A Lidl of what you fancy does you good.

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Photo: Oxygen IE

European Bank Subsidised Lidl Expansion with A$1200 million.

This article owes its origins to an intriguing report originally published by GRAIN. You will see why I found it intriguing when you get to it. I have spent some time on the Global Farmer discussing agricultural subsidies, little did I know and I’m sure you didn’t, that the Guardian Newspaper recently revealed German discount supermarket giant Lidl and its sister chain Kaufland have benefited from almost US$900 million (A$1200 million) in public development money over the last ten years. Is this just another form of subsidy to encourage the global expansion of European supermarkets and European food?

The companies, owned by the large retail company Schwarz Group and controlled by one of Germany’s wealthiest families, received loan funding from a little-known wing of the World Bank and from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). There is no suggestion there was anything ‘wrong’ with the funding, as you will see it is part of the specific mandate of these organisations funded by taxpayers and owned by governments to encourage local development, in this case in Europe.

The German Federal government, on their website has been heavily promoting both Lidl and Aldi in America to help it to become established in that country and, no doubt, sell food that has been made or produced in Germany. Lidl like Aldi, also sell a range of German made hardware, electrical goods and many other things.

Aldi already have stores in Australia and it is understood they plan many more. Lidl are also planning a chain of stores throughout Australia. In what seem like a few years in the UK they have secured over 10% market share and are causing both Tesco and Waitrose, the two biggest food retailers in the UK, to review their business plans.

They have made no secret about being ‘aggressive’ with their entry into America. Maybe interesting times for the Australian consumer, but what about the producers and what few processors are left, what of the future for them?

Continue reading “A Lidl of what you fancy does you good.”

This little Piggy – #2

It’s all a load of pigs.

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I thought the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, might have a view, which he could share with us regarding the alarming statistic that 80% of all processed pig meat consumed in this country is imported. I was wrong.

I thought he might, together with his state counterparts, also have a view on the plague of  wild pigs, some twenty million many say, that roam this land and by their very existence threaten our major livestock industries. I was wrong.

I accept that in spite of what I have written those who administer agriculture in this country don’t know or don’t care or both, about the domestic pig industry and threat feral pigs present to our livestock industries.

Preamble.

It would be easy, when reading what follows, to conclude that as the author, I am suffering from an acute case of self-righteous indignation because nobody in government, anywhere in Australia, has responded in a positive way to my original article and personal letters. So before anyone has such scurrilous thoughts, I should explain myself.

I understand that it is in the view of the Australian government, as demonstrated by their actions, that it’s easier or they are more content, paying interest on the money the country has borrowed and continues to borrow, in part to pay for the shortfall in our balance of payments, that is we import more than we export, than pay that money to Australian farmers so that this country can be where it should be, self sufficient in food.

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Compiled from: ABARES Agricultural commodity statistics 2014 Table 7 by Ben Rees. The difference between the Trade balance and B.O.P is net income flow. Net Income flow comprises net flows of interest on debt , dividends and transfer payments.

I also understand that this is a free country and that Coles and Woolworths who between them control 80% of the food retailing business are free to roam the world seeking the cheapest food they can get their hands on so they can continue their price war with the objective of increasing their respective market share, so they are part of our balance of payments problem. It is quite evident they would rather do that than support the Australian pig industry, so that it can employ and deploy, by the size it could be, the latest in technology and science in the world of pig meat production, from genetics to processing. The rise in food imports and the decline in food processing in this country I have written about before —but here it is again in case you have forgotten. Trends in Australian food trade.

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Stats ABS. We are always ready to believe our own propaganda. Food exports, whether we like it or not have been falling, imports have been rising. Food processing in this country has been falling.

I will also show in a later article that not only China, but many countries within our region, like us, import thousands of tonnes of pig meat from the EU, America and Canada, when we in Australia, as it were, are on their doorstep and desperate to grow our export trade.

Am I being dramatic?

It would be easy to construe that I am being a bit dramatic when I write about the threat wild pigs present to the livestock industries in Australia. I deal with this matter specifically later in this article — there is just one thing I would like to add, well two really. I have twice seen, first hand, the devastation that Foot and Mouth disease can cause – both times in the UK. The first time when I was about 13, the family put a barrier across the narrow lanes leading to the farm. There was disinfected straw everywhere even the crows were viewed with suspicion. The closest outbreak was five miles away. The fear in my family was palpable. Their dairy herd was their pride and joy and the sheep that grazed the mountains provided stability to the tenuous hold they had on their post-war hill farm.

The second time was maybe twenty years ago, when I was working over there for a few weeks. An outbreak was traced back to northern England and within days they were searching for sheep and cattle all over Europe. Meat exports stopped and markets closed. The losses ran into billions of pounds. Both events, disasters, caused the massive loss of some of the best animal genetics in the world. When it was all over there was a debate on whether if it happened again, the UK would start vaccinating. I think it was decided it would be impractical considering the movement of livestock around the EU.

Some countries in South America do vaccinate and they have developed internationally recognised foot and mouth free zones and this has enabled them to continue to sell boxed beef into Europe. They continue to export live cattle to those countries, mainly in South America, which have F & M.

Writing letters.

I wrote to the Federal Minister for Agriculture. I didn’t get a reply or even an acknowledgement of receipt of my letter.

There are obviously more important matters of State and photo opportunities regarding national biosecurity than 20 million wild pigs – like Johnny Depp’s dogs. They are not coming back evidently, not the dogs, but Mr and Mrs Depp.

This was the letter I wrote to Minister Joyce: Continue reading “This little Piggy – #2”

Multi Peril Crop Insurance. Part 2.

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I received the following paper from Ben Rees, who is an economist and farmer, or farmer and economist, not sure which comes first these days. A man with many decades of experience in the economics of agriculture, Ben is deeply involved in the debate on the future direction of Australian agriculture.

The last paragraph in Ben’s paper, which questions the legality of MPCI, should cause the promoters of MPCI to at least ponder and then ponder again. Particularly Mr Tehan.

There is interest and support in high places of government for MPCI. Has MPCI been politicised to gain support among the electorate without the proponents explaining the cost? Certainly this graph is a few years old but the trend line is obvious, maybe if it has changed direction you will let me know? By that I mean whether there is sufficient above the line to afford MPCI.

image012Graph ABARES

You can read how deeply concerned Ben is about agriculture and particularly the drought situation in Queensland and NSW by going to:

Opinion: Why drought aid is a travesty of policy

Roger Crook

Roger,

The Senate Economics Legislative asked me a question on notice at the Inquiry on March 18th. The question was to compile a short note on multi peril crop insurance. It appears that the House Economics Committee led by Dan Tehan from Victorian Western Districts is pushing it. Also the policy panacea White paper will recommend it.

This attached note was subsequently submitted and accepted by the Senate Economics legislative Committee. It should have been incorporated in Hansard. I do not know if you can publish; but, at least you know it is being pushed at high levels.

cheers

Ben

I have checked and it is legal to publish, as it has been published by the Parliament of Australia.(Editor)

Continue reading “Multi Peril Crop Insurance. Part 2.”

This Little Piggy Went To Market.

The next time you have bacon and eggs, you can be 80 per cent certain that the bacon you are eating has been imported. Your meal will consist of a rasher or two of the forecast 149,000 tonnes of pig meat that will arrive on our shores during 2014-15.

Ten years ago we were importing about 75,000 tonnes a year. With a few stumbles along the way that figure has now doubled to 149,000 tonnes or nearly 2,900 tonnes a week—that’s a lot of pig. Continue reading “This Little Piggy Went To Market.”

Can we live without China?

 

The Changing of the Guard.

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Every picture tells a story.

Preamble.

Over recent times as Australian agriculture has endured droughts, poor prices and incompetent governments; amid the chaos there have been two major overriding topics for discussion.

The first has been trying to separate the rumours, the gossip and the chit chat from the truth regarding the extent, the size of Chinese investment in Australian agriculture, in land, as distinct from agribusiness or food processing. 

There is a body of opinion that claims Chinese interests, including Sovereign Funds have made substantial purchases of land in Australia, using a variety of investment vehicles, which have enabled them to avoid scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB).

We have the figures from the FIRB and we name who the biggest investors in Australia agriculture have been over recent times and the results will surprise you. China is at the bottom of the list, below Hong Kong. So why the public and in some cases political interest in China who ‘officially’ appear to be a minor investor? Is it xenophobia, fear, nationalism? — they all mean the same thing really. Do we fear China and is that because we don’t understand them? Whose fault is that?

These are difficult questions for us as a people and as an industry. It is a far more serious question for the media, and I believe the media should shoulder a great deal of the blame, because they have wrung every bit of emotion they can out of China and Chinese investment in Australia, giving voice to rumour and innuendo.  Yet the records show that the media have been at least less than diligent and probably lazy in failing to report who the big, billion dollar plus, non-Chinese investors have been in Australian agricultural land over recent years.

The second big question is, forgetting agriculture, can we now manage, as a country, without China? We have all but exported our manufacturing base, everything from engineering, to clothing to hardware to food processing — you name it, what we once made ourselves we now get from China.

If it’s ‘Made in China’ it’s designed to be affordable. The more we buy from China the more dependent we become on them and the more vulnerable we are as the alternatives become uncompetitive.

The resource boom of the last last decade should have made Australia strong but there’s a fly in the ointment, Barclay’s Bank Kieran Davies reports that Australian household debt is equal to 130% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) this compares to an average of 78% average across the advanced world making us more vulnerable than most to another financial crisis.

So we’ve spent the boom on paying ourselves wages and salaries big enough to build the biggest houses in the world with ‘entertainment centres’ and a bathroom for every resident, double garages to hold the boat and the dual cab 4wd ‘trucks’. Enough left over to holidays to exotic destinations and the like — instead of spending our money on our country, on the infrastructure future generations will need to make us world competitive.

China is now the world’s largest economy. America will fight them for that position — but no matter what happens, China’s influence on the Australia will continue to grow.

Australia’s challenge will be to find the point of balance in our relationship between our greatest ally, America, and the country we cannot manage without — China.

Continue reading “Can we live without China?”

China and Australia – A Little Knowledge could be a Dangerous Thing.

The Chinese Century?

I was reading just today that the view is commonly held in the world of Geo-politics that the 21st century is ‘The Chinese Century’
There have been numerous articles in the ‘Global Farmer’ about China and the challenges that country faces in feeding it’s people today and more importantly the problems it will face in the future as it becomes home to a third of the worlds population.  China is the world’s biggest wheat grower and something like 70% of that area is irrigated. Like many areas in the world the extraction rate on the aquifers on which China relies is greater than the re-charge rate. Soon we will reveal what food China already imports.
There are numerous articles on the www of China’s plans to build a canal from Tibet into China. A State engineer claims in can be done without pumping, which seems extraordinary. Perhaps that will solve their problems, but I gather there are many barriers, not the least being India and international conservation groups. See: The Globalist.
The view is held that irrigated wheat is unsustainable in China and that the area of dry land wheat will grow and China will continue to buy wheat land in other counties where ever it can. With a rapidly ageing farming population in Australia, a large number of farms either for sale voluntarily or being pushed, and with Australian investors keeping their hands in their pockets and off their wallets, I don’t think a few extra dollars will deter either the foreign urban or rural land investor. In fact I think the measure is just plain silly and ignores reality and is a lolly for the anti foreign investor chatterati.
The reality is that real estate, both rural and urban is for sale and there is nothing to prevent anyone from anywhere in the world from purchasing those assets.  We have the most expensive houses in the world, don’t believe me well have a look at this article from Business Insider. So we have only ourselves to blame if we can’t afford our houses and others can.
As for farming land in the next Global Farmer we will show how Australia is the second most expensive country in the world to grow a tonne of wheat, Canada believe it or not, is the most expensive.
The following by Prof Dearing from Southampton UK has certainly helped me get a better perspective on what seem to be China’s voracious appetite for Australian real estate including our farming lands from the far south to the far north.

China farming boom has left ecosystems in danger of total collapse

More intensive agriculture has reduced poverty, but China’s environment can’t handle the pressure.

This lake is not supposed to be green. Greenpeace China, CC BY

China’s push for more intense farming has kept its city dwellers well-fed and helped lift millions of rural workers out of poverty. But it has come at a cost. Ecosystems in what should be one of the country’s most fertile region have already been badly damaged – some beyond repair – and the consequences will be felt across the world.

This is part of a long-running trade-off between rising levels of food production and a deteriorating environment, revealed in recent research I conducted with colleagues from China and the UK. Yields of crops and fish have risen over the past 60 years at several locations we studied in Anhui, Jiangsu and Shanghai Provinces in eastern China. But these are parallelled by long-term trends in poorer air and water quality, and reduced soil stability.

You may ask if this a bad thing. After all, increasing agricultural productivity has been one of the factors responsible for lifting millions of rural Chinese out of poverty. Does it really matter that the natural environment has taken a bit of a hit?

Well yes. For agriculture and aquaculture to be sustainable from one generation to the next, the natural processes that stabilise soils, purify water or store carbon have to be maintained in stable states. These natural processes represent benefits for society, known as ecosystem services.

Indices of food/timber production (red) mapped against ecosystem services (green) across the lower Yangtze river basin. Zhang et al

Throughout the latter half of the last century, these services were being lost relatively slowly through the cumulative, everyday actions of individual farmers. But the problems accelerated in the 1980s when farmers began to use more intensive methods, especially artificial fertilisers – and again after 2004 when subsidies were introduced.

Worryingly, in some localities, the slow deterioration has turned into a rapid downward spiral. Some aquatic ecosystems have dropped over tipping points into new, undesirable states where clear lakes suddenly become dominated by green algae with losses of high-value fish. These new states are not just detrimental to the continued high-level production of crops and fish but are very difficult and expensive to restore.

Pollution of Chao Lake is obvious – even from space. NASA
Click to enlarge

These natural processes are degraded and destabilised to the point that they cannot be depended upon to support intensive agriculture in the near future. The whole region is losing its ability to withstand the impact of extreme events, from typhoons to global commodity prices.

What can be done?

National policy must prioritise sustainable agriculture. This will mean big changes on the farm: fertiliser and pesticides must be applied in the correct quantities at the right time of the year, cattle slurry and human sewage must be disposed of properly, chemicals getting into streams and rivers must be reduced, and fish feed has to be controlled.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Farmers are still generally poor, badly educated and ageing. Good agricultural advice is lacking and big cities still tempt the younger farmers away from their fields. All these factors mean that rapid action is unlikely.

Can you farm too much? EPA

The recent introduction of the Land Circulation reform policy, allows farmers to rent their land to larger combines. The policy is designed to overcome the inefficiencies of small farm holdings but it may not be taken up widely in the more marginal landscapes where potential profits are low.

All the evidence points to a need for a significantly improved system of information and technology transfer to individual smallholders, probably involving a more efficient coordination between agencies.

Global problem

But there’s a larger-scale context to this problem that may affect us all. China’s grain production has risen fivefold since the 1950s, outstripping the pace of population growth. Despite this, the nation is no longer self-sufficient. The shift towards more meat production has placed a demand for soybean and cereal animal feed that can no longer be met internally. In 2012, China imported more than 60% of all the world’s soybeans that were available for export, and cereal imports are also on the up.

Reliance on imports to fill a shortfall in home produce is nothing new. But in China’s case, the additional risk that agriculture is increasingly unsustainable may amplify the demand. The potential scale of demand for imports is bound to have repercussions for global food production and food prices. Unless reforms are introduced quickly, the rest of the world may well find that they are sharing China’s trade-off with nature – through the weekly shopping bill.

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ‘THE CONVERSATION’ ON FEBRUARY 26 2015. The Global Farmer thanks ‘The Conversation’ for making this article available.

Author


  1. John Dearing

    Professor of Physical Geography at University of Southampton

Disclosure Statement

John Dearing receives funding from NERC-ESRC-DfID Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation Programme. He is a member of the The Green Party.

WHY IS IT AUSTRALIA DOESN’T CARE ABOUT THE DROUGHT.

Prologue

Why are stock dying in the north of Australia from starvation when there is plenty of stock food in the country? For the same reason, I suppose, that thousands of people all over the African continent and in refugee camps in the Middle East, especially children are dying every day from starvation and deprivation while there is no shortage of food in the world. If we are honest with ourselves, the majority of us, as we fill the larder for Christmas, just do not care. The statistics say that after we have finished our celebrations, we shall throw away half of the food we have bought.

There is a story of Bono of at a U2 charity concert, must be over ten years ago now, quietened the crowd, raised his hands above his head and clapped his hand together once. Three seconds later he did it again, and then again and again every three seconds. The, crowd, I think it was in the Albert Hall was quiet. Very gently he spoke and said, ‘Every time I clap my hands together, every three seconds, a child dies in Africa’. Someone in the audience shouted ,’Well stop f*&$#@ng  clapping then.’ The crowed booed. The money raised went to help the children in Africa yet to this day they still die of starvation.

There is nothing I can add to the disaster that is the drought in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, except to say as a nation we have always been able to find millions of dollars to help people in other countries to survive and recover from natural disasters like earthquakes  and tsunamis and as a nation we have been proud to help.

Now we have a disaster as bad or worse than any we have helped in other countries going on right now in the north of our own country and it seems we cannot come to our own aid. I ask the question why and who gives a damn about a deficit or a surplus budget when the heart of our northern agriculture is suffering unimaginable hardship? It is a situation that could  be substantially ameliorated, made unimaginably better even fixed by spending money, government money, our money.

Irrespective of one bank agreeing not to foreclose and threats being made to name and shame, and high profile media people giving their support to the beleaguered landowners, the drought remains, stock continue to die. The Intellectual property of ‘Agriculture Australia’ is substantially in the genetics of the stock we have bred over many years. That gene bank is among the best in the world, it is priceless and will take years to replace.

One of the great shames of the unnecessary ‘selling off’ of the Australian merino flock for meat, is that some of the best wool producing genetics in the world finished up as Ugg boots, sheepskin coats and on the barbecues and in the cooking pots around the world.

The task before us now is to feed the stock that remain,  we have and stop the death from starvation of Australia’s greatest asset, the gene pool of Australia’s national beef herd that has taken generations to build and which is in the process of being unnecessarily lost for all time.

During the week I had this web address sent to me.

If you haven’t seen it, do so now, before you read what follows.

Continue reading “WHY IS IT AUSTRALIA DOESN’T CARE ABOUT THE DROUGHT.”

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.”