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Can you prepare for drought?

We don’t need to tell Australian farmers that our climate is highly variable as they live and work with its unpredictability every day. They know our mean rainfall is lower and our rainfall variability is higher than other countries, making Australian agriculture revenue more volatile than most other countries.

Recent climate predictions have suggested we can expect lower average rainfall in southern Australia and higher temperatures in our future  - leading to more severe droughts which may seriously impact farmers, their crops, produce and livestock.

Which raises an important question: How can farmers manage this risk and better prepare for times of drought?

Risk and return

The range of environmental risks for farmers is already quite broad, encompassing fire, flood, hail and other seasonal weather patterns. Add climate change to the mix, and there’s even more they may need to prepare for. Unsurprisingly, a recent report1 published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) shows the least profitable years for farmers are typically years when Australia is in drought.

But different farms face different levels of risk. For example, crop farms often face greater risks from the climate than beef farms. However, on average, cropping farms produce a higher yearly return.

Manage risk through active management

While climate change is a hot topic worldwide, closer to home farmers are being encouraged to take a proactive approach to actively manage the predictions being made by climate change researchers.

Crop farmers are being urged to take preemptive steps to limit the effects of drought on their revenue by reducing their planting area and use of fertilisers when dry weather and low output prices are predicted. Likewise, researchers for ABARES have suggested livestock farmers could reduce their herd sizes and store grains and hay when drought is more likely. 

Diversify or divide

As with many things, putting all your eggs in one basket can be a risky business, which is why diversifying a farm to become a producer of varying types of grains or livestock, or farming in multiple locations has the potential to reduce the impact of drought. In addition, farmers could benefit from having another revenue stream off the farm, to help minimise the impact of drought on their annual household income.

Better policies for a better future

Looking to the future, a balance of short and long-term strategies is vital to support farmers and rural communities. While government support providing immediate assistance to farmers who are experiencing hardship and new government policies can offer some relief to farmers in the short term, policies that encourage resilience, research and technological advancements to farmers will have the best long-term impact on the industry as a whole.


  1. ‘The effects of drought and climate variability on Australian farms.’ Authors: Neal Hughes, David Galeano and Steve Hatfield-Dodds. 13 January 2021.