In the last issue of the Global Farmer I discussed the need for change based on a strategic plan for the behemoth called Australian agriculture. It is not possible to look at the whole until the parts have been examined.
To start with the wheat industry is logical and relevant considering this is the time of year to review last year and make plans for and give a commitment to the next season and beyond.
The headline says it all, based on current trends, the wheat industry in Australia will be gone in twenty three years. If you are having difficulty in trying to remember what was going on in Australian agriculture twenty three years ago, it was five years after the wool price crash and we were all being told to get rid of our world beating merino sheep. That is how close we are to the demise of the Australian wheat industry. It won’t happen like the wool crash, for those who refuse to recognise the signs it will be a slow, painful and imposed exit.
Who would have thought it? This year Australian agricultural exports could be just $3 billion less than the darling of every politician and the maker of billionaires in this country, iron ore. The leaders of this land love to wear the high vis vests, helmets and glasses, tug their forelocks and queue up to have a ‘selfie’ with ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Gina Rhinehart or make sure they are seen wining and dining with the captains of BHP, Rio Tinto and anybody in the A League of world business. I haven’t noticed the Prime Minister or the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition queuing up to have their selfies taken with the President of the National Farmers Federation or the leaders of our state farmer organisations to say ‘thank you’ for the contribution agriculture is making to the economy of this great country. What a dreadful display of ignorance, an indictment against the government and the opposition of this country that they cannot spare the time to be seen saying ‘thank you’ to the thousands of Australian farmers, for striving to achieve the targets predicted in March of this year by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) that total agricultural production for 2017 will be $63.8 billion and that exports could reach $48.7 billion.
If anything serious happens in world affairs, like a little war, which interrupts for a couple of weeks the flow of fuel tankers reaching Australia, life as we know it will very quickly grind to a halt. Australia has less than 30 days supply of fuel and oil in the country. Farmers will unable to sow or harvest their crops. They will be unable to get their produce to market whether it be grain, livestock or fresh food. It is said that everything at some time in its life is moved by truck. Take a long look at Fig 3 below and calculate how long you can manage without your medicines at home and in the hospital and how long you can manage for food if there isn’t any in the supermarket. The freight trains will stop. The power stations that rely on coal will have to dig into their reserves and then what? No fuel for the coal trains. There is just three days supply of petrol in the petrol stations. When that runs out how do the kids get to school and how do the majority get to work?
Michael West, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney, on March 14 2017, in an article in The Conversation, discloses that there is no shortage of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Australia or in the world, in fact there is a glut. The people of Australia and particularly landholders have been treated deplorably by the international energy industry. As pressure was put landowners and governments by the energy industry to allow prospecting for more gas, coal seam gas (CSG), on some of the most valuable agricultural land in Australia, landowners feared for their future and fought for their property rights. What the landholders didn’t know was that all the time the international energy industry was being less than honest with them, the Governments of Australia and the people of Australia. What follows are parts Professor West’s convincing article in The Conversation. Together with comments from me regarding the apparent dishonesty, at best, of the international energy industry. I thank Professor West and The Conversation for the material provided. I hope this time we can cause an outrage and have questions answered.
A global cartel has manufactured a gas crisis in Australia, when in fact there is a world wide glut. On the 14th of April Professor West predicted (and it happened) that the Prime Minister would be prevailed upon by the cartel to stay away from doing for Australia what the Carpenter Government did for Western Australia when it secured for WA 15% of the Pluto gas field production for WA. The cartel will plead with the Turnbull government not to interfere with ‘the market’ and encourage it to persuade State governments to issue licences to explore the Australian landscape for coal seam gas (CSG) so as to avoid an impending gas shortage. Put ‘there is no gas shortage’ into you search engine and you will find that the lies of the cartel prevail.
According to Prof West there is no such thing as a ‘gas market’. Six big companies have formed a cartel and control the market price: Santos, Exxon, BHP, Origin, Arrow Energy and Shell. Michael West claims ‘Markets have visible prices and quantities on the bid and offer. The cartel even hides information about its gas reserves from government.’
In his first one hundred days in office the President of the United States has done something which the governments of Australia have been too frightened to do in a thousand days. The big message from the White House is that agriculture is important to America — the big message from Canberra is that agriculture isn’t important to Australia.
Sure, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia is proud of agriculture’s contribution of $54 billion to the national economy. What he refuses to discuss in public is the lack of profitability for many of the producers who contribute to that $54 billion. He avoids discussing the ever increasing damage being caused by rural debt, low commodity prices, a poor and outdated infrastructure and a banking sector out of control.
President Trump, as one would expect coming from the dog eat dog construction and real estate industry in America, obviously knows the difference between strategy and tactics. Love him or hate him, respect him or despise him, he has achieved what many believed was impossible. The evidence is that both the Coalition and the Labor Party and all those strange individuals who nobody voted for, who spend their time scampering around the dark corners of Parliament House ‘currying favour’ and ‘horse trading’ with the future of this country, are all providing irrefutable evidence that they are seriously deficient in the strategy department. What they all have is a grab bag, a lucky dip of tactics. We are now running the country with party games. God save the Queen because nothing can save Australian politics.
About 2,500 years ago, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War.” In it, he said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Barnaby Joyce could do worse than take a page out of Donald’s book — we’ll overlook plagiarism just this once. Look at what the President has asked the new Agriculture Secretary to do in the next 180 days. That is a business man speaking, bringing hard nosed business into politics. Will it work? Only time will tell.
Why do we put up with governments who do nothing for our national security?
It is Friday March 3 2017 at 08.00 hrs. On ABC AM this morning at about 10minutes 29 seconds into the programme, Andrew Davies from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, announced we only have about three weeks supply of petrol in store in Australia — three weeks!! (search in the archive for the AM programme of March 3, otherwise you will get today’s programme) He raises the possibility of any tension between America and China could close off the sea route through the South China Sea and so cut of our supply of fuel from Singapore, on whom we are almost totally reliant. The story gets worse because it is not a new problem, there is a story in The Conversation from 2013 which forecast an impending fuel supply crisis unless the government of the day took strong action. It didn’t happen. The point needs to be made made it wouldn’t need a full blown war to disrupt fuel supplies, just a disagreement between the world super powers and the shipping routes that service Australia could close and we would run out of not only fuel but everything we import by sea.
In this issue I republish the simple truth from a leader in Australian grain marketing, Mr Palmquist from GrainCorp. He confronts us with the unpleasant reality that an antiquated infrastructure is being paid for by grain growers and I suppose by definition he is saying the only ones paying, are the growers. An expensive infrastructure, together with the poorest world wheat prices for more than a decade are wrecking the budgets of Australian wheat producers. This grain trader says he has no option but to pass the costs on to the grower — he would say that wouldn’t he? He only has to answer to shareholders — growers only have to answer to the bank. As an example he claims it’s cheaper to move grain from Ukraine to Indonesia than it is to move it 350 kilometers from Swan Hill to Geelong.
Two reports from the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) on the competition Australia will almost certainly face from Ukraine and Russia in the wheat markets of the future should be compulsory reading for all wheat farmers in Australia. They provide a sobering analysis of the wheat market and will force the sensible to seriously contemplate their future.
We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.
Dame Iris Murdoch 1919 – 1999.
Stranger than fiction.
The post harvest stories, some of them as close to fiction as one can get without the author claiming to be a novelist, have recently appeared in both the national and the agricultural media. Minister Joyce is on the front foot; that is when it isn’t in his mouth, determined to persuade the Australian electorate, through a compliant media, that all is well in Australian agriculture and that the emerging Right in politics in Australia (Hanson) and around the world (Trump and Brexit), has nothing to offer to those who live outside the ever increasing majesty and grandeur of the State capital cities of Australia.
I have used the words ‘majesty and grandeur’ quite deliberately. Around Australia billion of dollars has been spent on State capital cities, much of that money is for the enjoyment and the pleasure of those who live in those cities. As we shall see, as billions has been spent on shoring up the city vote with new sports stadiums and the like, the infrastructure vital to agriculture has been allowed to deteriorate and in some cases decay to the extent that we are no longer world competitive — we can no longer, at times, but ever increasingly, compete for markets around the world.
The Nationals heartland is in rural Australia, it’s the country folk who get them into parliament. In WA they did a deal with the Liberal Party, which put the Liberals into government and some National members into key positions in the WA Government. Again, and have we seen it too often, a minority determining government policy? The Nationals are now worried that Hanson, the Hunters Shooters and Fishers Party and maybe others will replace them in Parliaments around the country and in so doing, replace them in holding the balance of power.
Minister Joyce wants everyone in the country to believe that record high prices for livestock and an ever-increasing demand for wool are the beginning, as one journalist put it, of a ‘golden era’ for the farmers of Australia. Coupled with what some are calling a record harvest, what could possibly go wrong for Minister Joyce and the wheat farmers of Australia? Well this for starters. Continue reading “Is the Australian wheat industry finished?”
The World Wheat Market – Where is it going and where are we going with it?
The recent comments reported to be made by Greg Harvey, Interflour’s Australian born Chief Executive, that Australian wheat is too expensive for the markets in Indonesia and Singapore defies belief. If we cannot be competitive in the big and expanding markets on our doorstep, with wheat at the price it is at present, where will that leave Australian grain merchants selling into markets around the world? What price for growers at the next harvest?
The move into Interflour was strategic for Cooperative Bulk handling making vertical integration a reality for Australian wheat growers. Recent announcements have reported Interflour expanding into Vietnam. Cooperative Bulk Handling the West Australian grain handling and marketing cooperative owns 50% of Interflour. Interflour, which now owns nine flour mills across Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey is, one would think, integral to the prosperity of WA wheat production, if it is to meet the challenges of market expansion in the region in which Interflour operate.
This story fits in quite nicely with another story. A few years ago I was talking to a lady whose family had decided to build a new biscuit factory in Indonesia rather than Perth and then export their biscuits into Australia and around the world. I found their biscuits and good they were too, on the shelves of Woolworths. Out of curiosity and because of what was on their label I phoned their Perth office. The lady was quite open in claiming that it was cheaper ‘for them’ to build a new factory and manufacture in Indonesia than in Perth. She claimed their factory was as clean as any Australian hospital and having a base in Indonesia it opened up the world wide Halal biscuit market to them.
I said I hoped they always used Australian wheat. Her answer was something like ,’We do when we can, at the moment we are using British wheat. Sometimes we can’t get Australian wheat.’ I never thought to ask if that was because of price — It never entered my head. If Australian wheat remains too expensive — just look at the markets below.
So who in this land of the free protects the weak and poor, like the Cronin family, from the financially strong like Ferrier Hodgson and the National Australia Bank? The answer is nobody, at least nobody that we have been able to find—we are still looking.
Man walks up to jewellers shop window, chucks a brick through it, grabs a couple of trays of diamond rings and then an hour or two later finds himself wearing steel bracelets and in the back of a Paddy Wagon.
His mate, who the robber had taken into his confidence, had hidden around the corner, took a video of the robbery, sold it to the police and collected the reward.
No excuses for the NRL player recently videoed behaving very badly, but the cockroach, the traitor who took and sold the pictures got something like $40k from the media scum is different. That cockroach deserves a punishment far worse than that metered out to the player.
The other one dobbed in his mate and if he has any vestige of a conscience will have to live with his treachery all of his life.
What motivated the two video enthusiasts? Greed. Greed caused the Global Financial Crisis and few if any ‘on Wall Street’ who caused that crisis were punished, they took their government funded retirement packages and disappeared as wealthy men.
Money Never Sleeps – Neither do the Greedy.
Perversely the 2010 film ‘Wall Street-Money Never Sleeps’ the sequel to the famous 1987 film ‘Wall Street’ starring Michael Douglas became almost cult films. Both stories concentrated on greed and both, apparently, caused a rush of graduate applicants both in America and the UK wanting to work in the banking industry.
One of the few advantages of being over a three quarters of a century young is (thankfully) I can still look back with a deal of clarity and compare yesteryear with today. Don’t jump to conclusions—this is not about the good old days. I have only reached this age because there are cures for what killed many of my ancestors. ‘Jack the Magic Dancer’ is not the man he was and I continue, helped by some very clever people, to beat him. I cannot help but compare our wonderful health system with our antiquated legal system. It is as if we are frightened to change, little realising that an antiquated legal system increases the cost of the health service. Think about it.
My age and my experience were on my mind a lot while was writing the last two episodes of the Global Farmer. I have contemplated if the world has changed or whether I have? Whenever I have started to write this series, the word GREED has materialised on the screen—so I thought this month I should pay it some attention.
I should also declare I have only been to one mortgagee’s sale in my life. I only went to fly the flag. I was a farm manager so the chequebook wasn’t all mine but there was nothing to stop me, for a mate, pushing the bidding if needed.
I saw the mortgagor’s wife in tears while she was serving tea and sandwiches with the other ladies from the CWA. I didn’t stay for the sale. The mortgagor had borrowed to pay a family member out who was a ‘sleeper’ in the family farm. Then we had two dry years and he had a fire over half the farm. I learned later they had a good sale, the neighbours rallied round so he didn’t need me after all. Someone bought his farm ute and gave it back to him.
Then I heard that a neighbour had bought the farm from the receivers and leased it back to the original owner. That was back in the 70s. Maybe many of us were still pulling chains and rakes around clearing land, just like those before us had done going back generations? Maybe there were too many ‘battlers’ there to kick a ‘mate’ when he was down? There were the exceptions of course, there were the ‘greedy’ ones hunting a bargain, but the neighbours outbid them.