Seasons come, seasons go… Opportunities come, opportunities go… Common sense leaving town

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Tas wilderness

By Font’s Strategic Partner Paul Arnold 

Since the dawn of time climatic seasons have been part of the enjoyable Tasmanian experience. Our clearly defined four seasons make Tasmania one of the best places on earth to live (and to visit). Every season is different, and always will be.

While the summer is over for another year, it is fair to say all the seasons came early last year, and with them, some opportunities and challenges.

The north west of Tassie is well known for its most reliable rainfall and brilliant agricultural produce. It’s the reason the Circular Head area now has the premiere dairy pasture in Australia, or so we thought. Rainfall from 1 August 2015 to 31 January 2016, has only been 44 per cent of the average for that period over the past 15 years. So pastures have missed out on 250mm of usual rain (10 inches), and the rain that came was so variable over the whole north of Tassie, that some got it, and many missed it.

Circular Head has never been without green grass, to the extent that it now is. A once in a lifetime chance now exists to see a very brown district, except for those fortunate enough to have irrigation. The economic payback on irrigation has never been so stark as this past summer. Those that exploited the rainfall opportunities of years past (through dams and water bores), are reaping a massive reward, or at least dodged a significant bullet. Common sense is also a valuable ingredient, when it comes to water resource management.

So the coldest August, the warmest driest summer and the spectacular electrical storms bring both good and bad for all. Good in that vegetables thrive in warm climates, if irrigated (as most are). Bad with respect to available pasture harvested, downpours destroying crops, rising water temperature and spontaneous ignition of countless fires that caught most unaware.

All too often, the economic fortunes of the north west fluctuate in accordance with how the agricultural and aquaculture industries are performing. Suffice to say it’s a reasonably bad patch at present, and potentially impacting next season.

Those pasture based farmers without irrigation are being hit with a double whammy. Little grass to feed dairy cows, now means use of expensive supplements to maintain milk production. Supplements are either grain, palm kernel or other energy rich food. So the cost of milk produced the season is up to 20 per cent higher than usual.

Next challenge is little silage and hay harvested and into the barns for coming winter’s feeding. So around 140,000 dairy cows are needing feed in July, August and September when pasture growth is minimal due to the cold temperatures. Poor condition dairy cows that survive such a winter usually are too poor to produce good volumes of milk the following year. So the dry summer destroys profits this year and destroys opportunity for 2016/17. Success or failure is all in the power of the season.

Add some warmer ocean water to the aquaculture industry and we see seasons bring about powerful impacts. Thankfully the north west oyster industry is not yet impacted by POMS, but the threat remains while the seas are an unusually high temperature. The warmer water is also impacting the salmon industry. Common sense should prevent the spread of POMS, in the oysters, and with good controls, the north west fish farms, should be ok.

Also add powerful lightning strikes and dozens of uncontrolled fires and Tasmania is in some previously uncharted waters. Never before (in modern history) has the north west been so impacted by such largescale fires and debilitating smoke. Never before have we been so unprepared for what the fire season has presented, and never before has there been such a need for leadership with respect to the trying times that Tasmania is experiencing. Common sense seems to have been on holiday during the fire threats.

The long-term economic and health impacts arising from the yet to be extinguished fires will not be fully known for quite some time. The cost of the fire control efforts will impact heavily on the Tasmanian budget for 2014/15 and potentially for years to come, depending on long-term health impacts.

The meltdown of the Basslink electricity cable may also have been caused by the season. In any event the dependency on Hydro and wind power has been shown up as manifestly inadequate. Whilst common sense would have allowed the Gordon-Below-Franklin, to be a sustainable energy source, the dependency on only one power cable to the mainland, has been shown to be inadequate. Common sense would say we needed two power cables, or at least significant alternative power generation in other forms.

Yes, seasons come and seasons go. Public policy is unfortunately framed around ‘normal’ seasons. It is not too hard to see the failure of public policy on so many fronts during this past season.

Common sense used to be a great ally in the tough seasons of yester year, and our fathers seemed to get by. In recent times, a bloated public service has created so much public policy rubbish, that common sense cannot be allowed to operate in tough seasons, like we just experienced.

The opportunities for agriculture, aquaculture and plain good living, in the rich north west are still unbelievably excellent, if only, common sense could return.

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