When the weather bites back

When the weather bites back

Published on 14 January 2013

The ferals are moaning about the wet, cool weather because it’s been so long since we’ve had rain that they’ve forgotten it’s actually part of the weather spectrum. To those who don’t live on our golden soil, the conditions on the driest inhabited continent appear harsh – inhospitable deserts, excessively dangerous flora and fauna, brusque inhabitants and a profligate exploitation of natural resources conducted with a very short term eye to our future welfare or that of the planet at large.

Last week, George Monbiot claimed that ‘Climate change denial is almost a national pastime in Australia.’ We think this is taking it a little far and experts might take issue with some of the claims in his Guardian article, but it’s not a good look for Australia.

The news this week is, of course, connected to the weather. Last Saturday, the Sydney forecast was for extremely dry, hot conditions but, instead, we received a blissfully cool change and the hot weather headed north delivering record temperatures in the mid-40s up and down the mid-north coast.

On Sunday morning, Hayden McMillan from Burrawong Gaian near Kempsey called with the distressing news that they lost over 300 of their stock on Saturday and, consequently, there will be no chickens available for sale this week. The chooks at Burrawong have plenty of shade and water but, without a cooling wind, they couldn’t combat the excessive temperatures and simply expired.

It’s been decades since anyone can remember heat like this in the area and everyone was caught by surprise. The McMillans are now exploring measures such as installing sprinklers and fans in the pastures to counteract these sort of severe conditions.

The losses weren't confined to Burrawong. We learned this morning that half the laying flock at the Zanker's Organic Ways Egg farm at Bowraville suffered the same fate. Consequently, supplies will be limited this week and only available fortnightly for some time to come until the new laying hens come on line.

These are dramatic and disturbing demonstrations of the risks involved in farming fully pasture-raised, free ranging animals. The advantages of this approach are manifold, including superior animal welfare, product quality and environmental impact, however the system is far more exposed to the vicissitudes of nature which can be very difficult to predict and can be very tough for everyone involved.

We'll continue to keep you up to date with what's happening on the farms from which we source and we're heading off on our first farm visits for the year later this week with visits to producers in the Mudgee area.

In April last year, the Federal Government declared Australia drought-free for the first time in 10 years and ended drought subsidies. However, the lack of rain over the last six months means that conditions in many parts of the country have changed significantly and many farmers are grappling with quite severe drought conditions.

While there was an excess of rain in the early part of last year resulting in an acceptable annual rainfall, the fact is that lots of rain in late summer and autumn isn’t much use if you’re not also getting plenty in spring and early summer in the growing season.

The discussion about climate change management needs to be had in terms of the wider problem of sustainable stocking densities and collapsing prices. The carrying capacity of any farm isn’t a fixed element and must be constantly adjusted in response to seasons and conditions. Responsible farmers react directly to seasonal change so that stock can be fed and managed without causing further damage to drought or flood–stricken land. Drought conditions trigger de-stocking followed by a glut on the market, plummeting prices and further hardship for farmers.

While this has always been the ‘nature’ of farming and the laws of supply and demand are as old as the hills, the industrialisation of food production has catapulted us into a whole new territory.

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