In the name of God, go!

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

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Premier of Western Australia Colin Barnett.MP.
Photo Fairfax Media.

“Maybe stop talking about issues like daylight saving and the like and concentrate on real farm issues,”

“That would help government produce real results for the farm sector.”

“Maybe one farm organisation would help.”

Colin Barnett. Premier of Western Australia April 2013

Dale Park, President of the Western Australian Farmer’s Federation (WAFF or WA Farmers) replied:

 I think that is true, there is a lot of people out there who just see this fighting between WA Farmers and the PGA as totally counterproductive,” he said.

And I am one of them.”

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) president at the time, Rob Gillam said he was surprised by the Premier’s comments. (Tony Seabrook is now President of the PGA.)

“It was a bit unusual, but I am not sure why he went where he went to be honest,” Mr Gillam said.

“We (PGA) were pretty happy with the achievements in agriculture by the Barnett-led government in the first term and we are looking forward to the changes in the second term.

“There are a couple of areas in which we are not happy, but that’s life.”

Mr Gillam said he saw PGA and WA Farmers in a similar light to the Liberal-National parties in State Government, but stopped short of calling it an alliance.

Mr Park also said he was surprised by Mr Barnett’s lack of understanding of the issues farmers were facing in the Eastern Wheatbelt during his two-day trip last week.

Everybody knows the problems – getting finance, the high dollar and the cost-price squeeze – but what we are really short on is solutions,” Mr Park said.

But what surprises me is that he (Barnett) was unaware of that (of the issues facing farmers).

When asked if it was a blight on former Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman for not keeping the Premier properly informed on the issues, Mr Park said it was.

“Every time we tried to talk to Mr Redman about this he would say you are talking the industry down,” Mr Park said.

For the full story and even ‘more’ comments from the Premier go to

http://www.farmweekly.com.au/news/agriculture/agribusiness/general-news/barnett-calls-for-united-farmer-voice/2653829.aspx?storypage=0

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Dale Park. President of Western Australian Farmers. Photo: Fairfax media.
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Tony Seabrook. President of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association. photo:Fairfax Media.

 

 

1920s Poster in England

 The mighty who operate with total impunity – a law unto themselves.

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Would Mr Barnett have been as blunt in public to  Richard Goyder, Wesgarmers CEO and Ian McLeod CEO of Coles about the anguish they have caused in the dairy industry with their dollar a litre take it or leave it bludgeoning? No, he wouldn’t dare.  But he gets away with arrogance, rudeness and denigration in public to farmer organisations because he knows he can.

Colin Barnett was sending a big message to the PGA and WA Farmers in being so sarcastic, of concern is judging by the reaction there was no one at home in either WA Farmers or  the PGA listening or if there was they didn’t understand. We all know Barnett’s sarcasm about the curtains fading is to do with the claims that milk production would go down and the kids wouldn’t go to sleep all as the result of daylight saving.

If that is the best the Premier can do when talking agriculture, his memory is convenient and  it brings into sharp focus the lack of real communication between the Premier and the leaders of the PGA and WA Farmers.

Dale Parke’s comment also tells a sad tale of the poor working relationship between himself and the Minister for agriculture at the time, Terry Redman.  Mr Redman obviously had his own agenda and attached no importance to the views of the President of WA Farmers.

There are some really difficult challenges around agriculture at the moment, of immediate concern and not the least being the diabolical condition of our country infrastructure, road and rail. So it was a typical Barnett ‘country hick’ comment designed to denigrate and take our mind off other matters.

An old and effective trick to use a bit of personal denigration in a not too subtle way to change the debate. Twelve months later the road and rail debate has gone nowhere. Probably deteriorated as the Shires have run out of money to maintain roads to carry trucks with payloads far beyond the design criteria of what in many cases are gravel roads built 50 to 100 hundred years ago.

for the full story go to: http://www.brokenpromises.org.au/promises/closure-of-tier-3-rail-lines

Trouble was the Premiers sarcasm and comments were like water off a ducks back. Dale Park as good as agreed and said he couldn’t get through to his Minister Terry Redman when he needed to and Rob Gillam dismissed the Premier with a metaphorical dismissive wave of the hand.

Dale Park, when he refers to what he sees as a lack of understanding by the Premier of the problems of the eastern wheatbelt as they were so graphically portrayed at what I call ‘The Meeting of a Thousand Souls’ that was held in Merriden over twelve months ago, should remind the Premier that at that time, shortly after the meeting and without his Minister for Agriculture, Mr Barnett gave what I took to be a commitment that he personally would better educate himself with regard to not only the problems of the eastern wheatbelt but of all agricultural regions.  He gave the impression he understood the debt and the problems it was causing to the community from farmers to the  business people and to the working families.

He also gave the distinct impression he would take a personal interest in the situation. Ken Baston,  the new Liberal Minister for Agriculture visited another part of the wheatbelt and virtually repeated the Premier’s commitments.

The financial aid that was promised at that time has just become available. It beggars belief that it has taken so long for the Commonwealth and the State to sort the scheme out. Best part of 18 months to develop the terms and conditions. Then again it is not surprising because Machiavelli is alive and well in the halls of power. I gather there has only been one successful applicant. Was it planned that way? Between the Department of Agriculture economists and the consultancy groups they seem to work so closely with now, it would be difficult, given the number of applications approved, to believe the conditions were drawn up to help as many as possible.

It is a sad reflection on the Minister and the bureaucracy, presumably the Dept of Agriculture and Food, if the conditions of the financing are not designed to help those most in need.

Rumours abound that both the PGA and WA Farmers have seen better financial times. Membership is low. Patronage and sponsorship is becoming more difficult.

The stories of orange lifeboats moving around Perth water  in the middle of the night have not been confirmed by either organisation. Neither have the rumors been confirmed that offers have been made on two substantial houseboats.

It’s time for Change

Now is the right time for a change? It’s time both the P&G and WA Farmers, with their heads held high for they have toiled for agriculture and done a job few of us would take on, to give the job away.

It is time for them to take the same advice that Cromwell gave to the Rump government. ‘In the name of God go!’ and then we should add the words ‘And thank you for all you have done over the years.

Continue reading “In the name of God, go!”

Rising numbers of families cannot afford to spend enough on food.

Continue reading “Rising numbers of families cannot afford to spend enough on food.”

Do Coles and Woolworths control Australian Agriculture?

In the future is the market, the demand food in China, going to be a ‘Golden Fleece’ for Australian food producers? Are we capable of increasing our production to meet what we are told will be the ever-increasing markets for food in Asia?

More importantly those who should know, the ever-increasing number of ‘China experts’, claim that the growing middle class in China and other countries, like Indonesia, will be able to afford, pretty much at any price, what we produce and there are already several precedents that indicate that could be true. Milk as we shall see, Wagyu beef, premium wine and so on.

I don’t think Australia stands a chance when it comes to developing a bigger business in China or anywhere else. I think we will fiddle around the edges, make big of little things. The reasons for my pessimism are:

  • Productivity in Australia is going down. Costs are going up. We continue to fight among ourselves we refuse to become organised and speak with one voice.
  • Farmers are suspicious of everyone looking at agriculture with new eyes, especially if they are foreign and have money.
  • Farmers (generally) are heavily in debt so they believe, and they haven’t been told any different, that their potential to change and repay those debts in the short term so that change can happen, is limited. How to reduce crop and increase sheep for instance. Where will the money come from? Are the banks in favour of change? Will change affect the value of the land?
  • As the graphs below show we have a lot to do in the export arena just to catch up with where we were, once upon a time, and not just with China. We have also lost market share with Japan and Indonesia. Farmers need to know the reasons why. Those who process the food they produce for export are losing market share, market share in one of the fastest growing markets on earth. Why is that. Are we too expensive?
  • Given that progressive loss in other markets, what chance China?

Table 1.image003 Continue reading “Do Coles and Woolworths control Australian Agriculture?”

The Future of Farming is in their Hands – Is it Safe?

If there is one topic that occupies the minds of farmers and those on the land more than the weather, or the price of wheat or wool or sheep or cattle – it is the future. Is there a future in agriculture for our children and grandchildren? If there is, what kind of future will it be?

Introduction – The Present – Where we Are.

There are statistics that show our agricultural productivity in Australia is declining not increasing. There are statistics that show increases in productivity are directly tied to investment in Research and Development. As a nation we are reducing our investment in research and development.

As we shall see later, there is evidence that bigger is not always better.

It is a worry that it was recently announced by Rabobank, one of the biggest agricultural banks in the world, that Australia is now the most expensive place in the world to grow wheat. It costs twice as much to milk a cow in Australia compared to the United States. Yet we compete in world markets with the United States for both dairy and wheat.

No grain grower will surprised to learn that in Australia it takes 16 trains to haul 60,000 tonnes of wheat to port, and in Canada it takes just six.

It is with almost regular monotony that we learn of yet another food processor closing down in Australia and moving overseas. It’s cheaper we are told to source the food overseas, process it there and the export the finished product to Australia, than it is to grow the food it and process it in this country.

Unless the world food supply changes dramatically, one way or another, Australia will increasingly rely on imported food. We are constantly bombarded, by politicians and this new breed of city-based agri-entrepreneurs with the proposition that Australia, can be the ‘Food Bowl of Asia’. What nonsense. We already import more processed food than we export.

What we export has very little if any value adding done to it. Boats full of grain and meat, raw wool, live sheep and cattle. It’s cheaper to import cakes and biscuits from Holland than it is to make them in Australia – why is that? We have imported bread dough from Ireland to be baked in Australia. Neither Holland or Ireland could be classified as a Developing Country.

We should not delude ourselves that the only food we import comes from countries with ‘cheap’ labour and costs. We have used that excuse once too often.

Our major retailers control over 80% of our food business. They have the ability to scour the world for the cheapest food they can buy. They do not care if it is cheaper than what is grown in Australia. If they do buy Australian then they drive the price down to the Australian producer to same price as they can buy it overseas. They have to protect their market share and profit.
On May 29 in the Farm Weekly  the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, gave his views on the Muntadgin Farming Alliance and expressed some sympathy and empathy with the group and with farming in the eastern wheatbelt.
As a direct result of that interview, Ken Wilson, in the June 5 edition of the Farm Weekly, in the middle of seeding for many, put a series of questions to Nationals Member for Central Wheatbelt, Mia Davies, and Agriculture and Food Minister for Western Australia, Ken Baston.
At the Global Farmer, we believed the questions put to Ken Baston and Mia Davies by Ken Wilson deserved another outing, away from the rough and tumble of getting the crop in the ground. The Farm Weekly agreed so here they are. So now you can give these serious conversations some considered thought.
They are important questions. You make up your own mind on the quality, on the depth of the answers. Can we look forward to new future attacking old fundamental faults or just the same old parcel in different paper and a bit more tinsel, a few more balloons and a bigger whistle?
This time there are no time or space constraints. Read what Ken Baston and Mia Davies have to say and then have your say. Here are the questions:

Continue reading “The Future of Farming is in their Hands – Is it Safe?”

Is our current agricultural policy defending the people?

Mailler’s excellent article ‘Why is Agriculture Different’, begs the big question of the extent to which the agricultural industry’s relationship with government policy has resulted in a viable, sustainable and world competitive Australian agriculture? And if not, is the government failing to defend the people?

Empirical data – as Mailler brings to the fore – tends to show that the relationship of agriculture with government policy (in the context of global competition and the myriad of factors that express themselves through industry performance data and trends), has resulted in the industry exhibiting signs of systemic failure. The ‘vital signs’ of this industry are not good.

If one sets aside short term factors of drought, flood, fluctuations of commodity prices and looks at the long term trends, it is inescapable that revenue has been ‘chased’ by costs and in some cases overtaken by costs. The trends are seemingly inexorable.

While in any industry there will be leaders and laggards and those who fall off the bottom, the situation for agriculture as Mailler points out is not just the ‘tail’ that’s failing – it’s many of the core businesses that make up the industry.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with past and current agricultural policy, one must surely accept the notion that the outcomes are not good?

So what of policy for agriculture?

Governments have a primary duty to ‘defend the people’ and see to their wellbeing.

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Photo: Courtesy Veeoz

For a couple of hundred years, most ‘western’ governments have taken this duty to extend from:

  •  basic ‘human rights’ of health and education systems (safe drinking water, sanitation systems, hospitals, primary, secondary and tertiary education), through …
  • reform and development of democracy (wide range of concepts of what is democratic!)
  • military defence of their territory and its people from aggressors and on to…
  • making their industries competitive in the markets where their goods and services are sold.

Governments develop and implement POLICIES to cover all these aspects and more of our national life in pursuit of their big job to ‘defend the people’.

Importantly, governments generally see it as prudent to make the nation’s export industries profitable and sustainable in the longer term because their profits contribute so much of the resources to fund the implementation of all other policies!

One of my observations in Australia over the last 40 years or so is that agriculture has been progressively de-capitalised and made less resilient as a result of government policy. Local control of the industry is being lost as new capital, new vision and new policy comes in from overseas. Continue reading “Is our current agricultural policy defending the people?”

Why is Agriculture Different?

“The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Recently the dire situation faced by many farmers and graziers induced by yet another “drought” has reignited the debate around justification for Government financial support to farmers.

On one hand there is the visible and emotive scenario of dying stock and desperate farmers that demand immediate aid. This call for financial support externalises the disruption of drought and market interruption and deems them beyond reasonable management.

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On the other hand there is the cold and objective rationalist position that argues, ‘agriculture is a business like any other and hard times are a fact of life, and so if you can’t handle the pressure – get out’.

Continue reading “Why is Agriculture Different?”

Global area under biotech continues to grow while EU policy struggles.

While the EU struggles to define its policy on the cultivation of GM crops, the area under GM varieties globally continues to grow. Recent data from the ISAAA show that the total global area planted to biotech crop varieties in 2013 reached 175 million hectares for the first time. As 1996 was the first year in which genetically-modified crops were commercialised on a significant scale (the first GM crop planted was tomatoes in 1994), supporters of the technology point out that this rate of expansion makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history.

While the EU struggles to define its policy on the cultivation of GM crops, the area under GM varieties globally continues to grow. Recent data from the ISAAA show that the total global area planted to biotech crop varieties in 2013 reached 175 million hectares for the first time. As 1996 was the first year in which genetically-modified crops were commercialised on a significant scale (the first GM crop planted was tomatoes in 1994), supporters of the technology point out that this rate of expansion makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history.

Of the 27 countries which planted biotech crops in 2013, 19 were developing and 8 were industrialised countries. Latin American, Asian and African farmers collectively grew 94 million hectares or 54% of the global 175 million biotech hectares compared with industrialised countries at 81 million hectares or 46% of the total.image003

Just four major GM crops dominate the market: soybean, cotton, maize and canola (rape). In terms of the share of the total area cultivated, soybean and cotton are the most successful GM crops. In 2012, more than four-fifths (81%) of the total area of these crops grown globally were GM varieties. In the case of maize, over a third (35%) of the 158 million hectares of globally grown maize was GM and 30% of globally grown canola (with a total area of 31 million hectares). Continue reading “Global area under biotech continues to grow while EU policy struggles.”

The Sadness that is Kojonup

The battle in Court between two farmers from Kojonup is one of the saddest events in my career in agriculture, which now spans over half a century.

It is sad because it has given those for and those against, this time GM Canola, but it could just as easily been ‘Yellow Vitamin A Rice’ another stage, this time a Coliseum, to vent in public their malevolence and witlessness.

I admit to being a bit dim-witted at times but is there any way anyone can stop the flora and fauna of this world spreading seeds, either by wind or defecation where ever and wherever they wish? When that foreign seed germinates on organic land how does the foreign plant automatically become organic?

To some on the against side, and one can only judge those against by what they say and write, truly believe that many scientists and farmers, those on the for side are monsters, purveyors of teratogenic engineering, which has the capacity to cause the most awful damage to mankind.

That is sad and grieves me that they hold those opinions. Mainly because it means they truly believe that the for side are or would be, could be, complicit in poisoning, killing, their own families. An outrageous thought.

To some on the for side, those against are Luddites, nihilists and in some cases vandals and despoilers. It is regrettable that some of those against have been vandals and despoilers. Those against have been labelled as anti-science.

It has been known for more than a decade that by 2050 there could well be 9 billion mouths to feed on this earth. To feed those people food production will have to increase by at least 50%, some say more than that. I know I write about this often, that’s because it’s true.

In my working life of over half a century the population of the world has doubled. At the end of WWII world agriculture was basically organic.

We, that is science, farmers and their advisers have fed twice the number of people we started with 50 years ago. Today some eat too much and others go hungry and starve to death. There is no shortage of food though, we just don’t get it to those who need it, we are too busy. Instead we fly over the countries with the starving millions and marvel at international travel, which will take us to the next banquet. Continue reading “The Sadness that is Kojonup”

COSTS UP – PRICES NERVOUS – TIME FOR CHANGE?

Here we are at the start of a bright new 2014. Some Western Australian grain growers had a good harvest in 2013, but some still have plenty of debt and some have left the industry. It seems we are experiencing another period of adverse terms of trade as the economists would put it, or at cost-price squeeze as most of us understand it. But this situation has existed in one form or another since the 1980s and the industry has adjusted greatly to stay viable.

Let’s look at a little history. In the late 80s and early 90s the state average wheat yield virtually doubled from just under 1t/ha to just under 2t/ha. So how did that happen? Well, the cost-price squeeze was instrumental in focusing the minds of farmers mightily. They knew that something had to be done and furthermore they knew what. All the relevant findings were known, either through local research or through hard-won experience and observation.

The average date of sowing was advanced by about 3 weeks aided by the availability of the appropriate chemicals, semi-dwarf varieties and reduced or zero tillage among other things. At the same time the percentage of the crop that received a premium for quality (Hard, Noodle, Soft, APW) was increased from about 15% to over 50%. Continue reading “COSTS UP – PRICES NERVOUS – TIME FOR CHANGE?”

The China Enigma

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Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still

There is now no doubt, there is unquestionable evidence that the Premier of Western Australia, The Hon Colin Barnett, MEc. MLA. Minister for State Development; Science and the Hon Ken C. Baston, Minister for Food; Fisheries, are intent upon doing everything they can to secure more Chinese investment into West Australian agriculture. How they are going to do it?
They are going to hold an investment conference especially for the Chinese. Mr Barnett and Mr Baston are certainly not standing still:

Western Australia – China Agribusiness Cooperation Conference.
State Reception Centre, Kings Park, Perth
9 -11 April 2014
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Premier Barnett with a hook for catching sharks.
Photo:WA Today.
Premier Colin Barnett is a passionate West Australian. There is also no doubt that Mr Barnett has determinedly used his Office, and the influence that goes with that Office, to secure major commitments from the Chinese to invest in West Australian industry, mainly into mining, but there have also been substantial Chinese investments in agriculture.

Mr Barnett has led delegations of business people from Western Australia to China to further cement relationships and to forge new ones.

I don’t think it would be unfair to call Colin Barnett a Chinaphile.

Premier Colin Barnett Southern China Airlines Gala Dinner
Premier Colin Barnett at Southern China Airlines Gala Dinner.
Photo: WA Tourism

There has always been a belief among the majority of West Australians that ‘Chinese’ investment in Western Australia in the past has been conditional upon the imprimatur, and investment of the Central Government of the People’s Republic of China.

In other words the Government of China is always involved somewhere in the deal as an equity partner. Mr Barnett must be aware of this and be unconcerned that a sovereign state is investing in and becoming an owner of, Australian freehold property.

As far as I am aware it has never been denied that the Chinese government will be a equity partner in any investment in Australia.

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Chinese Parliament.
Photo: China Today

Recently Mr Barnett was critical of Australia’s foreign investment rules, claiming they were sending the wrong message to China. Mr Barnett said that the United States could invest more than $1 billion in Australia without being subject to Foreign Investment Review Board Rules, but it was different for China’s state owned enterprises where any level of investment from $1 up was subject to review.

Mr Barnett believed this caused resentment in China.

In July 2013 speaking from Zhejiang province in China Mt Barnett said he believed the Chinese were not seeking to own Australian land – they just wanted to protect their investment for food and have a secure relationship with Australia.

Yet the previous month, June 2013, the Queensland Country Life reported that Chinese investors had spent $757 million in the first quarter of 2013 buying land in Australia, with WA, according to Landmark – Harcourts, topping the charts with sales of $350 million. True or false? We may never know.

Well, whatever is the truth, what the Premier really believes will be revealed on April 9 2014. Continue reading “The China Enigma”