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Australian Drought Driving Farmers To Desperation

The drought is slashing livestock prices across New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, with farmers selling off record numbers of sheep and cattle to avoid having to feed them.
by Malcolm Burgess
Sydney (AFP) Oct 17, 2006
Australia's worsening drought is driving desperate farmers to suicide and government funds should be used to help them leave increasingly unviable land, scientists and politicans said Tuesday. The side effects of the worst drought in living memory include mental illness, depression and suicide in rural communities, said opposition Labor Party health spokeswoman Julia Gillard.

It had been estimated by the mental health organisation Beyond Blue that one Australian farmer commits suicide every four days, she said.

"Now, that is a startling statistic and something that the (Prime Minister John) Howard government should be desperately concerned about," she told reporters in Canberra.

Howard's own Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Christopher Pyne, warned last week that the drought was putting pressure on rural families and could increase the suicide rate among farmers.

Howard announced Monday an extra 350 million dollars (264 million US) ) to bail out struggling farmers, bringing to 1.9 billion dollars the total assistance provided since the drought began to bite in 2001.

But Professor Peter Cullen, a leading water scientist who sits on the federal government's National Water Commission, said it was time to stop "drip feeding" producers to keep them on unviable land.

"Keeping them there maximises their misery and maximises the land degradation, which is what a lot of our current strategy seems to be doing," he said.

Cullen said at least some of the extra 350 million dollars should be used to help farmers leave land which can no longer sustain agriculture.

He said marginal parts of western New South Wales state, western Victoria and South Australia had been on drought relief for at least a decade.

South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell said it was time to face up to the fact that climate change made made some areas increasingly unable to sustain agriculture.

"We need to stop thinking that our current rainfall is fluky and exceptional," he said.

"Experts have been saying for years we need to start adjusting to decreased rain and water runoff from climate change."

But the suggestion of exit payments to farmers was criticised as "un-Australian" by a member of parliament for the rural-based Nationals party, which is part of Howard's coalition government.

"I think this is a time when we have all got to act as Australians because this is Australia; we are all in this together and those who would say farmers should be leaving the land, I think it's very un-Australian," said Bruce Scott.

Howard said he could not guarantee that no farmers would leave the land but noted that the rural community was "part of the psyche of this country."

"We would lose something of our character, we would lose something of our identification as Australians if we ever allowed the number of farms in our nation to fall below a critical mass," he said.

Crop analysts and traders estimate the "big dry" could halve this year's wheat crop in Australia -- the world's third largest producer -- to less than 11 million tonnes from 25 million tonnes the previous season.

The drought is also slashing livestock prices across New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, with farmers selling off record numbers of sheep and cattle to avoid having to feed them.

Source: Agence France-Presse

Related Links
Water, Water Everywhere and Not A Drop To Drink...
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Australia Pumps Cash Into Drought-Hit Farms
Sydney (AFP) Oct 16, 2006
The Australian government Monday announced a new multi-million dollar relief package for farmers facing a crippling drought which is threatening the country's economic growth.

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