It’s time to say “Thank you”, to Agriculture.

There was a car sticker around many years ago which said, “Don’t criticise farmers with your mouth full”. That sticker is truer today than it was then and just as true long before car stickers were the fashion.

Some of us have been fortunate to have lived through and been part of the last half century or so of agriculture. Farming today is unrecognisable to what it was when I went to college in the early 60s and even more so looking back back at the fifties.

But it is in the last fifty years or so that I believe an agricultural revolution has taken place and it has gone unrecognised by many of today’s farmers who have inherited the past and totally unappreciated by the happy, unaware shoppers as they wander round their supermarket filling their trolleys.

So why the Protests?

Militant activists around the world consider farmers to be fair game.  Mobs, of vegans and anti GM demonstrators often supported by the left wing press, believe it is their ‘right’ to enter  a farmer’s premises to damage crops, ‘liberate’ stock, daub graffiti and generally cause chaos. They do this without any care or concern regarding the financial loss incurred by and the trauma caused to, those who feed them and the world. Then they go home, take off their makeup and uniforms, have a feed and go to bed replete.

Photo: The New Daily.

There are those who believe farmers do not care for their land but they are not farmers themselves. There are those who believe that all crop protection chemicals are bad and that low input organic farms can produce as much as conventional farms, yet they cannot present the evidence and they also go to bed replete.

Over the last sixty years as the population of the world has doubled and the arable land has halved, farmers and their scientists have fed the world to abundance; so isn’t it time  we all said, ‘Thank you’?

oOo

Photo: The Conversation

Do you remember or have you ever heard of Paul Ehrlich the American biologist of  fifty years ago?

In 1970,  Ehrlich in his book ‘The Population Bomb’ predicted the end of the world as we knew it.

He was not the first in the modern era to make that prediction. Bible thumpers on a soap box in the park  have mostly disappeared, mainly to avoid abuse for being Christian and the world is poorer for this loss of free speech.

Photo: The Australian.

There are new religions these days and they are indoctrinating the young and the gullible. Extinction Rebellion leads the pack convincing many young people that the world will end within a decade due to man-made global warming. They encourage the young into civil disobedience to ‘change the world and save it from Armageddon’ and they show no remorse when those same kids suffer anxiety and depression and need medication.

Then the world leaders at Davros and the United Nations invited the modern day St Joan of Arc, Greta Thunberg to talk to them about the end of the world and they sat at her feet enthralled by her wisdom. ‘How could a 14 year old have such wisdom’, they asked.

Climate change warrior Al Gore’s Nashville estate expends ’21 times more energy than the average US home uses per year’ A conservative think-tank published a report claiming Gore ‘guzzles’ electricity It claims Gore’s Nashville estate used 230,889 kilowatt hours over the last year Ex-vice president also spends about $22,000 on electricity bills a year, it claims The study was released ahead of the premiere of Al Gore’s latest environmental documentary film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, on Friday By Dailymail.com Reporter Published: 02:20 AEST, 4 August 2017 | Updated: 02:26 AEST, 4 August 2017

Before poor Greta the world was held in wonder by that Ringmaster of Barnum and Bailey’s circus, Al Gore, the American politician — the man who received the Nobel Prize by telling lies about the climate and predicting how we are all doomed because of our past excesses. Gore is the man who wrote the script to his fictitious film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ while flying round the world in his private jet and resting in one of his mansions, with all the lights on.

When he was proven wrong he showed no remorse. He had made his money.

Ehrlich, however, was the first to predict that the world  would end because millions would die of starvation and what’s more he claimed,  there was nothing we could do about it apart from what he called employing ‘population control’.

This is the Prologue from Ehrlich’s book ‘The Population Bomb’.

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and the 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programmes embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate, although many lives could be saved through dramatic programs to “stretch” the carrying capacity of the earth by increasing food production and providing for a more equitable distribution of whatever food is available. But these programs will only provide a stay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successful efforts at population control. Population control is the conscious regulation of the numbers of human beings to meet the needs not just of individual families, but of society as a whole.

Nothing could be more misleading to our children than our present affluent society. They will inherit a totally different world, a world in which the standards, politics, and economics of the past decade are dead. As the most influential nation in the world today, and its largest consumer, the United States cannot stand isolated. We are today involved in the events leading to famine and ecocatastrophe; tomorrow we may be destroyed by them.

In the last fifty years world agriculture has shown just how wrong Ehrlich was. The food producers of this world, the farmers, led, aided and abetted by some of the best scientists in the world are currently producing enough food to feed ten billion people or one and a half times more food than we need.

No other industry can match the startling performance of world agriculture and its farmers but that does not mean that the world can be complacent and sit back on its laurels. The world is changing as we shall see and the challenges will be just as great in the next half century as they have been in the last.

In the last fifty years meat production has increased by ~  300% and cereals by ~180%. Over the same period  the increases in the yields of all foods has been massive, from tomatoes to bananas to wheat and corn.

The state of Punjab led India’s Green Revolution and earned the distinction of being the “breadbasket of India. Photo Wiki.

Plant breeders led by the example of Nobel Laureate,  Prof Norman Borlaug in the 1960s, have achieved what Ehrlich thought impossible. Borlaug and his team produced new and higher yielding varieties of wheat and corn and farmers grew them.  It became known as the Green Revolution and it transformed agriculture from America to India to Australia and Europe and all places in between.

Better yielding crops and pastures have fed the world to abundance. Explore the link for some amazing performances.

But we have a problem — They are not making any more Land.

The problem is that it is not going to get any easier to keep on feeding the ever growing world population, even though we are now producing sufficient food to feed the projected peak in world population of around 9 billion in about sixty years. We have a few real problems on the horizon, which could affect food production.

To start with world isn’t getting any bigger. Urban sprawl, desertification and salinisation are eating up arable land and that is going to make feeding the world a little more difficult in the future. This is how difficult.

First of all, what do we mean by Arable Land?

Arable land is the land under temporary agricultural crops (multiple-cropped areas are counted only once), temporary meadows for mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens and land temporarily fallow (less than five years). The abandoned land resulting from shifting cultivation is not included in this category. Data for ‘Arable land’ are not meant to indicate the amount of land that is potentially cultivable.”

Arable land in the World now and in the future.

If I were to tell you that by 2050 there will less than 0.18 of a hectare of arable land for every person on earth on which to grow their food, what would you think? Would you believe me? You’d better, because it is true.

Gjerdrum, Norway. Family portrait of the Glad-Ostensen family with one week’s worth of food in June. The Hungry Planet project. Photo: Peter Menzel

A hectare is 10,000 M2. Measure it out, 1800 square metres is about a quarter of a soccer pitch. By 2050 you or the farmers of the world will have less than that area on which to grow ALL the food you need for a year. We don’t know how much is less.

That is all the land that will be available to grow all the cereals and vegetables you need for a year. Some of the grain  will go to feeding livestock like hens and cows for milk and maybe for a beef animal(s) and don’t forget the cereals for the grog and the cotton for your clothes. Do you think you could do it on a quarter of a soccer pitch?

Will the people thrive in 2070?

In 1960 there was 0.361 of a hectare available for every person on earth, in 2018 it had dropped to  0.184 ha, so the available arable area to grow your food has about halved in the last fifty years. Will the area halve again in the next 60 years? We don’t know.

It gets worse. Twenty percent of the current arable area is irrigated, but 30 million hectares of that land is affected by salinisation and a further 80 million hectares affected by water logging.

The population of the world in 1960 was ~3 billion in 2019 it was ~7 billion and predicted to go to ~9 billion plus when it plateaus in about 2064.

So, the population of the world has doubled and the arable area has about halved in about 60 years and most 0f us have been fed to abundance —  that is what our scientists and farmers have achieved.

In spite of that achievement globally, about 8.9% of the world’s population — 690 million people — go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Since 2014, the number of people affected by hunger has been slowly on the rise. If it continues at this rate, it’ll exceed 840 million by 2030.

There is no shortage of food, in fact we grow too much for our population so we throw away  and waste an enormous amount. Ironically, obesity and diabetes are now the scourge of the Developed World, both ailments can be caused by eating too much of the wrong foods.

Child in Aden.

The  cause of of hunger and starvation in this world is mainly war, but alarmingly there is an increase in the number of hungry people in the small nations in the Caribbean and in the dry corridor in South America . Men, women and particularly children go without food while politicians and world leaders fight wars and satisfy their own selfish agendas — they are all culpable, but they will never be called to account while the the citizens of the so-called free-world, look the other way.

When will the  world Population Peak and can all the people be fed what they want?

The most up to date estimate that I can find  on world population predictions is from ‘Lancet’,  and published in Science Daily. Lancet, until they got very commercial and controversial during the Covid19 hiatus, have been a very reliable, science based organisation.

Their estimate in 2020 was that the world population will peak in 2064 at about 9.7 billion and then decline to about 8.8 billion by 2100, a figure which is about 2 billion less than previous estimates.

The question then is not can the world survive because it surely will, but can the world continue to produce the food that the people of the world are increasingly demanding as their standard of living continues to improve, or will there be an increase in hunger and starvation?

There is no doubt that the amount of arable land in the world will decline.  This is a serious question for Australia when we consider that for the last thirty or forty years we have built another Canberra every year to house our increase in population, most of that growth has come from migration. We have to consider carefully whether we can afford to keep on building new towns on our precious arable land.

Photo: ABC

Salinity will always be a problem in Australia and particularly in the biggest grain growing state, Western Australia. In 2000 the Howard government  budgeted together with the states to spend some $14 billion to fight salinity, I can’t remember over how many years.  The programme was to be managed under the auspices of The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. At that time it was estimated that in Australia we were losing a football pitch every HOUR to salinity.

The consensus is that the programme largely failed.

Australia is not alone in fighting or not fighting salinity. In California in 2017 it was estimated they were losing some 10% of crop yield or US$3.7 billion a year to salinity. They have an added problem that some of their irrigation water is going saline.

There seems to be agreement among the research fraternity that worldwide salinisation and sodicity are increasing, by how much nobody really knows.  El Nino and La Nina seem to have an effect on Australia, and  what is going on in China remains a mystery.

It is hard to predict how much arable land will be gobbled up as the population increases and cities become larger and new cities emerge. It has been estimated that between 2000 and 2030 global croplands will decrease somewhere between 1.8% and 2.4%.  leading to a loss of production of between 3% and 4%.

It is also estimated that the ‘lost’ land will be used for new habitats for humans and what’s more  it will the best land that is lost, land with productive capacity 1.7 times better than the average.

It’s not all bad news, researchers from communist China are claiming that their arable land will increase in the future as urbanisation of the people increases from 56% to 80% of the population between now and 2050.

Terrace farming in Viet Nam

This migration from the country to the city, the Chinese claim, will release another 5.8 million hectares of land for food production, an area equivalent to 4.2% of China’s cropland in 2015. Consequently the Chinese claim that food production, even off these low quality lands will increase in China by 3.1% to 4.2% by 2050 compared to 2015.

Science in the future will not be standing still.

The prospect of new discoveries and innovation in science continuing even accelerating agriculture’s capacity to increase production and keep pace with the ever increasing population, will only happen if the governments of the world increase the funds they make available for research and development (R & D). Tax dollars are the people’s money and the people must demand a say in where the money is spent.

The return on investment can be massive if we produce the food the world will certainly want.

Genetic Modification.

The very mention of genetic modification (GM) raises the temperature, the hackles and the ire of many, mainly because of the fear generated by activists predicting Frankenstein crops and animals which are totally without foundation in fact. Many don’t realise the contribution GM technology already makes, much of it not in food production but in medicine, keeping people alive, including:

  • vaccines
  • antivenoms
  • bacteria derived toxins
  • Immunoglobulins
  • monoclonal antibodies
  • allergens
  • blood products and clotting factors
  • hormones such as insulin, growth hormone,
  • enzymes such as pancreatins
  • heparins.

GM crops have been around for forty years and they have raised production in some cases many fold. During that time there has not been any evidence that has shown a deleterious or harmful effect on either man or animals or the environment during that time, none.

Some products have been abandoned it is true and that is the very purpose and nature of good science.

Scientists within organisations with the same views and ethics of the broader community develop GM technology. Claims that these scientists would be party to launching harmful food on the people of the world is ridiculous, ludicrous, simply because it would mean that by so doing, they would harm their own loved ones.

Winds of Change’.

It is well known that many parts of Africa struggle to grow enough food for their ever growing population. The forecasts are that population growth will accelerate in Africa in the future. Nigeria for instance, is predicted to have a larger population than China by 2100 with 791 million people , it will be the second most populous nation in the world only topped by India with 1.01 billion.

Since the ‘winds of change’ swept through Africa in the fifties and sixties there have been problems with insufficient food in many parts of that continent.

Scientists in Nigeria have just made a major contribution to improving the diets and welfare of all Africans by releasing a genetically modified cow pea which is resistant to the borer Maruca vitrata which has been known to reduce yield by as much as 80%.

This important food  supplies much needed thiamine and iron as well as protein in the diet and this GM technology will help Nigeria fight its constant battle with malnutrition, especially among the young.

There are other saving as well, Nigeria, if all goes well, will no longer have to import, every year, up to 20% of the cow peas it needs.

Omega-3 oil.

Omega-3 oil has been known for a long time to be beneficial in our diet. The only source has been from wild, oily fish, now that has all changed, the  CSIRO and the GRDC together with Nuseed in Australia, have developed an Omega-3 Canola, which is now being grown around the world. One hectare of canola replaces the oil from 10 tonnes of wild fish. The world-wide benefits from GM technology, like this one saving the wild fish stocks from over fishing, seldom make the main stream press.

GM North Atlantic Salmon.

The consumption of fish per head of population, world wide, has more than doubled in the last sixty years. In 1961 the average consumption per head was 9kg and in 2018 it was 20.5kg.

Global fish production was estimated to have reached 179 million tons in 2018. Total fish production is predicted to increase to 204 million tons by 2030 and consumption per head to increase 1kg.

Currently fish farms supply 52% of the fish for human consumption and this is forecast to increase. In fact it has to increase because wild fish stocks are at best being maintained and at worst being depleted by ocean harvesting, mainly by communist China. With their own waters depleted China’s fishing fleets are ranging far and wide in search of catch.

Consequently the  global wild fish catch is increasing, up just 7% in the last decade. The challenge for the fish industry is to provide enough fish for the ever increasing demand and not obliterate the natural wild fish stocks. The global interest and the investment in fish farming, particularly in R & D is increasing.

For example in the 1990s two scientists genetically engineered the Atlantic salmon to grow twice as quickly as the conventional salmon while consuming less food.

That GE salmon has been on sale in Canada for a number of years and the producers have recently overcome the last hurdle to enable the GE North Atlantic salmon to be sold in America.

The time consuming debate on labeling  was with those who catch the rapidly declining stocks of wild North Atlantic Salmon and with some of the regulators. Now resolved GE North Atlantic Salmon are  being sold in Canada the USA and shortly they will be sold in Brazil.

There is no doubt that GE or GM or GMO (genetically modified organism) fish, of which some claim there are already about 20 species developed or under development will make a major contribution to the ever increasing world-wide demand for food and protein.

One of the most important factors breeding GM fish and all animals both GM and non-GM is the feed conversion rate or FCR that can be achieved. The FCR is how many grams of food it takes to produce a gram of weight in the animal or fish.

Pigs, for instance, have a feed conversion rate (FCR) of  about 3 to 1. That means for every 3 grams or kilos of feed consumed by the pig it grows 1 gram or kilo. Cattle have an FCR of 5 – 7 to 1 , so they are not as good as the pig at converting food into meat.

The GM salmon has a FCR of 1.2 to 1 and a new GE trout has an FCR of 1 to 1. That seems impossible to me but that is what they have done. The sustainability of the fish farming industry and so the feeding of the ever growing population is greatly improved by gene technology.

The debate will continue and no doubt rage at times, what we must all remember is that compromise may be needed if future generations can live as well as we do now.

Scientist in America developed a GM potato which provides 42% of a child’s daily needs for vitamin A and 34% of the child’s daily needs for vitamin E all from just one 150-gram serve.  Women of reproductive age get the same benefits. That is a huge step forward for the Developing World.

M98H61 ETHIOPIA, Amhara, Gondar, school for blind children

Twenty years after its invention and after many thousands of people have died from a Vitamin A deficiency, Golden Rice looks like it will finally be produced in the Bangladesh and the Philippines. It will save millions of people, mainly children from premature death, blindness and loss of their immune system.

I will never understand Greenpeace and others and their fight to never allow this life saving rice to be grown. Their nasty rumours and down right lies have now been overcome. Twenty years have been wasted in bringing this potentially life saving plant into production.

CRISPR technology.

I think CRISPR technology will answer more of the impending challenges of feeding more people off less arable land than will GE.

What is CRISPR? : The essence of CRISPR is simple: it’s a way of finding a specific bit of DNA inside a cell. After that, the next step in CRISPR gene editing is usually to alter that piece of DNA. However, CRISPR has also been adapted to do other things too, such as turning genes on or off without altering their sequence.

There were ways to edit the genomes of some plants and animals before the CRISPR method was unveiled in 2012 but it took years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. CRISPR has made it cheap and easy.

Gene technology of one kind or another is obviously going to play a major part in answering  the inevitable food production challenges that are heading our way in the next seventy years or so. Less arable land, changes in rainfall patterns whether they be caused by anthropogenic climate change or not doesn’t really matter, the people will have to be fed.

This is where CRISPR or gene editing technology, I think, will come into its own. Making plants resistant not only to insects but pathogens. Another area which is showing great promise for CRISPR is creating plants that use less water and even more exciting plants cereals that can use saline water and need less fertilizer. Plants that can convert sunshine better and so grow quicker, maybe enabling multiple crops in a season. Disease control without chemicals, so important because so many currently vital crop protection chemicals are derived wholly or in part from the petro chemical industry.

One of the great successes in CRISPR application has been with tomatoes. Remember this isn’t achieved by transferring genes from another entity it is just changing  the plants susceptibility to all manner of diseases like botrytis and in some cases, like golden canola, getting the plant to produce better nutrition.

Now they have gone a step further and removed the need for constant pruning to maximise yield and they have done that as well as bringing the harvest date forward to an amazing 5 weeks. It’s a great story and one of many around for this technology.

What can ALL Australian governments do to meet the challenge facing agriculture and the fisheries of the future in Australia?

Fix the Roads.

First and foremost it will be a major challenge for agriculture to get both state and federal governments to recognise that Australia has got a major roll in global food production in the future — but it will not happen unless they embark on long term strategic planning and turn that planning into action.

Holding a conference in Sydney and calling it the Global Food Forum means nothing to the man and woman on the land when their truckload of stock or grain comes to grief on yet another poor, narrow and inadequate road.

Governments around Australia have for too long ignored the fundamental needs of agriculture for a highway system that works and is cost effective. Without better highways and roads agriculture cannot grow.

Good and at one time efficient railway systems  have been allowed decay or have been deliberately and systematically dismembered by all state governments. They have done it with no consultation and with little thought for agriculture for which they were originally built. The result is that agriculture has been driven into using bigger and bigger trucks on roads which are demonstrably old and in poor condition and not fit for purpose.

All states need highways that can get farm produce, food, from the farm to the city quickly and efficiently.

Water – Harvest it – Move it.

Australia is not a dry continent, we have just lost our ability to harvest water and transport it to the places where it is most needed.

If water was moved from or harvested in the north of Queensland to the black soil country in that state and NSW, the production of food in this country would dramatically increase. There is almost nothing, nothing that cannot be grown in that vast region.

The same goes for Western Australia, all that state needs is water. We have had the late Ernie’s (Bridge’s) pipe dream and Colin’s ditch and many other moves to move water from the North to the agricultural areas.

I have watched the Fitzroy River in flood for months, goodness knows how many Sydney Harbours  ran out into the Indian Ocean.

I have grown wheat in a dry year and watched it die before maturity. We have the answers to these challenges, it is about time we used them.

Make food Processing an industry to be proud of again.

We cannot continue to base our agricultural exports on produce to which we don’t add value and at one and the same time import food to which value has been added. We import potato chips from Europe and South Africa – how silly is that? We import pasta and export Duram wheat. I know! The amount of food we are importing is alarming and going up every year. Why is that when there is nothing I can think of that we cannot produce in this country? We did once upon a time, to find food from another country was unusual and usually a luxury item, now it is the norm and ever increasingly so.

If we are to be great food traders again our food processors need cheap power and good roads or rail to get their produce to well organised ports.

Coles, Woolworths and IGA.

The big three need to tell us why they scour the world for the cheapest food they can find, often at the expense of Australian producers. The farmers and the processors in Australia need their support – not just in trendy TV ads but in everything.

If ALDI becomes a force all over Australia we need to recognise that most of their food, apart from fresh food, is imported from the EU and mainly Germany – the trade must be reciprocal – Germany must take Australian produce – fairs fair.

Zero Carbon by When – 2050? -2035?

Nobody knows by when and nobody knows what it will cost. That is the world we live in.

According to the Royal Society it seem unlikely that increased levels of CO² to 550ppm will have any effect on crop yields of many of the crops important for harvestable food, known as the C4 group. So there is unlikely to be any benefit to food producers from climate change as it seems the world will rush headlong into carbon zero by 2050.

What farmers will almost certainly be challenged by is this rush to electrify everything. I have no idea and I don’t think anyone else has the foggiest idea what this will mean for agriculture – what will the change cost? Can today’s big trucks and huge tractors be electrified and presuming they can – what will it cost to change over?

Rural debt in Australia is increasing at about $1 billion a year and the real price of many crops like wheat have been in decline since the abolition of the Corn Laws in England in 1846. So your guess is as good as mine on prices producers will receive to pay for change.

Cheerio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Big Challenge – Housing those in Need

Princess Royal Harbour, Albany, Western Australia.

Albany, where I live, is on the banks of Princess Royal Harbour, one of the great natural harbours in the Southern Hemisphere.  This little historical town with its Mediterranean climate and a population of around 37,000 is the centre for the Great Southern Region of Western Australia.

The Great Southern Region with a population of about 60,000 stretches 200 km along the magnificent south coast  of Western Australia and for about the same distance inland.

Everywhere in the so-called Developed World homelessness is increasing — people are roaming the streets with nowhere to live  — and the Great Southern Region and Albany Town are no different to the rest of the world.

Reality in 2021.

In May 2018, here in Camelot, it was estimated that at least 200 people were homeless, maybe 300 .

It was reported that they were living in the sand dunes and anywhere where it was dry and in winter, warm. Men women and children were living in cars and couch surfing and where they could find somewhere, they would squat.

Those disturbing numbers were revealed in a ‘Feasibility Study’, commissioned by a number of businesses and organisations in Albany and the region, together with the Town of Albany and the Great Southern Development Commission, the regional arm of the West Australian Government.

The aim of the study was to ‘investigate developing crisis accommodation for the at risk population in the Great Southern Region.’

The report was excellent. It detailed the challenges the community faced in helping the homeless in the Great Southern Region. It identified a number of realistic and achievable answers. The problem was then and still is, funding. There is no money.

Therefore, surprise, surprise, nothing has really changed in the 3 years since that report was written, if anything the homeless numbers have increased, as they have all around  Western Australia.

The  crisis centres in the region are still full and inadequate. Some don’t have the money to stay open all year round.

Optus Stadium Perth Western Australia. Total cost $1.6 billion.

Why is it in our privileged world we can find millions even billions to provide sports facilities for everyone, many of which are only used once or twice a week, yet we struggle to find the money to put a roof over the heads, to provide shelter and warmth for the homeless, for the destitute?

The temperature as I write is 12.5C and there were hailstones 10cm deep in Albany this morning after a night of thunder, lightning and torrential rain. There is snow on the nearby Stirling Range — what the hell it must have been like trying to sleep rough or in a car last night, I cannot imagine. Probably hell.

Governments are always claiming they don’t have the money for this and for that except if it is for something that will attract votes. The homeless will never elect a government but that is no excuse to ignore study after study that show there are big savings available to government if only they would address the challenge of housing the homeless and not, cynically, have their eyes on the next election. This is one study:

In the 12 months after the 44 clients in this Perth-based study were housed, emergency admissions were reduced by 57% and overnight stays by 53%. The overall health-care saving was A$404,028.

Here’s another – note this is after housing was provided:

Even after deducting the cost of housing, a 2011 Australian study of 268 participants found savings of $2,182 per person after 12 months.

There have been so many of these studies, all have the same result. There is a return on investment when the homeless are housed which is as good or better than any investment governments may make and that is just the dollars. The improvement in the condition, the return on  the human capital is immeasurable.

So why don’t governments, both state and federal do something positive about the national shame of homelessness? We have a federal government which has just brought down a budget that has put the country into debt for decades, all designed they tell us, to provide funds so that Australia can recover from the Covid19 pandemic and build an infrastructure and a labour force for the future –a future, that, obviously, doesn’t include caring for the homeless.

Andrew Forrest of FMG celebrating iron ore prices

The Government of Western Australia is rolling in money as the price of iron ore sky rockets and other minerals, like gold, not far behind. Thirty per cent of the gross income of the WA Government is currently derived from royalties from the minerals being dug up and exported. So the question is why can’t some of this windfall go into homes for the 10,000 who are homeless in Western Australia?

The Story Gets Worse.

In addition to the hundreds of people who are homeless  there is a social housing waitlist in the Great Southern of 500, most of whom are in Albany. There are 15,700 families on the social housing waitlist in Western Australia, some 30,000 to 40,000 people.

That means that  between 1,000 and 1,500 people in the Great Southern are paying rents which they cannot afford and are therefore in the awful predicament of  ‘rent stress’.

Social or Community Housing is for those on low to moderate income and for those with a disability. There is an international standard which states that if anyone is paying more than 30% of their household income in rent then they are deemed to be under ‘financial or rent stress’.

Experience, not just in Albany, but around the world shows that when there is ‘rent stress’ the first item to be cut from the budget is food. Just ask Foodbank, ask the Salvos and the Vinnies about the demands on their services to provide for those, who after paying all their bills, have no money left  for food.

In the UK they have recognised this problem and free school lunches are provided for all children in grades 1 and 2, and to others where there is a social need. What a great idea and I’ll bet there are kids in Albany who wouldn’t mind a good feed at lunch time. What a caring way to ensure that our precious children grow to their potential during those early years and of course, don’t eat cheap junk food.

There is another factor in Albany that digs into the family budget and that is the lack of public transport and like everywhere, the lowest rents are those farthest away from the CBD, so having a car is a must and paying for it can be a problem and another drain on the family budget. That’s why so many turn up at Foodbank driving a car, it’s a necessity.

Our rural towns are shrinking, shops are boarded up the banks have gone and as the farms get bigger, big machinery with self steer and satellite navigation is replacing people. Increasingly people who have spent many years living and working on farms are now migrating to the regional centres. The majority are at the time of life when retraining is necessary and difficult, so it takes them time to settle into a new life.

There is no safety net for these people many of whom only have their furniture, a car and their superannuation available to them, the latter many years away, so they have no option but to accept a period of low wages as they retrain. Unable to fund a mortgage the only option is to rent, which invariably means ‘rent stress’.

As house prices escalate all over the country and rents increase, they are forecast to increase by another 20% in WA in the next 12 months, more and more people, people vital to the functioning of society and through no fault of their own are finding there is nowhere to rent and when there is, the rent will put them also into ‘rent stress’.

A few years ago there was a report from the UK discussing the need for social houses for ‘key workers’ in the London area found that ‘key workers’ like nurses, police, council employees  (garbage collectors, parks and garden workers etc), bus drivers (3000 vacancies) and the like, could no longer afford the rents that were being demanded.

Job vacancy rates were becoming an embarrassment for councils especially when they couldn’t put enough police on the beat, enough nurses into the hospitals and care homes and when the garbage was being left in the streets.

Some key workers had tried moving to the outer fringes of south east London where rents were lower, only to find the costs to get to work and the time it took on public transport negated what they saved on rent,  it became too hard and they quit and moved to a cheaper area.

‘Anthony Scantlebury from the GMB London Ambulance Service comments on a typical emergency workers daily routine:

“If you finish at 7pm in the evening, before you get home and get yourself sorted out, it is probably 10 o’clock at night. And then you need to leave home at half past four in the morning again to start work at seven.”

He continued “that cuts down on your sleep time and you get progressively more tired as the week goes on.”

Additionally, Ken Marsh, the chairman of metropolitan police federation has noted that whilst the very nature of policing has always been challenging, stress levels are the highest they have ever been, with the average shift being 10.5 hours. If one takes into consideration the commute of the officer from outside of London, this can lead to a 14-hour day.’

When I read the article I thought, that is London and their high prices, prices far in excess of prices in Australia and particularly in Perth – so it will never happen here.

https://www.ahuri.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/67607/AHURI-Final-Report-355-Housing-key-workers-scoping-challenges-aspirations-and-policy-responses.pdf

How wrong I was, the same challenge is now emerging not only in the big cities in Australia where the median house price is over $1 million and out of reach for nurses and police on $60,000 to $70,000 a year, but the problem is now spreading to some regional towns like Albany, where the median house price is $500,000.  There are houses in the $400,000 to $450,000 range however the mortgage on those houses over 20 years and with a $20,000 deposit incurs monthly repayments of about $1,700 which is more expensive than the cost of renting in the Great Southern at about $1,450 a month.

We Know the Extent of the Problem.

On the 27th and 28th of March 2021  Anglicare Western Australia (WA)  took a Snapshot to capture the number of properties suitable for people on low income. The results were disturbing to say the least. It found that the total number of rental properties throughout Western Australia on that weekend was 3,695, just half the number that were  available on the same weekend in 2020. For the South West it was down by 30%. The housing market boomed and landlords it seems, sold their investments, perhaps to help with the cost of the pandemic?

For those landlords left in the market the laws of supply and demand came into play and in spite of inflation and wage growth being at almost zero, the rates in the metro area increased by 16% from $370 to $430 per week, in the South West and Great Southern the increase was 12% from $330 to $370 and in the North West the rates had increased by 17% pushing the weekly rent to between $470 and $550.

That weekend in Western Australia:

  • Only 1% of rental properties in the state were available for rent. So 36 properties.
  •  98% of the properties available were not affordable to those on a minimum wage. Really none especially for the young.
  • 15,700 households were on the waitlist in Western Australia (around 30,000 people)
  • 8000 people were living in temporary accommodation, couch surfing, squatting, living in cars
  • 1000+ people were sleeping rough
What is Being Done to Meet the Need?
Photo: News.com

The story is a bad one for the State  where the Premier has been known to claim  WA is keeping Australia afloat with the boom in mining. In a State where nearly 30% of its gross income comes from mining royalties the lack of social conscience in a Labor government is breathtaking and and runs against the ethos of the party of the working man and woman. This is the record of the WA Government:

  • Over the last three years the number of social housing properties in Western Australia has declined by 1155.
  • Only 119 social housing properties were built in the last 3 years compared to 956 in 2016-17
  • For the period 2017-2020, the West Australian government delivered 224 new social housing homes, but sold off 726 social homes.

If those numbers seem a bit confusing it is because there are others in the business of providing social housing as well as the State Government and logically enough they are referred to as Community Housing Providers (CHPs) who are all not for profit companies.

Community Housing Providers.

In the main Community Housing Providers or CHPs, not for profit companies, in each state, do two things:

  • They manage a portfolio of properties for the State Government.
  • They build their own properties for rent under the same terms and conditions as the properties they manage for the government.

In the commercial rental market landlords only provide accommodation for rent when they can show an acceptable return on their investment. They can also increase the rent on the property when demand is strong, like now and they can, theoretically, reduce the rent to meet an oversupplied market.

Social Housing Perth, Western Australia. WA Government.

The same conditions do not apply to CHPs because they can only charge between 25% and 30% of the household income for rent. Only those with a low to moderate household incomes qualify for a CHP property, so, the CHP knows to within reasonable limits, what income it will derive from every property.

It also knows again within reasonable limits, what it will cost for each property in annual repairs and maintenance.

There are no concessions in the building industry for CHPs. CHPs pay commercial rates for land and they pay the same amount as any developer or builder to have houses built on that land.

What the CHP cannot do is charge a rent, comparable to the market rate which means that the CHP is denied a rate of return comparable to commercial rates, which in turn inhibits their ability to make a profit and put that money to build more houses to meet the ever increasing demands from the most vulnerable people in our community.

Research has shown and has been confirmed by CHPs new housing budgets,  that it is difficult for them to grow and provide homes to meet the ever growing need, without some help from government.

The West Australian Government has shown over the last few years that it isn’t really interested in providing homes for those who need them.

These statistics demand to be repeated again and again.

The state waitlist stands at nearly 18,000. Over the last 3 years the number of social houses in Western Australia has declined by 1,155.  Just 119 social housing properties were built in the last three years, compared with 956 in 2016/17 and over the last five years a total of 945 social housing properties were sold off. There has been a net loss of 502 properties which means the government of WA has sold more properties than it has built.

Where to From Here?

It is evident from their recent performance that the West Australian Government  doesn’t have social housing as a major item on their budget. It is also plain as day, that the Federal Government don’t know anything about the subject so they care even less. In the billions of dollars in the federal budget not one shekel has been allocated to one of the biggest challenges facing Australia today and that is housing the homeless and the needy.

Why is it that our normally rapacious governments don’t have any appetite to find homes for the homeless and those under rent stress, when the financial gain to them is substantial and proven? Do they not want the pressure on the health service reduced? Do they not want more money to put into medical research, or aged care?

Money is as cheap now as it will ever be, CHPs are in a good position to borrow, to build to meet the needs of our most disadvantaged, what these not for profit organisations need is some understanding and some help not only from governments but from society in general, from philanthropists in particular, no matter how big or small, to help them build a solid foundation to build more houses well into the future. The problem is only getting bigger and it will not go away without a huge effort from every sector of society.

There is a great story in the Bible of the Good Samaritan. A man was beaten by robbers and left for dead. A priest came by and passed on the other side, so to did a Levite, but a Samaritan crossed the road and gave aid to the man, put him on his donkey, cared for him at an inn and when he left he gave the innkeeper money to take care of the man and said that if more was spent then he would pay it on his return.

I am not an outwardly religious person, but I have remembered that story because it is all about care, care for neighbours, treating neighbours like you would want to be treated. It is time that pressure was put on our governments by the voters of this land to take care of  our neighbours, those who deserve a roof over their heads and enough money to pay for food.

Think about it tonight when you have dinner and then later go to a warm and clean bed.

Note: I am a director of a Community Housing Provider. The views expressed here I mine and mine alone and not necessarily those of the CHP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Must Not Give Our Birthright Away.

Henry David Thoreau, circa 1850. ‘I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage.’

For the sake of future generations, Australia must not give away its birthright for  a mess of pottage.

I wrote the following after a long  on-line discussion.  It was the culmination of a larger debate about the real cost of renewable energy. I have tidied up a few phrases for clarity.

Thank you for your considered replies. I am in my eighties. My profession is agriculture from farming to science to agribusiness.

I have watched this country change substantially over the last 50 years or so. That we have largely lost our ability to be self-sufficient in some of the vital parts of our economy concerns me greatly.

Manufacturing jobs have been exported, it started way back when, when it was to Japan because their labour was cheaper than ours. Then there were others others like Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and Russia for wool. Now we have China.

Fifty years ago , even twenty years ago we were self sufficient in oil, now our position is strategically fragile because the majority of our oil has to make two trips through the South China Sea and there is tension on that sea as China builds artificial islands.

There was a time we were self sufficient in food, now we rely heavily on imports, our food processing and manufacturing industry has fled due, in the main, to high power costs, much of it has gone to NZ, where they now process Chinese produce and then send it here — we eat frozen Chinese fruit and vegetables.

Continue reading “We Must Not Give Our Birthright Away.”

It doesn’t make sense.

In July of this year a $22 billion proposal by Sun Cable Pty Ltd, a company which is backed by by two Australia  billionaires Fortesque Metals founder Andrew Forrest and and Atlassian co-founder (with Scot Farquhar) Mike Cannon-Brookes was  granted ‘major project status’ by the Australian Government to investigate the building in the Northern Territory of a massive 10-gigawatt solar farm (40 million panels) coupled to a 30Gwh storage facility, which I presume means a big battery.

Continue reading “It doesn’t make sense.”

The China Paradox and Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.

China buys 30% of  Australia’s exports.

The news that China accounts for thirty percent of Australia agricultural exports demonstrates how reliant the Australian rural economy has become on the People’s Republic of China.

That news caused some to question the wisdom of the marketers of Australian food and wine in placing such a heavy reliance on just one customer.

That is valid question, but  did you know that  China buys 30% of everything Australia exports.

Agricultural exports are just a mirror image of what is going on in the rest of the country. In 2017-18 Australia exported goods and services worth a staggering $123 billion to China equal to 6.7% of the Australia Gross Domestic Product.

Continue reading “The China Paradox and Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.”

The Myth of a Level Playing Field.

Albanese calls for a more 'resilient' society | Canberra CityNewsMr Albanese, the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, has a poor grasp of Australian political history.

Mr Albanese recently roundly criticised Treasurer  Josh Frydenberg for channeling Margaret Thatcher  and the policies employed by her to ensure the much needed economic recovery in the UK following Prime Minister James Callaghan and his self inflicted demise in his ‘winter of discontent’ of 1978/79.

Callaghan finally decided to call a General Election in 1979 after the country had been ravaged for years by high inflation and unemployment.  In 1978/79 strikes in both the private and public sectors almost crippled the country.

Uncollected rubbish was left to rot in the streets of London, the dead were not being buried, there was a mounting national shortage of food and fuel due to the truck driver’s refusing to work, which all combined to cause a crisis so bad the government considered declaring a state of emergency and mobilising the troops to take over vital services.

Eventually, after strikes which were violent at times, the unions got the wage increases they wanted but it was a pyrrhic victory for them. The country, the people had had enough of the militant unions shambolically and carelessly wrecking the economy, so when they got the chance they elected Margaret Thatcher to be the first woman to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

In eleven years Margaret Thatcher rebuilt the UK economy and made it world competitive and respected if not liked around the world.

Albanese  rejected what he saw as Frydenberg’s move to Thatcherism in favour his more Keynesian way of more and more government spending to build infrastructure and particularly social housing, for which, admittedly, there is a great need all over Australia.

Does Mr Albanese not know or does it suit his argument not to recognise that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were the first Australian leaders to employ economic rationalism —  they were the first true disciples of Margaret Thatcher?

They were Thatcherites through and through, they introduced Free Trade Agreements, globalisation and the ‘market economy’ to Australia.

It was under their government  that we started to see the demise of the Australian manufacturing and food processing industry — all in the name of being ‘world competitive’.

It was also the start of a deliberate campaign to reduce the political power of agriculture in Australia.

Continue reading “The Myth of a Level Playing Field.”

Is the Future of Wheat Growing in Australia a Catch 22?

The Story so Far.

The question that should be asked is whether large swathes of wheat growing land in Australia and particularly in Western Australia will be viable in the future? Because if the answer is no, then now is the time to start looking at the ways  and the means for restructuring Australia’s wheat belt.

There are two conflicting forces at work. Two opinions based on two areas of science:

1. Soil amelioration is becoming popular in Western Australia in an effort to improve crop yields. It is expensive, in some cases very expensive. There are yield gains to be had, how long the gains last is open for debate because they vary site by site. There are also problems particularly with soil stability and structure.

2. Climate scientists are predicting falls in crop yields in Western Australia over the next twenty years to levels which I predict will make it uneconomic to grow wheat given the year on year rise in costs and the decline in the real price of wheat over the last fifty years.

Continue reading “Is the Future of Wheat Growing in Australia a Catch 22?”

PROJECT IRON BOOMERANG

Lang Hancock’s 1979 Queensland-Pilbara Rail-steel Proposal comes to life in 2020. 

Lang Hancock 1980.

On the morning of Sunday June 11th 1975, passengers aboard Lang Hancock’s 70th Birthday “Wake Up Australia!” jumbo-jet flight will be flying due east from the Pilbara towards Alice Springs over some of the most desolate country in the world. Below them will be the proposed route of the Pilbara-Queensland Railway — the visionary scheme which may within a decade forge a link of steel across the north of Australia. Here Lang Hancock puts a compelling case for a project which can do at least as much for Australia as the Snowy River Scheme; and without soaking the taxpayer.

We have our heads well and truly in the sand. How do we dig them out?’

Lang Hancock in 1975.

Now in 2020 Lang Hancock’s dreams are well on their way to becoming reality.

Lang Hancock discovered iron ore in the Pilbara in 1952 and defied the predictions from officialdom that Australia would be importing iron ore by 1965, instead by that time he was supplying half the Japanese market. By 1975 Australia was the biggest exported of iron ore in the world.

 Here are a few extracts from a presentation by a man with an extraordinary vision: Continue reading “PROJECT IRON BOOMERANG”

Building for the Future

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill.

There now seems to be a general consensus within the community and especially within the agricultural community, that Australia’s reliance on China has lulled us all into a false sense of security. We have been complacent. We have been happy to accept the contribution China has made to our standard of living by making available to us a range of ‘goods’ at prices that have been more than acceptable.

We have been more than happy to receive their tourists in their tens of  thousands and a similar number of students without whom some of our universities, especially the regional ones, cannot manage. There could well be cold economic winds this winter on some campuses.

China has infiltrated our lives to the extent that there is an argument that we cannot now manage without them.

But manage without them we must; we must change. China’s aggression towards Australia is a sober reminder that they are a communist totalitarian regime intent upon the control and subjugation of others including Australia.

Continue reading “Building for the Future”

Beer – Beef and China.

“An economic rule states that one should never underestimate the inability of free marketers to use common sense,”

K J Galbraith 2006. Lincoln Journal.

One of the interesting aspects of the current debate on the behaviour of China towards Australia, after Australia asked for an enquiry  into the source of Covid19, is that many of those who are well known as journalists and commentators, and even some hopelessly naive Australian politicians, and we have our share of them, have shown most clearly that they know little to nothing about the art of negotiation or as many of us know it by another name ‘bloodless warfare.’

It is well known that when it comes to selling their wares farmers around the world are weak, some weaker than others. It is also well known and oft quoted the statement by President J F. Kennedy “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” These days we would say ‘person’ but the statement remains correct. The question is what have farmers done, particularly in Australia, to redress what is an iniquitous situation?

Continue reading “Beer – Beef and China.”