About ten weeks ago, Western Victorian farmers woke to devastation.
It wasn’t an overnight mouse plague, or a cyclone, brutal hail, floods or fire.
Heavy frosts had landed on the region. Crops wilted and farmers rightfully wailed.
The true impact of that devastation is now becoming apparent as harvesting nears completion.
At the time of the frost, it was clear that many farmers had lost their entire chickpea, pulse or bean crops.
Wheat crops were also stung, grapes ravaged, and paddocks of canola and barley heavily distressed. Not every farmer was hit – but most have been impacted in some way.
Unlike other damages, farmers cannot insure against frost and drought. They simply have to cross their fingers. Any wonder they talk about the weather.
Frost damage can be as great, or greater, than that caused by other disasters – but it goes unrecognised, unprotected and uncompensated by the insurance industry. If such insurance did exist, it would be cost prohibitive.
Perhaps it is time to pressure for change?
Any other group subject to such failure would do so. Imagine how the CFMEU would react if it’s members lost a year’s income simply because of a particularly cold and crisp night?
There is often little appreciation, or understanding, from the broader community – and certainly by city-centrics – about the realities of life on the land.
Of course, there are good years too. However, the Victorian Farmers Federation has estimated the November frost could cost farmers upwards of $400 million. Some will struggle to recover.
At the same time, Victorian public servants’ costs have increased by 25 per cent in three years. The Andrews Government is spending $4.6 billion more than at the 2014 election and $1.6 billion since the last state budget.
Let’s admit, people do cringe when they know someone holding a stop-and-go sign at roadworks could be earning a $140,000 a year income. It flows into the huge construction costs that we all pay for.
Adding to the discontent, especially in the Ararat region, is the local Council’s push to remove the farm-rate differential for farmers. Farm rates would nearly double. How do you pay that when your income has literally just frozen?
It wouldn’t pass the fairness test at the Windsor Hotel or any country pub.
We pride ourselves on being a clever country. Let us hope that we are – and research can find ways to develop frost resistant crops.
We need to invest in our futures. Starting at a grassroots level would be most appropriate right now.