WE'VE had a warm winter, but the main issue for us is that it has been our third very dry winter in a row. In fact, my local records that go back to 1887 show the worst drought years have winter rainfall (June, July and August) under 60mm. We have never had two winters in a row with less than 60mm rain, so three in a row is unprecedented.
What does that mean for us? It means, we've run out of silage and we have had to manage our stock numbers very carefully to avoid over-grazing. There's no opportunity for surface water to build up in dams and lakes, so we are dependent on bores and troughs for stock water. We have spent more than $100,000 upgrading our water system so that we have troughs in every paddock. A big but necessary investment.
A failed winter means a failed spring when we are at our most vulnerable. This is the time when there is maximum demand for grass from our ewes who are feeding their newborn lambs. When calves are very tiny and still feeding off their mothers they are worth very little.
The past two years we have had rain at the end of October and early November, but then it is too late. All of this is consistent with predictions that climate scientists have been making for the past 20 years.
When I started farming back in 1986 we didn't think about climate change. My father was getting over the "once in a lifetime" drought of 1982. He died in 2001 so didn't suffer the next "once in a lifetime" drought in 2002, the worst I'd ever experienced.
Then in 2009 the Bell River from where we pump water ran dry, something that had never happened. The next year, the Bell River flooded, reaching over our pump-house roof. It was obvious that things were definitely changing. The dry times getting drier and more frequent and the wet times getting wetter.
Climate change is here now and it's accelerating. The frustration is that we have the capacity to change and although it's not easy, there are a lot of exciting things happening.
On September 10, Orange City Council is hosting a "Risk and Rewards of Farming in a Climate Change" conference which will urge farmers to embrace change. But by far the most simple change this country needs to make is to incorporate climate change in all policy areas, agriculture, energy and transport. Only then can this country start to move into the 21st century.
Rob Lee is a sheep and cattle farmer from Larras Lee, central west NSW and a member of Farmers for Climate Action, which is organising the conference.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.