Since the last Rural Review we have been sweating through one of the hottest summers on record. This has continued unabated into Autumn, with Yulara experiencing its hottest day in March since records began (44.3 degrees on 10 March 2019) and Alice Springs also recording its hottest March day ever (42.7 degrees on 11March 2019). Climate change scepticism or not, the death of many of the trees on AZRI over this summer period is an indicator of the harshness of the climate. Cyclone Trevor brought some relief to the Eastern half of the Northern Territory (NT); we would have liked more.

Given this climatic harshness, a meeting of the Alice Springs Pastoral Industry Advisory Committee highlighted to me the complexity of making business decisions in tough conditions. Is there an optimal solution of when to destock, what markets to sell to and the best time to do that? Probably not, seemed to be the feeling in the group.

Lowering risk is probably the best strategy for pastoral businesses, in particular, to smooth their year-on-year incomes. The Commonwealth Government has recently agreed to help this by agreeing to spend $3 million in water infrastructure rebates for NT pastoral businesses who spend money to ‘drought proof’ their properties. We are in the process of recruiting someone to our Alice Springs office to roll out this scheme, so watch this space.

I was very interested recently to read the Bureau of Meteorology’s definition of drought, “Drought is a prolonged, abnormally dry period when the amount of available water is insufficient to meet our normal use. Drought is not simply low rainfall; if it was, much of inland Australia would be in almost perpetual drought. Because people use water in so many different ways, there is no universal definition of drought.

Meteorologists monitor the extent and severity of drought in terms of rainfall deficiencies. Agriculturalists rate the impact on primary industries, hydrologists compare ground water levels, and sociologists define it by social expectations and perceptions”. Clearly, we are in the zone where, if defined by low rainfall, we would be in almost perpetual drought except for the rare occasions when it does rain. This makes the continued viability of pastoral properties in the Centre of Australia all the more remarkable, and a testament to the resourcefulness of the people living and working here.

We will be having a field day at Old Man Plains Research Station in late August 2019. Topics of discussion will range from sustainable grazing options to mental health of people on the land. We will share details of the event in future editions of the Alice Springs Rural Review, and hope to see you participating on the day.

Finally, the Centre of Australia lost two of its finest Cattlemen since the publication of the last Rural Review. This edition pays tribute to Grant Heaslip and Dick Cadzow. They clearly had remarkable lives.

Stuart Smith, Editor.

Last updated: 10 April 2019

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