations of on-the-ground experience.

“But on the east coast farmers are facing their worst drought in 50 years, and quite simply these stockpiled supplies along with savings and credit are now running out.

“The problem is, for all the planning, farmers don’t know when it will rain.”

Instead it’s become a case of “hold and hope”.

The lineage of herds needs to be maintained and crops need to be planted in the hope the rain which is now falling across the eastern seaboard will soon make its way further west. Because maybe tomorrow, next week, or next month, it will come…

But as the feed runs out and the irrigation runs dry, hope, planning and investment is a debt-laden gamble that also might not offer results.

“After several seasons of failed crops, debt levels get scary. The gamble, of course, is that one good season can turn things around. For many over recent years that gamble has not paid off and they are devastated,” Ms Price says.

“The heartbreak for those who breed livestock is the thought of losing decades of genetics that have been carefully selected for their traits. So, understandably they try to hang on.”

For many, welcome rain and even a bumper crop will only scrape the surface of the debt that needs to be repaid, and then there are commodity prices and market forces to factor in. 

In the meantime, Ms Price notes this drought is playing out in real-time on social media and that’s where a real risk lies.

“Now social media allows an external dialogue that processes everything,” she says.

“Farmers are being called on to justify what they’re doing.”

And for the primary producers at the centre of the debate, that conversation and questioning is deeply, deeply personal.

“Whether you’re standing in Woolies wondering about the 30c added to your milk or reading your social media feed, the question people need to ask is ‘how would I feel if I was having a tough time?’ Because some of this is occurring at a humanitarian level, with parts of Queensland now in drought for six or seven years.

“Above all, it’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in the knowledge the work of a farmer is their life. It defines them.

“Imagine what it’s like to have stress in your work that stretches into your relationships, and into your community. And don’t necessarily believe everything you see.

“Ask yourself ‘What would help if I was in this situation?’ Because beyond buying bales and donations, a little empathy, acknowledgement and understanding displayed publicly goes a very, very long way.”

On Monday 29th October, dear molly will be featuring a second Q and A with another female farmer.

Brigid Price

Brigid Price is the founder of Rural Resources Online. She’s a city girl who married into the farming life and is now proudly raising members of the next generation of Queensland primary producers. A champion for the agricultural community, she was recently recognised at a Federal level as an “outstanding female agriculture leader of the future”.

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