The peak of the River Murray flood has hit, restrictions on activities along the river are easing and now the long, hard road to recovery begins in earnest.
It has been pleasing to see the immediate response from government and other organisations but a long-term strategy and strong, ongoing support for communities through their recovery and restructure will be crucial.
Mental health support is a major priority, with many producers suffering from anxiety given how long it took for the much-anticipated flood peak to arrive and with a drawn-out period of subsidence and recovery now looming.
Producers could be facing infrastructure repair and replacement costs running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Adding to this stress is the question over how badly the situation could be exacerbated if we have another wet season. The recovery efforts facing producers will be even more of an uphill battle if another year of heavy rainfall occurs and drags out the recovery even further, testing communities facing the heart-breaking challenge of cleaning up their properties and businesses.
Unfortunately, this flood comes on the back of other major challenges producers along the river have faced in recent times.
Wine grape growers are dealing with some of the toughest market conditions they have ever had, with prices well below the cost of production being offered for this upcoming vintage due to a glut of grape and wine stocks.
For dairy producers, while there has been gradual bounce-back from years of challenging conditions, the River Murray floods and breached levees mean farmers are now faced with enormous feed bills and reduced revenue from lost production.
The flood will be the last straw for some farming families, and they will also need support as they plan their withdrawal from the industry.
Infrastructure recovery will not only involve supporting irrigators to ensure their pumps and other equipment are working, but also reconstruction of Riverland and Murraylands roads and vital transport routes affected by water inundation.
Rebuilding tourism to these regions will be another key part of recovery. When media coverage about the flood began building, many businesses had their bookings wiped out. Encouraging visitors back to the River Murray, to experience the beauty of the system in full flow, will help reboot these local economies and add further impetus to the need to get roads rebuilt, ferries operating again and transport corridors re-established.
River communities and tourists alike will also have to be vigilant over many months ahead in managing other health risks as vectors such as mosquitoes linger in water holes along the river, increasing the risk of transmission of diseases such as Murray Valley encephalitis virus (MVEV) and Japanese encephalitis (JEV). Some of these can affect livestock as well (e.g. JEV).
It is important to highlight the support that is currently available to producers including Rural Business Support, who can assist in a range of ways from negotiating with creditors; preparing for discussions with insurance companies, banks and lenders and developing budgets and cashflows.
PIRSA also has a range of support measures in place including recovery and irrigation grants, while ifarmwell.com.au offers valuable tips on how to cope mentally when faced with a crisis like floods.
These measures are much welcomed but with some producers and communities facing a recovery that may take years, it is key this support extends beyond the immediate future.
River communities and producers are the backbone of the state’s economy, as well as being the food bowl of South Australia and the nation.
Providing ongoing support and building mental health resilience within these communities, some of which were already doing it tough due to challenging market and climatic conditions, is vitally important.
Issues caused by flood water are not going away any time soon, so a long-term commitment to support and clean-up will be key to recovery.
This column was written by PPSA Chair Professor Simon Maddocks and first appeared in the January 26, 2023 edition of the Stock Journal.