The Future of the Australian processed food sector

Why has this government inquiry never (as far as I know) been published and discussed as a matter of national importance? Because what it is really saying is the Australian processed food industry in Australia is buggered, it’s just a matter of time. If ever Australia becomes reliant on imported food then we shall have lost what control we still have over our resource rich country and we shall be at the beck and call of new masters. Continue reading “The Future of the Australian processed food sector”

Mary has a litle lamb – and all the world wants it.

Are we starting to see, ever so gently, the beginning of the food wars, which have been talked about in recent times and none of us believed in?
Are countries that cannot produce enough food for their own needs, starting to make sure they don’t go hungry in the future?
Can we in Australia fill the gap? We are always boasting about how many people we feed as well as ourselves. But our food imports are going up and our production per hectare with cereals is going down.
We are cutting back on Research and Development (R&D) and we are reducing the size of our Departments of Agriculture.
So the question remains can we and do we want to fill the world-wide demand for sheep?
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The new covered sheep sale yards at Katanning. The best in the southern hemisphere. Capacity over 20,000.Photo courtesy ABC.

 

The recent announcement by the Walsh brothers from Bunbury in Western Australia that they had done a deal for lamb and beef with a Chinese company worth a billion dollars over five years is some deal.

This is great deal for Western Australia and the rest of Australia. The Walsh’s’ say they have been working in China for many years and this deal is the culmination of all that work. I wonder if we are beginning to witness a land and a food ‘grab’ as part of a strategic plan for China’s future?
Continue reading “Mary has a litle lamb – and all the world wants it.”

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?”

Is China Australia’s Land of the Golden Fleece?

There is a lot of ‘chatter’ mostly in the media and mostly from the uninformed like politicians that Australia has the agricultural productive capacity to become the ‘Food Bowl of Asia.’ Is it true?

Part 1.

There are those in the city who are plotting and have the money.

Is China Australia’s land of the Golden Fleece? Or is there a danger we could lose our money on the way to the goldfields? Fear not there is hope. Why? Well, for one thing there have been several very high profile meetings under the banner the ‘Global Food Forum’. Never heard of them? Not surprised, they were advertised in places where those on the land were unlikely to see the the advertisements.

When I saw the ‘Global Food Forum’ first advertised in The Australian and had a look at the list of speakers I thought they were notable in the world of finance and agribusiness if not agriculture, that is I couldn’t see many farmers on the list, but my interest was aroused non the less. I then enquired as to the price of a ticket and added on two nights accommodation in Sydney and the cost of plane ticket and the thousand kilometre round trip in the car to get to Perth, I decided the whole thing was out of my reach, way out.

Disappointed because I couldn’t afford to go, I gained some pleasure out of becoming cynical about the whole thing. Just another Pitt Street Cockie talkfest I reasoned, and those Pitt Street Cockies are so clever they know the answers before you ask the question and most of them don’t know where Western Australia is anyway!

I noticed the host of the event was a multi millionaire, one of the biggest carton manufacturers in the country, so he had a whopping vested interest.  I deduced he would have said to himself, ‘more food, more cartons, only two manufacturers in Australia so it’s worth a punt.’ I looked up the definition of the word ‘altruism’. Never met the man so I don’t know if it applies.

image003Will these men save or ruin Australian agriculture. We need to hear what they have to say.

Continue reading “Is China Australia’s Land of the Golden Fleece?”

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”

No more farmers?

There is every chance we will run out of farmers before we know whether we can feed the people of the world.

It’s a frightening proposition but just look at the evidence.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich in his book ‘Population Bomb’ made the prediction the world faced massive starvation due to overpopulation. He wrote:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.

Then along came Dr Norman Borlaug, ‘the father of the Green Revolution’, and his team of plant breeders and the world was saved from starvation. In 1970, Borlaug became a Nobel Laureate.

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The ‘Green Revolution saved India from certain disaster.

Between 1950 and 2004 world wheat yields rose from an average of 750kg/ha to 2750kg/ha (FAO), due to the worldwide adoption of high yielding, high input short straw wheat varieties, developed by Borlaug and his teams. Similar improvements were achieved in the yields of maize and rice.

This revolution in plant breeding, combined with new chemicals to control pests and diseases averted the global starvation tragedy predicted by Ehrlich.

In the last forty years the population of the world has doubled and, by and large they have all been fed.

The millions, who have died of starvation over that period, didn’t die because there wasn’t any food for them; they died because we spent our money fighting wars rather than getting food to those who needed it. Continue reading “No more farmers?”

‘We’ll all be Rooned,’ said Hanrahan.

Australia is part of the Developed World and Australian agriculture has yet to answer the question as to whether it is capable of increasing food production to meet the projected global demands of the future. Are we capable of increasing food production by at least 40% and so help feed the world?

There is global consensus that by 2050 the world population will have grown from 6 billion to 9 billion. To feed the extra 3 billion people the world will have to increase food production by more than 40%. Eighty per cent of that increase will have to come from the Developed World.

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Australia is part of the Developed World and Australian agriculture has yet to answer the question as to whether it is capable of increasing food production to meet the projected global demands of the future. Are we capable of increasing food production by at least 40% and so help feed the world?

There has to be some doubt whether we can. Terms of trade in agriculture are lousy and our debts are unmanageable. There has been and continues to be, a reduction in both federal and state funds for research and development (R & D) and in a later article we will tell the story behind some frightening figures on the spread of salinity in Western Australia and Australia. Continue reading “‘We’ll all be Rooned,’ said Hanrahan.”