Friday, 28 March 2014

What's going on out west that there often seems to be a rural crisis happening somewhere? - Part 1 -Climate

For those of us who don't live on the land it can be difficult to understand why things often seem to be in crisis in rural areas. If it's not flood, it's fire and if it's not fire, it's drought or some other problem to overcome.

The water tower at Weilmoringle,catches all available rain
Part of it can be explained in the words of the old Dorothea McKellar poem -My Country - in that Australia is a land of "drought and flooding rains", a "wide brown land" of "thirsty paddocks". Many of us come from greener climes elsewhere or live on the coast which, although drier than many other places in the world, does get frequent rainfall, so the extremes of dry and wet inland can be a bit of a mystery, but it is also the reality.

Farming in Australia takes place on the more dry land inland, because urban development has built up on the coast and near the harbours. Farmers are used to these challenging environments and have become very adept at coping with them. They grow crops that suit the environment, use irrigation to overcome that environment and have industralised farming to be able to maximise their production.

Irrigating wheat in Hillston NSW

As Rural Agronomist from Moree, Bruce Crosby,* explains-

" In all cases the further inland,the less reliable the rainfall  and hence the type of agricultural production.Farmers understand the peculiarities of their local environment and adjust their operations accordingly to give the most economic returns for that environment.

In Australian farming there are two major influences: Climate and Terms of trade.

1) Climate:
The Australian climate has always been variable in the extremes and following cycles short and long.
We can roughly divide Eastern Australia into three regions:-

Viewing irrigation channels at Merriwagga ,near Hillston.
Southern - South Australia, Victoria and Southern New South Wales -
A Mediterranean zone with predominantly winter rainfall, mainly during a period of low evaporation, making small falls of rain effective for winter crop growth.This zone relies on rainfall in crop for a good result - fallow moisture is of less significance depending on soil type.
Depending on actual location, in any five years, you would expect to get 2 or 3 years average or above and a couple below.A total failure is rare, although 2001 to 2010 was an extra dry period which I will come back to.

Mid zone - From Dubbo and north to say Condamine in Queensland.
We used to call this "the Doldrums zone" where the centres of the highs pass over - generally light winds, extremely variable rainfall periods, usually consisting of wet periods followed by long dry periods at any time of the year, although most bigger falls will be summer or winter. Fallow moisture is critical for good crops and these areas generally have soils that will hold large amounts of moisture for in crop use. Individual falls of less than 20mm are not usually effective This zone can successfully grow summer and winter crops because of this rainfall and soil configuration, making it one of the most reliable farming zones in Australia.

Northern zone- rest of Queensland - summer rainfall - rely on monsoon rainfall. Away from the coastal fringe mostly livestock production based on perennial summer grasses.

An example of rainfall pattern variability are Hamilton in Victoria and Armidale in NSW. Both have a 36 inch (approx 900mm) rainfall but the predictably of when it rains is approx 90% for Hamilton and 36% for Armidale. Hamilton is a  very Mediterranean winter rainfall and Armidale anytime, any season.

On top of these zones of weather behaviour we then have to add large time climate shifts. For example the early part of the 1900's up to 1947 is considered by the Bureau of Meteorology to be a much drier period than the fifty years from 1947 to 2002, which is classified as being wetter than average. 

So are we now entering 50 years of a period drier than the past a period, which the current farmers have not experienced in their working lifetime?

Farmers supplement their income by mustering and harvesting feral goats..

This may see a shift in the type of production in an area or a change in techniques that will enable better performance under those conditions - conservation farming techniques used today have made great changes to the reliability of cropping in the more marginal areas already. Many people are not aware of how much farmers have already adapted to conservation farming techniques.

As we can see farmers are very capable at adapting to changing  environments but there is another major factor over which they have very little control - Terms of Trade.

                         We will investigate this aspect of the farming life next week.

* Blog information, this week and next, is largely quoted, or summarised, from an article by- 
 Bruce Crosby, Agricultural Consultant for Dupont Pioneer Hi-Bred Seeds and Soil and Tissue Sampling and Testing and a member of Moree-Narribri Uniting Church,  in response to a request from the Rural Chaplains for information on this topic.               

Friday, 21 March 2014

What can you or your congregation do to help those in drought?

Although the drought has just hit the media, it has been impacting on the north of NSW for over two years now and really beginning to bite hard for those trying to farm or run businesses in the area.

When we are thinking about drought it is important to realise that unlike fire or flood, it is an insidious creeping disaster that doesn’t have a start point, but like other disasters, recovery takes a long time, even after the rains come.

Very often when we see the pictures on TV and read the stories about those struggling to survive we want to do something immediately to help, and this is what God has called us to do, care for those who are hurting.
However some responses are helpful and some are not.

The ones that are not are where people send goods or have unreal expectations about what the money will do. In the last drought some of the “donations” that took a lot of my time and weren’t all that helpful were a semi load of bottled water (ranging from 600 ml to 10 Lt bottles), a semi load of potatoes, a boot load of children’s boots and a trailer load of children’s clothes.

You can see why this is not helpful.
 All of these things are extremely difficult to give away when we are talking about individual families or tiny communities of less than 300 people.

The other thing that makes it extremely difficult is when every donation comes with strings attached. Imagine the complexity of trying to manage a gift of $300 to be spent on children’s activities, with one of $180 to be spent on a family, with another of $1000 to be spent on a concert – and then multiply that by ten!

The extra time spent trying to manage and plan all this is time that I don’t get to spent with individuals, families and communities. Those in the middle of the drought and those working with them are the best ones to decide on how the money can be best used. It's good if we have the flexibility to do what what is needed.

The nature of drought also means that the money may not get spent immediately. At the moment the situation is critical but regardless of if it rains or not, it will be even more critical in 6 months time. It is important that some funds are still available then.

Rain fills the dam but the land surrounding it is dry.
So what is helpful?

The Moderator has been very proactive in making money available from his Disaster Appeal to help individuals and communities and the Rural Chaplains are one of the on-ground agencies helping to distribute this. The sorts of things we are doing is organising community events to bring people together, have a good time, encourage one-another and forget about the dry for a while. We are also providing pastoral care and welfare help for families.

The other great need is for money to keep the Rural Chaplains going.
We need money to put fuel in the cars, pay the telephone bills and pay for accommodation when we travel to distant areas.

If you would like to help contribute to these costs then details are below.

So if you are thinking of helping those in drought or the Rural Chaplains I am most grateful, as are those living in the middle of it all.

 The response from our churches is beginning to build and each time I am contacted, or the Moderator receives a donation I know that the family of God is looking after those in need. The worse thing is for people to feel like no-one cares.

If you would like to donate to the Moderator’s appeal then please contact Sue Willgoss, or 8267-4382.

If you would like to contribute to the work of the Rural Chaplains then please contact Sally-Anne Davis, or 8838-8933

 Julie Greig, Rural Chaplain

Friday, 14 March 2014

The life of the Rural Chaplain is not all....

                There is also a lot of ....

    It's not all life on the open road meeting interesting characters.                                            
              There is also  lot of work done on the phone, in the office,
or on the phone out of the office!

 Sometimes there's time for distraction..........if we can manage to get Julie off task!

although only because it was Anne's last day in Australia!

But then there is the Beauty you find on the way to places,

......and always,always... the Promise that God is with you.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Sometimes It's a Long Road to Get There.

                              Sometimes it's a long road to get there but it's the only way to go.
The road fromWeilmoringle to Enngonia.
Travelling is very much part of the Rural Chaplain's job and sometimes it's a long way between places but travelling between places is not the only journey chaplains do.

Sometimes the road to be traveled in getting a program in place is just like a road journey; preparations have to be made.

 Before any new venture is started in a community the chaplain has to visit and get to know the people there. Programs and events do not come ready made, one size fits all. Each one is tailor made to suit the community and importantly, ideas often come from the community itself. The chaplain does not drop in and 'solve it all.'

Getting to know people well where they live.
People in any community know the place they live in and know its needs.
Sometimes that has already been articulated before the chaplain gets involved and the task then is to work out how to make it a reality. This may mean obtaining funding or expertise not available in town to bring an idea to life.This was the case with Hillston senior's computer group and the Weilmoringle Book Buddies. In both cases individuals in the town recognised a need and the chaplain found a way to make it happen. Thus Hillston seniors got computer workshops and Weilmoringle got books into the town via Book Buddies.

 Sometimes people may know the need but don't know how to meet it or may not have access to professionals who can help. Thus the Waste Not Want Not  program and an Adult Literacy and English as a Second Language program was suggested and set up.Sometimes a community may be in crisis or facing on-going difficulty and an in-depth,on-going venture like a mental health support team is introduced into town or, as in Weilmoringle, it may be simply an event like the Good Day Out is all that is needed as a means of lifting the spirits so people know they are not forgotten.

Carpark at the Good Day Out, Weilmoringle
Nothing is done without a lot of behind the scenes preparation to get it right and make it sustainable. Programs have to be devised, grants have to be found and applied for,willing workers - volunteer or professional - have to be sourced.

But before all this happens the community is consulted , sometimes over a long period of time to make sure what is planned is really what is needed for that particular situation. Consulting the community is like consulting a map.You have to get to know an area to travel it well. Sitting down, listening and talking is very important. 
We have all seen what happens when an agency comes into a place and provides a "solution" that seems like a good idea from far away but really shows no understanding of the real situation.These ventures cost a lot and often fail. The chaplains do their best to make sure this does not happen. They do not want to betray the trust of the people they work alongside.

As you can imagine all this of this takes time, a lot of travel, a lot of thought and ingenuity and a pastoral concern for the communities involved...... (And a poodle!?) *

Darcy and Julie survey the scene at Brewarrina on one of their many travels around Western NSW.
Thus the road traveled by the rural chaplain is often a long one but the final destination makes it worthwhile.

* ( "But of, course!" - Darcy )


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