It has been difficult for me to be true to the name I gave this web site ‘Global Farmer’ In Australia. I chose the name because, 1. I had used it before and, 2. Because there is so much going on in the world of agriculture and agricultural trade that we never get to hear about. We are traders, or at least we have many traders living in our midst. We now know why they are keen to be here because there is more money in trading in grain than there is in growing it, and according to Rabbo Bank boss this is the most expensive country in the world to grow wheat. So we have a few challenges in front of us.
I have the time and I have the intense interest in food trade and objective to see Australian agriculture, once again, world competitive.
We really are a small player in world agriculture. We grow just 5% of the world’s crop. We jump up the ladder as a trader where we come in at between 12 and 15 in world rankings. That’s why the big boys want to play here. If you live 200km from the port it’s costing you between $60 and $75 a tonne to get you grain to port.
I know we are a world leader in the export of beef but I’m looking for a volunteer to tell the full story. From what I am told we could do so much better both domestically and for export.
One of the reasons we don’t get a lot of international news is because we are obsessed it seems to me, with domestic politics and in agriculture with domestic agricultural politics. It is hard to imagine an industry with so many organisations, committees, Peak Bodies, and people who claim to speak for one particular group or another, gossipers and rumour mongers. Yet in spite of that, we are deeply dependent on the export markets for our commodity products, cereals, meat and wool and to a lesser extent on perishable goods, fresh fruit and vegetables. Quite fascinating that WA is exporting fruit and veg to Bali, maybe it reduces the Bali Belly? Continue reading “Q. How unlevel is the ‘playing’ field? A. It’s a hill.”
The mighty who operate with total impunity – a law unto themselves.
Would Mr Barnett have been as blunt in public to Richard Goyder, Wesgarmers CEO and Ian McLeod CEO of Coles about the anguish they have caused in the dairy industry with their dollar a litre take it or leave it bludgeoning? No, he wouldn’t dare. But he gets away with arrogance, rudeness and denigration in public to farmer organisations because he knows he can.
Colin Barnett was sending a big message to the PGA and WA Farmers in being so sarcastic, of concern is judging by the reaction there was no one at home in either WA Farmers or the PGA listening or if there was they didn’t understand. We all know Barnett’s sarcasm about the curtains fading is to do with the claims that milk production would go down and the kids wouldn’t go to sleep all as the result of daylight saving.
If that is the best the Premier can do when talking agriculture, his memory is convenient and it brings into sharp focus the lack of real communication between the Premier and the leaders of the PGA and WA Farmers.
Dale Parke’s comment also tells a sad tale of the poor working relationship between himself and the Minister for agriculture at the time, Terry Redman. Mr Redman obviously had his own agenda and attached no importance to the views of the President of WA Farmers.
There are some really difficult challenges around agriculture at the moment, of immediate concern and not the least being the diabolical condition of our country infrastructure, road and rail. So it was a typical Barnett ‘country hick’ comment designed to denigrate and take our mind off other matters.
An old and effective trick to use a bit of personal denigration in a not too subtle way to change the debate. Twelve months later the road and rail debate has gone nowhere. Probably deteriorated as the Shires have run out of money to maintain roads to carry trucks with payloads far beyond the design criteria of what in many cases are gravel roads built 50 to 100 hundred years ago.
Trouble was the Premiers sarcasm and comments were like water off a ducks back. Dale Park as good as agreed and said he couldn’t get through to his Minister Terry Redman when he needed to and Rob Gillam dismissed the Premier with a metaphorical dismissive wave of the hand.
Dale Park, when he refers to what he sees as a lack of understanding by the Premier of the problems of the eastern wheatbelt as they were so graphically portrayed at what I call ‘The Meeting of a Thousand Souls’ that was held in Merriden over twelve months ago, should remind the Premier that at that time, shortly after the meeting and without his Minister for Agriculture, Mr Barnett gave what I took to be a commitment that he personally would better educate himself with regard to not only the problems of the eastern wheatbelt but of all agricultural regions. He gave the impression he understood the debt and the problems it was causing to the community from farmers to the business people and to the working families.
He also gave the distinct impression he would take a personal interest in the situation. Ken Baston, the new Liberal Minister for Agriculture visited another part of the wheatbelt and virtually repeated the Premier’s commitments.
The financial aid that was promised at that time has just become available. It beggars belief that it has taken so long for the Commonwealth and the State to sort the scheme out. Best part of 18 months to develop the terms and conditions. Then again it is not surprising because Machiavelli is alive and well in the halls of power. I gather there has only been one successful applicant. Was it planned that way? Between the Department of Agriculture economists and the consultancy groups they seem to work so closely with now, it would be difficult, given the number of applications approved, to believe the conditions were drawn up to help as many as possible.
It is a sad reflection on the Minister and the bureaucracy, presumably the Dept of Agriculture and Food, if the conditions of the financing are not designed to help those most in need.
Rumours abound that both the PGA and WA Farmers have seen better financial times. Membership is low. Patronage and sponsorship is becoming more difficult.
The stories of orange lifeboats moving around Perth water in the middle of the night have not been confirmed by either organisation. Neither have the rumors been confirmed that offers have been made on two substantial houseboats.
It’s time for Change
Now is the right time for a change? It’s time both the P&G and WA Farmers, with their heads held high for they have toiled for agriculture and done a job few of us would take on, to give the job away.
It is time for them to take the same advice that Cromwell gave to the Rump government. ‘In the name of God go!’ and then we should add the words ‘And thank you for all you have done over the years.‘
It’s an interesting world, and that is the understatement of the year. Our objective with the Global Farmer is to stay as far away as we can from domestic agricultural politics, but we do have something to say about agripolitics in Australia in another blog out soon.
The author of this article, Alan Matthews, is well worth following, if only to keep up with his dislike of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which causes Australia all kinds of problems at times. This article in particular caught my eye as it confirmed something I had heard over a cup of coffee at a board meeting of the Great Southern Community Housing Association.
For those who don’t know where the Great Southern is in Western Australia, it is Albany on the far south coast and north and east (at least we are getting out there) A big area geographically. Agriculture is its main industry and its becoming more of a retirement area as time goes by. More farmers retiring and many wanting to get out of the heat of the wheatbelt. It’s worth a Google for those who don’t know the area. We had been discussing that just in our area we have a need for 500 dwellings from 1 and 2 bedroom units to houses with three or four bedrooms, all for people who have been ‘qualified’. That means put through the financial wringer to make sure they haven’t got a South Sea Island tucked away somewhere.
We have the usual problems of rural towns in Australia these days, high youth unemployment being not the least. How on earth someone can write out the required number of job applications in a town this size, so that one can qualify for benefits, completely defeats me and regrettably is a demonstration of how far out of touch our politicians are.
Five hundred dwellings, representing over 1000 individuals, is a lot for people of proven need within an area of maybe a total population of about 60 thousand . Some who are destitute. The Feds say it’s a State problem and the State are busy pulling as much money out of everything they can, including housing. One billion for a footy stadium okay, money for housing? None. Got to get your priorities right, the homeless don’t represent many votes.
As we munched on lunch I mentioned that a manager of Food Bank, somewhere in Melbourne I think, but it’s not important, had been in the news saying they were desperate for food, the demand for food was increasing week on week and so too were the demographics. He went on to relate now that it was quite usual for the new SUV with all the trimmings to pull up and the driver, sometimes somewhat sheepishly other times quite brazenly. You get the drift, outwardly well off and comfortable people running out of money before pay day. I commented, perish the thought, that it was people who had just found a cheap (Foodbank sell by the kilo) source of food.
The local manager of Anglicare joined in and said the same thing was going on in Albany and inquiries had shown that those who went to Foodbank did have a genuine need. They had the car, the house, and as far as could be ascertained all they needed, but no money for food. Too much month at the end of the money.
All of the above has just added to the observation I have made a number of times, even down here in Albany, there ‘seems’ to be a lot of new cars on the road, particularly the 4 x 4 twin cab SUV type, with all the accessories imaginable. It’s a good thing no doubt but there are not many, or there do not seem to be as many, old cars on the road.
House prices, again even down here in Albany, are quite frightening and a trip to the local Harvey Norman or similar shows there is no shortage of the plastic fantastic.
Anyone with reasonable ability with a calculator can work out that to support all that ‘glitz’ there have to be two incomes. Take one income away, sickness, pregnancy, anything and trouble, some say bankruptcy is just 30 days away. Frightening.
We talk about food security in the future. We have clowns in Australia talking about the ‘Asian Century’ and Australia being the ‘Food Bowl of Asia’. Who ever thinks up these slogans should be pilloried for being the idiot they are. While at the same time we, obviously, as a society, have some serious questions to answer.
According to Foodbank, Anglicare and I gather a hundred and one other charities we have some major social questions that remain unanswered and more disturbingly unrecognised by governments and many government agencies.
Fo me, if there are an increasing number of people out there who are having difficulty putting food on the table for their families then we are no longer the ‘Lucky Country’. In fact we are no different than those you will read about in Alan Matthews’ story, and that is a sobering thought.
Europe’s common agricultural policy is broken – let’s fix it!
There is a lot of ‘chatter’ mostly in the media and mostly from the uninformed like politicians that Australia has the agricultural productive capacity to become the ‘Food Bowl of Asia.’ Is it true?
There are those in the city who are plotting and have the money.
Is China Australia’s land of the Golden Fleece? Or is there a danger we could lose our money on the way to the goldfields? Fear not there is hope. Why? Well, for one thing there have been several very high profile meetings under the banner the ‘Global Food Forum’. Never heard of them? Not surprised, they were advertised in places where those on the land were unlikely to see the the advertisements.
When I saw the ‘Global Food Forum’ first advertised in The Australian and had a look at the list of speakers I thought they were notable in the world of finance and agribusiness if not agriculture, that is I couldn’t see many farmers on the list, but my interest was aroused non the less. I then enquired as to the price of a ticket and added on two nights accommodation in Sydney and the cost of plane ticket and the thousand kilometre round trip in the car to get to Perth, I decided the whole thing was out of my reach, way out.
Disappointed because I couldn’t afford to go, I gained some pleasure out of becoming cynical about the whole thing. Just another Pitt Street Cockie talkfest I reasoned, and those Pitt Street Cockies are so clever they know the answers before you ask the question and most of them don’t know where Western Australia is anyway!
I noticed the host of the event was a multi millionaire, one of the biggest carton manufacturers in the country, so he had a whopping vested interest. I deduced he would have said to himself, ‘more food, more cartons, only two manufacturers in Australia so it’s worth a punt.’ I looked up the definition of the word ‘altruism’. Never met the man so I don’t know if it applies.
Will these men save or ruin Australian agriculture. We need to hear what they have to say.
If there is one topic that occupies the minds of farmers and those on the land more than the weather, or the price of wheat or wool or sheep or cattle – it is the future. Is there a future in agriculture for our children and grandchildren? If there is, what kind of future will it be?
Introduction – The Present – Where we Are.
There are statistics that show our agricultural productivity in Australia is declining not increasing. There are statistics that show increases in productivity are directly tied to investment in Research and Development. As a nation we are reducing our investment in research and development.
As we shall see later, there is evidence that bigger is not always better.
It is a worry that it was recently announced by Rabobank, one of the biggest agricultural banks in the world, that Australia is now the most expensive place in the world to grow wheat. It costs twice as much to milk a cow in Australia compared to the United States. Yet we compete in world markets with the United States for both dairy and wheat.
No grain grower will surprised to learn that in Australia it takes 16 trains to haul 60,000 tonnes of wheat to port, and in Canada it takes just six.
It is with almost regular monotony that we learn of yet another food processor closing down in Australia and moving overseas. It’s cheaper we are told to source the food overseas, process it there and the export the finished product to Australia, than it is to grow the food it and process it in this country.
Unless the world food supply changes dramatically, one way or another, Australia will increasingly rely on imported food. We are constantly bombarded, by politicians and this new breed of city-based agri-entrepreneurs with the proposition that Australia, can be the ‘Food Bowl of Asia’. What nonsense. We already import more processed food than we export.
What we export has very little if any value adding done to it. Boats full of grain and meat, raw wool, live sheep and cattle. It’s cheaper to import cakes and biscuits from Holland than it is to make them in Australia – why is that? We have imported bread dough from Ireland to be baked in Australia. Neither Holland or Ireland could be classified as a Developing Country.
We should not delude ourselves that the only food we import comes from countries with ‘cheap’ labour and costs. We have used that excuse once too often.
Our major retailers control over 80% of our food business. They have the ability to scour the world for the cheapest food they can buy. They do not care if it is cheaper than what is grown in Australia. If they do buy Australian then they drive the price down to the Australian producer to same price as they can buy it overseas. They have to protect their market share and profit.
On May 29 in the Farm Weekly the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, gave his views on the Muntadgin Farming Alliance and expressed some sympathy and empathy with the group and with farming in the eastern wheatbelt.
As a direct result of that interview, Ken Wilson, in the June 5 edition of the Farm Weekly, in the middle of seeding for many, put a series of questions to Nationals Member for Central Wheatbelt, Mia Davies, and Agriculture and Food Minister for Western Australia, Ken Baston.
At the Global Farmer, we believed the questions put to Ken Baston and Mia Davies by Ken Wilson deserved another outing, away from the rough and tumble of getting the crop in the ground. The Farm Weekly agreed so here they are. So now you can give these serious conversations some considered thought.
They are important questions. You make up your own mind on the quality, on the depth of the answers. Can we look forward to new future attacking old fundamental faults or just the same old parcel in different paper and a bit more tinsel, a few more balloons and a bigger whistle?
This time there are no time or space constraints. Read what Ken Baston and Mia Davies have to say and then have your say. Here are the questions:
Mailler’s excellent article ‘Why is Agriculture Different’, begs the big question of the extent to which the agricultural industry’s relationship with government policy has resulted in a viable, sustainable and world competitive Australian agriculture? And if not, is the government failing to defend the people?
Empirical data – as Mailler brings to the fore – tends to show that the relationship of agriculture with government policy (in the context of global competition and the myriad of factors that express themselves through industry performance data and trends), has resulted in the industry exhibiting signs of systemic failure. The ‘vital signs’ of this industry are not good.
If one sets aside short term factors of drought, flood, fluctuations of commodity prices and looks at the long term trends, it is inescapable that revenue has been ‘chased’ by costs and in some cases overtaken by costs. The trends are seemingly inexorable.
While in any industry there will be leaders and laggards and those who fall off the bottom, the situation for agriculture as Mailler points out is not just the ‘tail’ that’s failing – it’s many of the core businesses that make up the industry.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with past and current agricultural policy, one must surely accept the notion that the outcomes are not good?
So what of policy for agriculture?
Governments have a primary duty to ‘defend the people’ and see to their wellbeing.
Photo: Courtesy Veeoz
For a couple of hundred years, most ‘western’ governments have taken this duty to extend from:
basic ‘human rights’ of health and education systems (safe drinking water, sanitation systems, hospitals, primary, secondary and tertiary education), through …
reform and development of democracy (wide range of concepts of what is democratic!)
military defence of their territory and its people from aggressors and on to…
making their industries competitive in the markets where their goods and services are sold.
Governments develop and implement POLICIES to cover all these aspects and more of our national life in pursuit of their big job to ‘defend the people’.
Importantly, governments generally see it as prudent to make the nation’s export industries profitable and sustainable in the longer term because their profits contribute so much of the resources to fund the implementation of all other policies!