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.

There are fewer of us every year who can remember in the dark days of WWII and the subsistence food rationing in Britain and to a lesser extent in Australia. In the UK rationing didn’t finish until 1954. Obesity was unknown.

Thirty years later Britain was a net exporter of food.

I won’t be around in 2050. I won’t be around to see if this world has managed to feed 9 billion.

What I do know is that during my lifetime most insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and many other ‘cides’ have been invented. They, and we owe our very existence to science. It is science that has enabled the ever shrinking arable area on this earth to feed the ever increasing population. Have we made mistakes in that time? Of course!

Science by its very nature is experimental.

We know more about plant nutrition than we knew fifty years ago. World wheat yields have more than doubled in my lifetime thanks to the ‘Green Revolution’, a product of science, and my children and grandchildren and your children and grandchildren will have to do it again if they are to meet their challenge of 9 billion mouths to feed in 2050.

The alternative is starvation and rationing. Ration books and coupons. Hunger. Queues for simple things like bread and potatoes, and meat.

Why am I sad about Kojonup? Because it is a debate about the unimportant, which, as depicted in the picture, only the lawyers, the man milking the cow, can win.

This is what is important and what we should be doing something about. This is where we should be putting our energy.

In 2011-12, Australia exported $30.5 billion worth of food compared to food imports of $11.3 billion. Both sets of figures from ABS are provisional.

This is the sad part. In 2006-7 food imports cost us $8.2 billion. Five years later we imported food worth $11.3 billion. It gets worse:

FIGURE 20 Trends in Australian food trade

Description: Line chart showing the trending increase in exports, net exports and imports between 1991-92 and 2011-2012. Exports had the highest value across the entire period, increasing from ~$19b in 1991-92 to over $30b in 2011-12.


Data source: ABS (2013b)

That is not a pretty graph. Instead of rushing off to Court to settle a tiff, as a farming community we should be asking, why? Why is this happening to us? Why are we just giving up and importing more? When will the blue and green lines cross?

We will always be able to feed ourselves with fresh produce as we do now, over 90% of our fruit and vegetables are home grown. The only way that could change is if for some strategic reason China floods the fresh food market by increasing their horticultural production by about 4%. That’s scary isn’t it?

The numbers do not lie; progressively the food we import will become more expensive because the worldwide demand for it will increase. It may well be happening now as we watch, without a murmur, our food processing industry disappear overseas or just close down.

Think we have cheap food? Look at this from ABS. It’s still good business in Australia to be pushing prices down, down, down, especially when imports are going up, up, up:

Retail margins of Australian and international supermarket chains 2010-11 a

Description: Column chart comparing retail margins of Australian and international supermarket chains in 2010-11. Woolworths’ food and liquor division had the greatest share in the Australian region, with under 8% margin, while Wall-mart led the international region with over 6%.



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