MY FAMILY has called the Bega Valley home for 35 years. We ran beef cattle until purchasing a dairy farm in 2007, during the millennium drought.
Following a career in IT project management in Sydney, I moved here in 2010 to manage the farm. We were fortunate to have a run of good seasons from 2010-2017.
Dry years, especially winters, in 2018 and 2019 have made for very challenging conditions, with many stock water dams dry. For the first time last year, sown crops failed to germinate at all on our farm. Springs, swamps and dams that were wet in 2009 - at the end of the drought - are now dry.
The widespread nature of the current drought has led to record prices for stock feed, and difficulties securing supply of high quality feed. Many farmers, myself included, have been forced to sell stock, and access equity through further borrowing to pay bills.
But you can't do that forever.
Late last year, I decided that if things didn't turn around by February, I wouldn't go on. I would either move my cattle further south, or resume my life as an IT project manager in the city, and use that income to hire someone to manage the farm.
Neither aspect was particularly appealing.
Fortunately it rained and I'm still here. But things are still incredibly tough. We haven't seen good rain since February, and are still well behind last year for year-to-date rainfall.
Science tells us that climate change will lead to more frequent, and more intense droughts, and hotter, drier conditions, creating worse fire conditions.
With COVID-19's impacts on the global economy, we could be facing further downward pressures on milk prices. We simply can't afford this.
It would be devastating to the local community if continued drought and other impacts outside our control got the better of local dairy farmers, especially those who were badly affected by the summer bushfires.
Bega cheese is loved across the country, and our industry is proud to be a major economic contributor and employer in the local community.
The other major industry in our region, tourism, was also hit hard by the fires, as well as COVID-19. If our elected leaders fail to address climate change, the continued drought and rising bushfire danger will also hurt locals who depend on tourism.
I love this community, and am proud of how we stood together and supported each other after this incredibly difficult summer. Our people are resilient. We will continue to work together in our recovery process, and be better prepared to endure future fire seasons.
I want to see more effective action on climate change. Not simply reducing carbon pollution, and using more renewable energy, but addressing the risks of climate change too.
Building more dams for water storage on farms to manage the risk of drought, and provide resources for fighting fires. Encouraging carbon sequestration in soils, which will remove carbon from the atmosphere, and improve soil fertility and water holding capacity to help manage water as a limited resource.
These sorts of policies help address both the cause of climate change, and the impacts of climate change. At the same time delivering benefits to the community and the economy.
They would help deliver a better future for our region and continue to build our resilience as a rural community.
- Phil Ryan
Phil Ryan is a Bega dairy farmer and a Farmers for Climate Action (FCA) supporter. FCA will be holding a free, online community resilience forum for Bega and South Coast NSW on May 19, featuring experts in psychological resilience and bushfire risk. All are welcome to attend. Find out more at: https://www.farmersforclimateaction.org.au/bega_2020_forum.