Farmers need ability to change seasonally.

My beef farm relies solely on rainfall to grow pasture. This year has been particularly dry, with only 375 millimetres of rain up to mid-August.

Our farm expects to receive about 800mm to 1000mm a year, with most of this falling over winter and very little over summer.

July and August are normally our wettest months but, so far this August, we have only totalled 20mm.


This means we have to be flexible and only carry as many stock as we can feed on the natural growing conditions. Irrigated farms can count on a steady amount of pasture and fodder crops over the summer, but we rely only on rainfall.

It also means that in good years, we need to increase our production in order to prepare and buffer our farm for the bad years.

We definitely make hay while the sun shines, both literally by making hay and silage to store a couple of years of feed in advance, and figuratively with our finances.

The farm's driest year to date is 1994 when we received only 477mm of rain.

We were still a sheep breeding farm then, and we had to graze road sides and drop fences so the sheep could access the wispy grass under the shelterbelts.

The meatworks were at capacity and feed was running out, so many farmers distressingly had to shoot their own sheep to avoid the sheep dying of starvation.

It took many years to recover our breeding ewe numbers, and recover financially.

I am proud that my family has the fortitude to keep farming when times are tough.


This is why regional council rules that limit livestock or crops to a certain number for each farm are too rigid. The ability to change seasonally and even yearly to account for conditions, is vital to keep going.

We shouldn't need to check with the council every time we want to add a couple of more hectares of fodder crop, or raise some calves one year.

We shouldn't need to get permission to try earn a bit more income in a good year so we can financially get through a tough year.

Rhea Dasent is a senior policy adviser for Federated Farmers