The Australian government is working on plans to revise drought payments to farmers. This is in response to the drought that has persisted for the last six years – long enough that people are wondering whether this is actually a ‘drought’ in the sense of a discrete and temporary event, or simply a reflection of the kind of future climate Australia can expect. Already, production of water-intensive cotton is down 66% from 2002 levels. The reduction in Australian agricultural productivity is also contributing to record increases in world food prices.
One question raised by all this is when governments should accept that an industry has become untenable. This has certainly occurred already in many fisheries, including the cod fishery in Canada’s Atlantic waters. Farming could become similarly untenable in many areas due to climate change or the increased need for water elsewhere. Politically, it is extremely difficult to tell people that their livelihood can no longer be sustained through public assistance. That said, such cutoffs are eventually required if public funds are to be spent efficiently on adaptation, rather than simply trying to perpetuate the status quo against worsening conditions.