When the wind blows, Krystal Bullen’s home can vanish in an instant. It sits on 4,000 acres of dust outside Pilliga, a New South Wales town nearly 300 miles northwest of Sydney, and a good gust will engulf her homestead in a brown haze.
“I’ve kind of given up on cleaning,” says Bullen, 36, laughing at the dust that coated her windows when TIME visited in December. Among the more pressing matters: a debt of nearly half a million dollars, an injured husband and a farm to manage alone during one of Australia’s worst-ever droughts. “We’ve had droughts before,” she says, “but nothing of this caliber.”
Drought is endemic on the world’s driest inhabited continent, but the conditions Australia is currently experiencing count as the most severe in its modern history. It’s not yet the longest spell of drought, but it is the hottest—and since 2012 it has devastated cattle ranches, sheep farms and swaths of arable land across Australia’s vast outback, or bush.
According to government data, winter crop production nationwide is forecast to decrease by 23% in 2018-19. On the country’s east coast, drought has affected 49% of its primarily grassy agricultural land and driven cattle slaughter up by 17%. In the supposedly temperate southeast, one-third of dairy farms are projected to lose money this year.
Read the full article by Casey Quackenbush including commentary by Professor Mark Howden