Re-framing the drought debate


David Carter

Chief Executive Officer Banking & Wealth

Feature

Agriculture is a $60 billion industry, contributing 3 per cent to the country’s total GWP and providing 1.6 million local jobs. The strength and value of this sector is undeniable, and ensuring its resilience is paramount.

Suncorp has been supporting farming communities for more than 110 years. We have seen firsthand the incredible determination of this sector, but also the devastating consequences of severe weather conditions.

When drought or inclement weather hits, the impact extends well beyond the farm gate. Ultimately it forces up prices at supermarkets and consumers feel the effects in their hip pocket.

But the reality of our landscape can’t be ignored – cycles of drought in our country are inevitable, with the emerging impact of climate change challenging traditional weather patterns.

This is why I was so intrigued and inspired by the refreshing focus at the recent National Drought Summit – to build long-term preparedness and resilience for our agricultural sector.

The discussion sought not only to support the interests of drought-stricken farmers, but also to acknowledge those who have taken difficult decisions and planned effectively to manage the forecasts for the seasons ahead.

This shift in discussion, the Government’s commitment to a multi-billion Drought Future Fund and the promise of a cross-government strategy gives green shoots of hope that decision-makers are starting to see sense in long-term mitigation; and it’s not an issue that farm businesses should be left to tackle alone.

Farmers are working with a new level of unpredictability. Natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and bushfires devastate communities socially and economically. Drought is no different.

In recent years, governments, communities and business have started investing more in significant resilience measures to combat the effects of flooding and cyclones.

Suncorp has seen the impact of collaboration and long-term mitigation and infrastructure improvements can make for communities who experience flooding and cyclones. Customers in north Queensland, who have retrofitted their homes to make them more resilient are receiving reduced insurance premiums of up to 20 per cent. Mitigation is better than a cure.

As a country we need to start looking at ways to mitigate against the impacts of drought and build the resilience of those working and living in agricultural communities. Based on our experiences in north Queensland, taking a long-term view to invest in technology, regenerative practices and water solution infrastructure will ensure communities are better placed to weather the tough times that droughts bring.  

We know how resourceful and resilient our farmers are – some of our own agribusiness customers have developed industry-leading solutions to challenging water problems, whether through diversification, partnerships or investment in technology and infrastructure.

It’s time now for governments, industry organisations and investors to take a similar approach and scale up our response. It’s not right that our farming families are left alone to take responsibility for a natural disaster cycle that ultimately has knock-on effects for all.

As some of our farmers lock in resolutely for another drought cycle, partners in business and government must ask if enough is being done to support wide-ranging long-term mitigation.

There’s no single, universal solution for such a diverse landscape, but it would be wrong - for the wellbeing of our communities, for their social and economic resilience - to shy away from investing in the foundations of strong drought and water management that will support future generations.