From burning sun that dries up all hope to torrential rains that sweep away crops and furious blazes that destroy livelihoods, Australian farmers come face to face with harrowing conditions that would test the mettle of even the hardest people.
How to improve resilience of farmers, their families and workers when confronted with more frequent and severe disasters will be the focus of a project at James Cook University’s College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Science.
Disasters impact on farmers’ safety, incomes, properties and even their lives. Associate Professor Richard Franklin says disasters can have a domino effect by placing increased pressure on struggling farming communities and their economies. He hopes a PhD student will step up to take on the Farm Safety: Disaster and Resilience project.
“Unfortunately for Australian famers they do experience a range of disasters,” Richard says. “With ongoing climate change, disasters will probably increase in frequency. We are just at the start of the journey. We want to see how farmers prepare for it and respond to it.”
Farmers across the country face different types of disasters, from cyclones in the north through to bushfires in the south. As well as natural disasters, the project will examine non-natural disasters, such as chemical spills and soil-borne diseases.
“During floods, farmers face particular hazards,” Richard says. “There might be issues such as moving around their property to check on stock or driving through flooding creeks and streams to get back home. In drought, there are questions about when to destock or not destock and that ties in to building a livelihood.”
A key part of the project will be developing strategies to improve resilience. “We’re hoping to understand what helps farmers be stronger, better prepared and recover faster,” Richard says. “Potentially, the strategies will be different if you are in rural Queensland and days away from a major centre compared to rural Victoria and hours away.”
Technology has helped to lessen the isolation of farmers in remote locations and the internet has shaped how they do business, access assistance and socialise. While improvements have been made when it comes to supporting farmers and agricultural communities, Richard says more work needs to be done to help farmers face their unique set of circumstances.
“There are issues around mental health and suicide,” he says. “Some farmers still feel they are not able to reach out and talk. Organisations have done a very good job in raising awareness about the mental health side of things. Slowly they are breaking down some of the barriers.”
Richard has deep respect for the men and women on the land who continue to provide for their families and communities while experiencing the toughest challenges. He hopes the project will develop useful strategies to boost resilience so farmers can continue to do what they love.
“You have to be relatively self-sufficient to be a farmer — they are resilient people,” Richard says. “In my view, farmers are integral parts of the community and important for the future.”
If you have a passion for making a difference in the world, check out JCU’s Bachelor of Psychological Science, Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) and Bachelor of Nursing Science. If you are keen to deepen your knowledge and expand your skills, see the range of postgraduate courses on offer at JCU’s Public Health and Tropical Medicine.