DIVERSIFY OR DIE: Farmers predict they’ll innovate to survive
THE face of the region's agricultural industry could soon change, if drought continues to rob farmers of their livelihoods.
Latest predications from The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) estimate that the national sheep flock will shrink to its smallest size since 1904, leaving many Southern Down sheep producers to wonder what they will do if their stock disappears completely.
Murray Schroder, who breeds Keilah Australian Whites outside Stanthorpe, said he had shrunk his herd by 20 per cent, but knew many others who had decreased their livelihood to 80 per cent.
"The drought's just so prolonged, we thought it would go for 12 months, but it's gone on for two years," Mr Schroder said.
"It's getting very serious now in Southern Queensland, we're in a desperate position. We're at dire straits. "
Mr Schroder said many would try to diversify in order to stay on their land where they could.
"They will swing to goats and dorper because those markets are strong worldwide," he said.
"Those two will have a big bearing in our country. A goat doesn't need a lot of water and could clean the countryside wide.
"We're definitely going to see a rise in goat meat. $10 a kilo is big money for a bit of meat."
While the cost of fencing and transforming the land could be an issue for some, it was worth the risk, according cattle producer Cynthia McDonald.
Mrs McDonald's husband had fallen back on trucking as the drought persists, and Mrs McDonald said she had seen many other producers diversify in similar ways.
"Life throws challenges at people and you have to be able to adapt. Farmers are a highly adaptable people, even though this has been forced upon them," she said.
"It's an ongoing theme, something that's happening more often as farms aren't yielding and farmers have no capacity to make an income to pay off mortgages."
The cattle farmer said diversifying, whether that was outside of the agricultural industry or not, could allow farmers to survive until their business regenerated.
"If they have other skills, diversifying allows them to stick with that until the rain comes," Mrs McDonald said.
"Quite often, farmers are a … jack of all trades, they'll wind up with truck driving and machinery licences or different skills they don't necessarily think they'll need to use but at times like this, they're might handy to have."
Mrs McDonald also said she had seen crop producers lean into alternative forms of farming such as hydroponic and greenhouses while the dry continued.
It was those forms of innovation and management that led to a better farm once producers could return to agriculture, said Mr Schroder.
"Drought has proven we weren't as good mangers as we thought we were because nearly every farmer has run out of water. We could have clean our dams out and we didn't. We caught ourselves up a bit," he said.
"But I believe there is a future in Southern Queensland, the future will be here and we will be better managers."