September 28, 2007
September 28, 2007 - The Australian drought is unprecedented, prolonged, deep and widespread, with every crop hit by the big dry and the vast majority of Australian farmers living in afflicted areas.
Nearly 69 percent of Australia's agricultural land is eligible for drought support. An estimated 100,000 of the country's 129,000 farmers are working in drought-declared areas. An unprecedented 23,000 farmers were receiving drought support last month and that number has since risen.
The current drought is biting deeper than the 2002-2003 drought. The grain crop has been downgraded from 37 million tons to 25 million tons. Milk production has fallen from 11.4 billion liters, before the drought struck in 2002, to a projected 9.23 billion liters this year. Sheep numbers have fallen 21 percent since 2002, while wool production has fallen from 645,000 tons in 2002 to 438,000 tons this financial year. Cattle numbers have fallen from 27.72 million in 2002 to 25.4 million.
According to a leading livestock industry analyst from Australia, sheep inventory predictions remain direr with the continuing drought. He predicated that sheep numbers are projected to drop as low as 88 million head. Similar to the United States, sheep producers in Australia are also being confronted with record high grain and fuel prices.
This week, the federal cabinet signed off on a new drought relieve package to increase assistance to more more than $3 billion. In the latest extension to the drought assistance package, those determined to stay on the land will see eligibility criteria relaxed for off-farm income and assets. The government is also providing more help for those who want to leave farming.