National Geographic : 2009 Apr
• On the side of a road somewhere in southeast- ern Australia sits a man in a motionless pickup truck, considering the many ways in which his world has dried up. e two most obvious ways are in plain view. Just beyond his truck, his dairy cattle graze on the roadside grass. e heifers are all healthy, thank God. But there are only 70 of them. Five years ago, he had nearly 500. e heifers are feeding along a public road---"not strictly legal," the man concedes, but what choice does he have? There is no more grass on the farm he owns. His land is now a desert scrub- land where the slightest breeze li s a hazy wall of dust. He can no longer a ord to buy grain, which is evident from the other visible reminder of his plight: the bank balance displayed on the laptop perched on the dashboard of his truck. e man, who has never been rich but also never poor, has piled up hundreds of thousands of dol- lars in debt. e cows he gazes at through his windshield---that is all the income he has le . His name is Malcolm Adlington, and for the past 36 of his 52 years he has been a dairy farmer, up at ve every morning for the rst milking of the day. Not so long ago Adlington used to look forward to a ritual called a dairy farm walk. State agriculture o cials would round up local dairy farmers to visit a model farm---o en Adlington s, a small but prosperous operation outside of Barham in New South Wales. The farmers would study Adlington s ample grain- fed heifers. ey would inquire about his lush hay paddocks---which seeds and fertilizers he favored---and Adlington was only too happy to share information, knowing they would recipro- cate when it came their turn. at was the spirit of farming, and of Australia. A man could freely experiment, freely reveal his farming strategies, with the quiet con dence that his toil and inge- nuity would win out. " at," Adlington observes today, "was before the drought came along." A decade ago, Adlington employed ve farmhands. "It s just the wife and I now," he says. " e last three years we ve had essentially no water. at s what is killing us." Except there is water. You can see it rippling underneath the main road just a mile from where his truck is parked. It s the Southern Main Canal, an irrigation channel from Australia s legendary Murray River, which along with the Darling River and other waterways is the water source for the South Australia capital of Adelaide and provides 65 percent of all the water used for the country s agriculture. Adlington possesses a license to draw 273 million gallons of water "We're always living in hope," says Malcolm Adlington of Barham, who's sold off his dairy cows to provide for his family. With his govern- ment water allocations reduced to near zero, "our farm is for sale," Adlington says, "but nobody's looking at it." BY ROBERT DRAPER PHOTOGRAPHS BY AMY TOENSING The climate betrayed him.