By the end of World War II Britain had amassed an immense debt of £21 billion (£912 billion at 2020 value). Much of this was held in foreign hands, with around £3.4 billion being owed overseas (mainly to creditors in the United States), a sum, which represented around 30 per cent of annual GDP.
Britain settled the last of its World War II debts to the US and Canada in 2006, 75 years after they were incurred.
Due to the pandemic fiscal stimulus Australia’s net debt will increase by a third this year, swelling to roughly $507 billion by the end of June 2020, which is 26 per cent of annual GDP.
“If farming were to be organised like the stock market, a farmer would sell his farm in the morning when it was raining, only to buy it back in the afternoon when the sun came out.” John Maynard Keynes.
Britain was unprepared for War in 1939.
In 1939 the British were totally unprepared for war, just as we are to fight a war against the corona-virus (COVID 19) pandemic of 2020. We are also an island nation like Britain.
It is a revelation to many that we import, mainly from China and America, ninety per cent of the medicines we use. We are dependent on others for our health or, to put it another way, others could make us sick by denying us the medicines we need to stay alive.
In April last year I wrote on this site that we had less than thirty days fuel, petrol, diesel, AV Gas etc in this country, and that includes the ADF reserves. We depend on the Gulf of Hormuz remaining open and we depend on China allowing our tankers in and out of the South China Sea for the majority of our fuels. Nothing has changed, we still have less than a months supply of fuel in this country.
Life would be difficult without adequate medicines and even more difficult if not impossible with little or no fuel.
It would become damned hard without imported food. It is a nonsense to claim that we are self sufficient in food, because we are not, far from it.
That is an increase of 66.6% on the production of 2018 or an annual increase of about 4%, and presumably, though they haven’t said as much, they all expect the producers to make a profit every year— which is more than they do now — but they don’t tell you that.
There are some truly grim truths about the financial ill-health of Australian agriculture and they are all produced by government statisticians and the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Why these grim truths were ignored by the NFF when they set their $100 billion target, and why that target was endorsed by those who determine the the agricultural policy of this country, is for them to answer.
It would appear that there isn’t a minister for agriculture in Australia today, at both the federal and state level, who had any qualifications or hands on experience in agriculture or (agricultural) economics prior to being appointed to their agricultural portfolio. Even worse they all seem to have many other portfolios and being only human, the time they can spend on agriculture has got to be limited.
This must mean that our ministers of agriculture rely on advice from the federal and state government agricultural bureaucracies, the state and national farmer organisations and those stalwarts of Australian agriculture, the MLA and the GRDC, who are kept fat by the millions of dollars of compulsory deductions levied on producers.
Ben Rees; B. Econ.; M.Litt. (econ.)
Ben is a seriously underutilized elder statesman in Australian agriculture, probably because he deals in facts, not emotional subjective dreaming in which many in the so-called high echelons of agriculture in this country indulge.
Ben recently presented a paper to the Royal Society in Queensland. For the complete article Rural Debt and Viability click on the link above and then at the bottom of the page when it comes up click on: Ben Rees on rural debt and viability. I will try and post the complete article on this website as soon as I can.
You may not agree with Ben’s opinion — but it will make you think and make you wonder what the so-called leaders of agriculture do in their working time — time, which we all pay for.
Just a glance at Graph 11, lifted from one of Ben’s papers, demonstrates that the problems facing Australian agriculture today have not been caused by drought and will not be fixed by building new dams — the rot started years ago — it’s called debt.
This is what Ben writes about Rural debt, gross value of farm production and net value of farm production: Graph 11 illustrates the impotence of the RBA to deliver required real sector policy. By 1983, GVFP was rising at the expense of NVFP. Beyond 1983, any relationship between debt and GVFP NVFP evaporates. Upward inflections in the debt curve are identifiable in 1988 and 1993 following tariff reform. Any relationship between GVFP and debt cease to exist beyond 1993; and; finally in 2003-04 the debt curve rises steeply cutting through the GVFP curve. Finally the GFC effect slows down the rural appetite for debt. From 2017, the debt curve gradient begins rising more steeply than the GVFP curve indicating that rural production is again being funded by rising indebtedness. Some good old fashioned fiscal policy was badly missing. (Ben Rees)
Nobody involved in agriculture providing they can understand basic economics like 2 + 2 = 4 – 4 = 0 can fail to see the the agricultural tragedy contained in Graph 11.
Australian agriculture has been on a productivity binge for the last fifty years. Since 1990, the gross value of farm production has grown from about $20 billion to where it is today at about $60 billion, a growth of some $40 billion or 200% in thirty years. Whereas the net value of farm production has grown from about $5 billion to about $20 billion an increase of some 300% during the same period, which looks great until we examine the debt, (red line) which has grown from $10 billion to just under $70 billion during the same period, an increase of an astounding 600%.
This increase in farm production has occurred as the number of farms has decreased. In 1970 we can see from Graph 11 that rural debt was just a few billion dollars and there were about 180,000 farms, the numbers are too small to calculate. By 2016 farm numbers have reduced to 100,000 (the NFF claims there are just 85,000 farms) and the debt has risen to ~$77 billion and by 2019 that debt has risen to $80 billion.
If we divide 100,000 by $80 billion it gives us an average farm debt of $800,000, and that is for all farms producing over $25,000. It doesn’t end there. In a publication produced by the federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking and Financial Services Industry in 2018, it is claimed that 70% of the aggregate broad acre debt was held by just 12% of farms.
On average these were large farm who produced some 50% of the total value of broad acre farm production in 2016-17. It should be noted that debt figure does not include the total credit facility limit which was estimated in the same paper at a whopping $86 billion. For many with large cropping enterprises an annual overdraft facility can, in the short term, double their debt exposure. No wonder so many feel as though they are standing on the edge of an abyss when the weather does not perform as planned.
The increasing debt levels have followed the increase in land values as shown in Figure 1. The ability to borrow against an asset, as we all know, has nothing to do with the ability to repay a debt. If the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking and Financial Industry revealed anything it was that the banks were more than willing to lend against rising equity levels without determining whether the debt could ‘reasonably’ repaid by the borrower. It also showed that they showed no mercy to those who, for whatever reason, defaulted. Rural debt continues to rise at over a billion dollars a year.
However, the alarming result of the spiraling debt, highlighted by Ben Rees, is that $1 of debt is now needed to produce 64 cents of production as shown in Chart 1. Whereas in 2003/4 one dollar of debt produced $1 of production and in 1989 one dollar of debt produced $2.14 of production. What kind of crazy economics is that?
The billion dollar question must be, ‘How many dollars of debt will be needed to generate one dollar of production on the road to achieving $100 billion at the farm gate?’ Maybe the NFF have the answer?
Have another look at Graph 11 at the widening gap between net value of production and gross value of production. That graph begs the question whether there will be an acceptable margin between costs and returns to repay what now seems to be an inevitable mushrooming of debt.
Not many in the Australian Labor Party today will recognise that those two great reformers, Hawke and Keating, were devout disciples of Margaret Thatcher, and as a result of their adoption of ‘Thatcherism’ and its mantra of ‘the market economy’ Australian agriculture suffered as market support was gradually reduced to where it is today — virtually non existent.
What Hawke and Keating and all successive Australian Governments have failed to recognise is that the adoption of the market economy philosophy around much of the free world in the eighties and nineties did not affect the huge ‘market support’ or subsidies paid to agriculture.
Australian producers receive world prices for their exports and have some of the highest costs and the lowest yields in the world, particularly in wheat production — their competitors also receive world prices for what they produce, but they also receive government subsidies.
Where price is king in the food markets of the world it isn’t rocket science to conclude that Australian producers face severe competition in both our domestic and overseas markets.
Have a look around the supermarket shelves in Australia and see what is imported, and what, once-upon-a-time, was grown and processed in Australia.
Australian supermarkets scour the world for the cheapest food they can buy and every time they bring more food into Australia, they put another nail in the coffin of Australian agriculture.
One of the reason that rural debt is increasing is because of land purchase. Farmers have been buying more land in an effort to benefit from an economy of scale. Fewer workers because the sheep have gone has meant bigger machinery, bigger machinery means bigger borrowing. Again, it ain’t rocket science. The quwstion is, has it worked?
The Cost of Debt Funded Production.
Let us now look through Ben Rees’ prism at farm debt over time and what producers have been able to produce with that debt, Ben writes:
Chart 1 below empirically analyses debt to output as a policy efficiency performance indicator. The orange curve is Debt/ Gross Value Farm Production (GVFP) whilst the blue curve is calculated by dividing GVFP/ Debt.
2.1 Performance Indicator Outcomes
Steeply positive gradient long term orange trend curve ( Debt/GVFP)
Orange curve suggest that production has been debt dependent
Steeply negative gradient blue long term trend curve ( GVFP/Debt)
From 1984, declining efficiency as debt relentlessly consumes production
In 1989, $1 debt produced $ 2.14 in output.
By 2003-04, $1 of debt produced $1 of output
In 2010, $1 of debt produced 64 cents in production
From 1993 to 2013, sectoral performance lies below the negative sloping blue trend curve.
By any reasonable assessment, Rural Adjustment has not delivered theoretically expected outcomes from economies of scale, increased efficiency and rising productivity. Post 2003-04, both curves identify debt funded output as inefficient and unstable. Any other sector would have demanded a change in policy direction; but, agricultural leaders appear to have strongly believed the rhetoric of market theology that reduced farmer numbers structuring economies of scale would ensure long term sectoral viability. That simplistic arithmetic approach by industry leaders, major political parties; and, commentators has been a gross violation of established economic knowledge.
Ben is right. We must conclude that there is no plan for agriculture in Australia apart from that being offered by the NFF and endorsed by all political parties. What does that say for their understanding of established economic knowledge?
Is debt going to strangle Australian agriculture?
In October 2018 the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) presented Australian agriculture with an enormous challenge —a vision for the future:
17th October 2018
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has laid down a bold vision for the industry: to exceed $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030.
Based on our current trajectory, we know industry is forecast to reach $84 billion by 2030. This suggests that we still have significant work to do over the next 12 years if we are to achieve our vision.
To support their plan, the NFF have developed a road map which tells us how Australian primary producers from wheat, sheep and beef producers to bee-keepers and everyone in between what the ‘road’ is to the national farm gate producing $100 billion by 2030.
The NFF road map is complicated. I wonder how many farmers, agricultural producers and their advisers and critically, their bankers, those who lend them money, have read it — and more importantly, been able to understand both the map and their position on it?
There is no doubt that agriculture in Australia requires re-structuring. Whether the NFF Road Map is the way forward I leave for you to decide.
Is $100 billion by 2030 now the clarion cry of Australian agriculture?
To produce $100 billion of farm gate output by 2030 will require a 66.6% increase measured in dollars of production across the face of Australian agriculture in a little over ten years. Seriously? Given our recent history of growth is that figure realistic? 66.6% growth would require an annual 4% nominal growth rate in the Gross Value of Farm Production (GVFP).
There are three ways of achieving the NFF vision:
Assume that the gross value of farm production (GVFP) will increase by 66.6% and assume that yields will not and producers will make a profit or:
Assume that yields by will increase by 66.6% and prices will do what they seem to have by-and-large done over the last ten years and remain constant or decline and producers will make a profit.
A mixture of both of the above and assume that rural debt will continue to increase and producers will still make a profit.
A 66.6% increase in the dollars generated at farm gate in what is now just 10 years is a massive ask. Maybe the NFF are banking on new rural industries to help reach the target and well they may, but realistically, surely, the heavy lifting will have to be done, as usual, by the producers of wheat and beef and to a lesser extent canola, wool and sheep meat.
If there is one common thread that runs through all of the research I have put into this article so far, it is that Australian agriculture faces global challenges from ernest competitors who can produce and ship product into markets where we are active at a price which Australian producers would find and more importantly are already finding, difficult to match.
Our reputation for quality is appreciated by those who can afford it, but as markets expand, like the exponential growth of the middle class in Indonesia and China, so too does the market for products of a lesser quality than that which is available from Australia. Prime examples are buffalo meat into Indonesia at the expense of Australian beef and Australia’s massive loss of market share to Argentina and the Baltic States in the wheat market of the same country. The last one is hard to explain when we can almost see Indonesia from two of our major export ports in Western Australia.
What do the Banks think?
The Commonwealth Bank are not as optimistic regarding growth as the NFF, their view, as a major lender, is that production will fall across all agriculture mainly due to a drop in rainfall. A 50% drop in grain production and a 40% drop in livestock by 2060 is predicted. If Australian agriculture is to reach the NFF target of $100 billion by 2030 it will need the support of the CBA.
In contrast to the Commonwealth Bank there is a publication called Australian National Outlook – 2019. The joint Chairmen of Outlook 2019 are Dr Ken Henry AM when he was Chairman of the NAB and David Thodey AO, Chairman CSIRO. The publication is a joint effort by over 50 contributors from some 24 organisations who forecast a better picture than the Commonwealth Bank, but with many challenges for agriculture and for the nation, it is worth a read.
Beware, it is complicated, ambitious and apart from some wild assumptions on climate change, (my personal bias) a very well thought out document, and in many ways it is a pity it is not a fundamental part of the national conversation on the future of agriculture.
It makes one wonder whether those in the NFF who claim to lead this fine industry really understand, seek or accept the considered opinion of others who are already major participants in the industry of agriculture in this country. What is of note is that the Australian National Outlook forecasts a far more modest growth to $80 billion in agricultural production but by 2060, rather than the NFF target of $100 billion by 2030.
The NFF say they consulted widely before settling on the $100 billion target: The NFF led a 6-month consultation effort to inform the Roadmap. It began with a Discussion Paper which distilled insights from leading experts, before commencing a nationwide roadshow, where we spoke to over 380 farmers and other industry experts to field their views. As we consolidated this feedback, we engaged regularly with industry stakeholders and experts to ensure the ideas we’re putting forward are credible and impactful.
The NFF say they have consulted with 380 farmers. They claim there are 85,681 farmers in Australia. So they consulted 0.4435055% of farmers in Australia in the preparation of their Road Map! Hardly statistically significant.
It is also reasonable to ask whether the NFF consulted with the CSIRO, the NAB and any the fifty other industry brains who contributed to the Australian National Outlook 2019 who have a different view of the future to that of the NFF.
The has been a massive loss of knowledge and skills in agriculture.
What really shook me from Ben’s analysis of the agricultural economy, is the loss over the last thirty years of experience and skill in agriculture — this must surely present this industry with a huge challenge? Again, this is from Ben’s paper:
4.1 Performance Indicator Employment
ABARES commodity statistics for 2018[i] , shows agricultural employment peaking historically in 1990-91 at 387, 000; but, falling to 279 000 in 2017-18 (29%). Meanwhile for Australia, over the same period, employment rose from 7.8 million to 12.5million (60.3%). It stretches the mind to think the decline in agricultural employment alongside such strong national employment growth is explainable by consolidation of farm size and applied technology. Agricultural policy needs to accept responsibility for this employment outcome.
The reality is that structural industry reform began with the 1988 tariff reductions which were ratcheted up again in 1991. Orderly marketing of both major industries wool and wheat were discontinued over 1989-90. It cannot be explained as mere coincidence that agricultural employment began to decline from its peak in 1990-91 as a result of technological adoption by the farm sector at the same time structural reform of agriculture began in earnest.
Chart 3 identifies empirically that agricultural employment contracted strongly across broad-acre agriculture; and, the self – employed small scale farmer. Broad-acre employment decline appears from 2002 coinciding with the worsening of the Millennium Drought. The real loss of employment though lies in the self -employed and owner manager classification from 1992 onwards. The impact of the self- employed owner manager is particularly important as that group comprised largely the part time skilled labour force residing in rural Australia. Policy driven policy of Rural Adjustment “shipping out” small inefficient farmers would seem a more logical contributor than technology.
[i] ABARES commodity statistics, 2018, Table 1.2 , Australian employment by sector.
Long term decline in broad acre employment 52% between 1992 -2018
Self-employed fall 71.4% between 1992 to 2018 (192 000 to 55 000)
Millennium Drought emerging1997-2009
GFC 2009- 2013
2013+ Current Drought
The decline in agricultural employment whilst employment in the wider economy continued to rise strongly is a damming policy indicator. If agriculture was likened to a private firm, a clean out of the board, senior management, and advisors would be expected.
In the next issue of Global Farmer we will examine whether our main agricultural industries of beef, sheep and grain, are capable of playing their part on the road to achieving $100 billion by 2030. The question must be asked can they do it and more importantly, who has already claimed they can, because somebody has? Haven’t they?
‘When you’ve got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow.’
Australia and its sophisticated agricultural industry have to decide whether they want to be a feeder of others, or be fed by others. Don’t laugh at that. Of course the world can feed Australia— it’s already started as we increasingly become more reliant others for food. We have no more people in this country than there are in a couple of big Chinese cities and we are an attractive proposition to feed, if only for access to our resources and for what food we can produce that others can’t. I read somewhere recently that China would only have to increase its horticultural production by about 3% and it could feed Australia. Think about that and the global fresh food trade. There are Egyptian oranges for sale in my town. So how important are we to China and how important is China to Australia? You may be surprised.
There is a paradox, an absurdity of enormous proportions happening in agriculture in much of the Developed world. In spite of the US$486 billion a year being paid to farmers in the 21 top food producing countries in the world – heavily subsidised farmers in the European Union (EU) have embarked upon a civil disobedience campaign, some of it has been violent and massively disruptive to the rest of society. Their problem is that in spite of being paid over US$100 billion a year in subsidies, they are going broke. Their costs are greater than their returns. Across Britain, France, Germany, the low countries – everywhere in Europe, mainly family farmers are saying ‘enough is enough.’ They are taking to the streets and the supermarkets to show those who buy and consume the food what the difference is between what it costs to produce food, what the producers are being paid for it and what the consumers are paying for it at the supermarket. There is a sober lesson here for Australian agriculture as the value of the food we import goes up every year it is mostly from countries who subsidise their agriculture. According to the Worldwatch Institute, ‘Agricultural subsidies are not equally distributed around the globe. In fact, Asia spends more than the rest of the world combined. China pays farmers an unparalleled US$165 billion. Significant subsidies are also provided by Japan (US$65 billion), Indonesia ($US28 billion), and South Korea ($US20 billion).’
The value to Australian agriculture from Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) can be put into perspective when we contemplate having to compete against the home grown subsidised produce of much of Asia. If their ‘home grown’ produce, for instance beef, is subsidised, then to compete we have to be price competitive with a subsidised product – can we compete with subsidised agriculture? Only if we can sell at a price that is competitive, which may mean lower, than the subsidised product. For decades, since the seventies, Australian farmers have been duped by politicians of all colours and from agriculture, that ‘market forces’ and a ‘free market economy’ will eventually prevail. Fig 1 and Fig 2 (later) puts a lie to that propaganda and shows what it has cost. To compete we can see that Australian farmers ‘chased’ the ‘get big or get out’ mantra of the 70s with debt. More of that later.
As a child growing up in post-war Britain anything from Australian from wool to meat, to apples both fresh and dried, dried fruit and the delicious Sunday treat of Australian canned peaches, was a sign of absolute quality. The only exception to that rule was the processed cheese we were served in the army in the nineteen fifties. I am sure it had been imported during the war. Second World War, I think – maybe?
How times have changed. Britain is part of the EU, the European Union. This is what the EU say about themselves:
The EU is an attractive market to do business with:
We have 500 million consumers looking for quality good
We are the world’s largest single market with transparent rules and regulations
We have a secure legal investment framework that is amongst the most open in the world
We are the most open market to developing countries in the world
That is a proud boast and if you look at the link you will see the truth of it. They are indeed a powerful union – even a nation. To protect their agriculture the EU pays their farmers subsidies amounting to about US$100 billion a year.
In ‘Farming on Line’ a UK farming journal came this alarming news on Wednesday 29 July 2015. Copa and Cogeca warned at the EU Milk Market Observatory meeting today that the EU dairy market situation has deteriorated rapidly in the past 4 weeks, and without EU action, many producers will be forced out of business by Winter. Speaking at the meeting, Chairman of Copa-Cogeca Milk Working Party Mansel Raymond said “The market is in a much more perilous state than it was 4 weeks ago, with producer prices far below production costs. It’s a critical situation for many dairy farmers across Europe”.
Who or what are ‘Copa’ and ‘Cogeca’? ‘Copa’ was formed in 1959 to represent farmers within what we now know as the EU, it had 13 affiliates at that time. It now speaks in Brussels for sixty farmer organisation’s within the EU and another thirty six affiliates like Norway and Turkey, outside of the EU, but in Europe.
Cogeca? Straight off their website : On 24 September 1959, the national agricultural cooperative organisations created their European umbrella organisation – COGECA (General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation in the European Union) – which also includes fisheries cooperatives.
COGECA’ s Secretariat merged with that of COPA on 1 December 1962.
When COGECA was created it was made up of 6 members. Since then, it has been enlarged by almost six and now has 35 full members and 4 affiliated members from the EU. COGECA also has 36 partner members.
So ‘Copa & Cogeca’ to our antipodean ears may sound like a dance from South America, is in fact a very powerful agricultural lobby in Brussels and the Parliament of Europe. Stuck down here at the other end of the world we tend to forget that Europe is now a bigger trading bloc than America and China.
Vive la France !
French farmers are a passionate lot and in support of Copa & Cogeca, last month on warm summer days in the middle of the tourist season they dumped loads of animal manure in the middle of Paris and other cities. For those who don’t know what the machine below is, it’s a ‘muck spreader’. Normally filled with animal manure and coupled to the power take off on the tractor it ‘spreads’ the manure on the fields or paddocks. In this case it looks like it is being used to ‘clean’ windows – on a bank perhaps?
There is now no doubt, there is unquestionable evidence that the Premier of Western Australia, The Hon Colin Barnett, MEc. MLA. Minister for State Development; Science and the Hon Ken C. Baston, Minister for Food; Fisheries, are intent upon doing everything they can to secure more Chinese investment into West Australian agriculture. How they are going to do it?
They are going to hold an investment conference especially for the Chinese. Mr Barnett and Mr Baston are certainly not standing still:
Western Australia – China Agribusiness Cooperation Conference.
State Reception Centre, Kings Park, Perth
9 -11 April 2014
Premier Colin Barnett is a passionate West Australian. There is also no doubt that Mr Barnett has determinedly used his Office, and the influence that goes with that Office, to secure major commitments from the Chinese to invest in West Australian industry, mainly into mining, but there have also been substantial Chinese investments in agriculture.
Mr Barnett has led delegations of business people from Western Australia to China to further cement relationships and to forge new ones.
I don’t think it would be unfair to call Colin Barnett a Chinaphile.
There has always been a belief among the majority of West Australians that ‘Chinese’ investment in Western Australia in the past has been conditional upon the imprimatur, and investment of the Central Government of the People’s Republic of China.
In other words the Government of China is always involved somewhere in the deal as an equity partner. Mr Barnett must be aware of this and be unconcerned that a sovereign state is investing in and becoming an owner of, Australian freehold property.
As far as I am aware it has never been denied that the Chinese government will be a equity partner in any investment in Australia.
Recently Mr Barnett was critical of Australia’s foreign investment rules, claiming they were sending the wrong message to China. Mr Barnett said that the United States could invest more than $1 billion in Australia without being subject to Foreign Investment Review Board Rules, but it was different for China’s state owned enterprises where any level of investment from $1 up was subject to review.
Mr Barnett believed this caused resentment in China.
In July 2013 speaking from Zhejiang province in China Mt Barnett said he believed the Chinese were not seeking to own Australian land – they just wanted to protect their investment for food and have a secure relationship with Australia.
Yet the previous month, June 2013, the Queensland Country Life reported that Chinese investors had spent $757 million in the first quarter of 2013 buying land in Australia, with WA, according to Landmark – Harcourts, topping the charts with sales of $350 million. True or false? We may never know.
There is every chance we will run out of farmers before we know whether we can feed the people of the world.
It’s a frightening proposition but just look at the evidence.
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich in his book ‘Population Bomb’ made the prediction the world faced massive starvation due to overpopulation. He wrote:
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.
Then along came Dr Norman Borlaug, ‘the father of the Green Revolution’, and his team of plant breeders and the world was saved from starvation. In 1970, Borlaug became a Nobel Laureate.
Between 1950 and 2004 world wheat yields rose from an average of 750kg/ha to 2750kg/ha (FAO), due to the worldwide adoption of high yielding, high input short straw wheat varieties, developed by Borlaug and his teams. Similar improvements were achieved in the yields of maize and rice.
This revolution in plant breeding, combined with new chemicals to control pests and diseases averted the global starvation tragedy predicted by Ehrlich.
In the last forty years the population of the world has doubled and, by and large they have all been fed.
The millions, who have died of starvation over that period, didn’t die because there wasn’t any food for them; they died because we spent our money fighting wars rather than getting food to those who needed it. Continue reading “No more farmers?”
Over the last week or so, leading up the Christmas 2013, I have watched the television and been filled with horror at the images of one child every three seconds dying of starvation on the Horn of Africa, part of the so-called Developing World. Yet, at one and the same time, obesity is killing people in the Developed World. Many people in the United States of America and no doubt in Australia, consume more than twice as many kilojoules every day, than they require for a healthy life.
In the lifetime of my grandchildren the population of the world will increase from six billion to nine billion. Most of that increase will be in the Developing World.
In our world, the Developed World, there is no shortage of food. In fact, we are so wealthy; we can choose what food we eat — the variety is endless and obesity is a major health problem, especially in children.
We can not only choose what variety of food we eat, we can choose what kind of food we eat — so vegetarians and vegans can purchase a balanced diet free of those items they have chosen not to eat, and meat eaters, carnivores as my daughter calls us, find our choices are almost endless.
Australia is part of the Developed World and Australian agriculture has yet to answer the question as to whether it is capable of increasing food production to meet the projected global demands of the future. Are we capable of increasing food production by at least 40% and so help feed the world?
There is global consensus that by 2050 the world population will have grown from 6 billion to 9 billion. To feed the extra 3 billion people the world will have to increase food production by more than 40%. Eighty per cent of that increase will have to come from the Developed World.
Australia is part of the Developed World and Australian agriculture has yet to answer the question as to whether it is capable of increasing food production to meet the projected global demands of the future. Are we capable of increasing food production by at least 40% and so help feed the world?
There has to be some doubt whether we can. Terms of trade in agriculture are lousy and our debts are unmanageable. There has been and continues to be, a reduction in both federal and state funds for research and development (R & D) and in a later article we will tell the story behind some frightening figures on the spread of salinity in Western Australia and Australia. Continue reading “‘We’ll all be Rooned,’ said Hanrahan.”