It’s time to say “Thank you”, to Agriculture.

There was a car sticker around many years ago which said, “Don’t criticise farmers with your mouth full”. That sticker is truer today than it was then and just as true long before car stickers were the fashion.

Some of us have been fortunate to have lived through and been part of the last half century or so of agriculture. Farming today is unrecognisable to what it was when I went to college in the early 60s and even more so looking back back at the fifties.

But it is in the last fifty years or so that I believe an agricultural revolution has taken place and it has gone unrecognised by many of today’s farmers who have inherited the past and totally unappreciated by the happy, unaware shoppers as they wander round their supermarket filling their trolleys.

So why the Protests?

Militant activists around the world consider farmers to be fair game.  Mobs, of vegans and anti GM demonstrators often supported by the left wing press, believe it is their ‘right’ to enter  a farmer’s premises to damage crops, ‘liberate’ stock, daub graffiti and generally cause chaos. They do this without any care or concern regarding the financial loss incurred by and the trauma caused to, those who feed them and the world. Then they go home, take off their makeup and uniforms, have a feed and go to bed replete.

Photo: The New Daily.

There are those who believe farmers do not care for their land but they are not farmers themselves. There are those who believe that all crop protection chemicals are bad and that low input organic farms can produce as much as conventional farms, yet they cannot present the evidence and they also go to bed replete.

Over the last sixty years as the population of the world has doubled and the arable land has halved, farmers and their scientists have fed the world to abundance; so isn’t it time  we all said, ‘Thank you’?

oOo

Photo: The Conversation

Do you remember or have you ever heard of Paul Ehrlich the American biologist of  fifty years ago?

In 1970,  Ehrlich in his book ‘The Population Bomb’ predicted the end of the world as we knew it.

He was not the first in the modern era to make that prediction. Bible thumpers on a soap box in the park  have mostly disappeared, mainly to avoid abuse for being Christian and the world is poorer for this loss of free speech.

Photo: The Australian.

There are new religions these days and they are indoctrinating the young and the gullible. Extinction Rebellion leads the pack convincing many young people that the world will end within a decade due to man-made global warming. They encourage the young into civil disobedience to ‘change the world and save it from Armageddon’ and they show no remorse when those same kids suffer anxiety and depression and need medication.

Then the world leaders at Davros and the United Nations invited the modern day St Joan of Arc, Greta Thunberg to talk to them about the end of the world and they sat at her feet enthralled by her wisdom. ‘How could a 14 year old have such wisdom’, they asked.

Climate change warrior Al Gore’s Nashville estate expends ’21 times more energy than the average US home uses per year’ A conservative think-tank published a report claiming Gore ‘guzzles’ electricity It claims Gore’s Nashville estate used 230,889 kilowatt hours over the last year Ex-vice president also spends about $22,000 on electricity bills a year, it claims The study was released ahead of the premiere of Al Gore’s latest environmental documentary film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, on Friday By Dailymail.com Reporter Published: 02:20 AEST, 4 August 2017 | Updated: 02:26 AEST, 4 August 2017

Before poor Greta the world was held in wonder by that Ringmaster of Barnum and Bailey’s circus, Al Gore, the American politician — the man who received the Nobel Prize by telling lies about the climate and predicting how we are all doomed because of our past excesses. Gore is the man who wrote the script to his fictitious film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ while flying round the world in his private jet and resting in one of his mansions, with all the lights on.

When he was proven wrong he showed no remorse. He had made his money.

Ehrlich, however, was the first to predict that the world  would end because millions would die of starvation and what’s more he claimed,  there was nothing we could do about it apart from what he called employing ‘population control’.

This is the Prologue from Ehrlich’s book ‘The Population Bomb’.

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and the 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programmes embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate, although many lives could be saved through dramatic programs to “stretch” the carrying capacity of the earth by increasing food production and providing for a more equitable distribution of whatever food is available. But these programs will only provide a stay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successful efforts at population control. Population control is the conscious regulation of the numbers of human beings to meet the needs not just of individual families, but of society as a whole.

Nothing could be more misleading to our children than our present affluent society. They will inherit a totally different world, a world in which the standards, politics, and economics of the past decade are dead. As the most influential nation in the world today, and its largest consumer, the United States cannot stand isolated. We are today involved in the events leading to famine and ecocatastrophe; tomorrow we may be destroyed by them.

In the last fifty years world agriculture has shown just how wrong Ehrlich was. The food producers of this world, the farmers, led, aided and abetted by some of the best scientists in the world are currently producing enough food to feed ten billion people or one and a half times more food than we need.

No other industry can match the startling performance of world agriculture and its farmers but that does not mean that the world can be complacent and sit back on its laurels. The world is changing as we shall see and the challenges will be just as great in the next half century as they have been in the last.

In the last fifty years meat production has increased by ~  300% and cereals by ~180%. Over the same period  the increases in the yields of all foods has been massive, from tomatoes to bananas to wheat and corn.

The state of Punjab led India’s Green Revolution and earned the distinction of being the “breadbasket of India. Photo Wiki.

Plant breeders led by the example of Nobel Laureate,  Prof Norman Borlaug in the 1960s, have achieved what Ehrlich thought impossible. Borlaug and his team produced new and higher yielding varieties of wheat and corn and farmers grew them.  It became known as the Green Revolution and it transformed agriculture from America to India to Australia and Europe and all places in between.

Better yielding crops and pastures have fed the world to abundance. Explore the link for some amazing performances.

But we have a problem — They are not making any more Land.

The problem is that it is not going to get any easier to keep on feeding the ever growing world population, even though we are now producing sufficient food to feed the projected peak in world population of around 9 billion in about sixty years. We have a few real problems on the horizon, which could affect food production.

To start with world isn’t getting any bigger. Urban sprawl, desertification and salinisation are eating up arable land and that is going to make feeding the world a little more difficult in the future. This is how difficult.

First of all, what do we mean by Arable Land?

Arable land is the land under temporary agricultural crops (multiple-cropped areas are counted only once), temporary meadows for mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens and land temporarily fallow (less than five years). The abandoned land resulting from shifting cultivation is not included in this category. Data for ‘Arable land’ are not meant to indicate the amount of land that is potentially cultivable.”

Arable land in the World now and in the future.

If I were to tell you that by 2050 there will less than 0.18 of a hectare of arable land for every person on earth on which to grow their food, what would you think? Would you believe me? You’d better, because it is true.

Gjerdrum, Norway. Family portrait of the Glad-Ostensen family with one week’s worth of food in June. The Hungry Planet project. Photo: Peter Menzel

A hectare is 10,000 M2. Measure it out, 1800 square metres is about a quarter of a soccer pitch. By 2050 you or the farmers of the world will have less than that area on which to grow ALL the food you need for a year. We don’t know how much is less.

That is all the land that will be available to grow all the cereals and vegetables you need for a year. Some of the grain  will go to feeding livestock like hens and cows for milk and maybe for a beef animal(s) and don’t forget the cereals for the grog and the cotton for your clothes. Do you think you could do it on a quarter of a soccer pitch?

Will the people thrive in 2070?

In 1960 there was 0.361 of a hectare available for every person on earth, in 2018 it had dropped to  0.184 ha, so the available arable area to grow your food has about halved in the last fifty years. Will the area halve again in the next 60 years? We don’t know.

It gets worse. Twenty percent of the current arable area is irrigated, but 30 million hectares of that land is affected by salinisation and a further 80 million hectares affected by water logging.

The population of the world in 1960 was ~3 billion in 2019 it was ~7 billion and predicted to go to ~9 billion plus when it plateaus in about 2064.

So, the population of the world has doubled and the arable area has about halved in about 60 years and most 0f us have been fed to abundance —  that is what our scientists and farmers have achieved.

In spite of that achievement globally, about 8.9% of the world’s population — 690 million people — go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Since 2014, the number of people affected by hunger has been slowly on the rise. If it continues at this rate, it’ll exceed 840 million by 2030.

There is no shortage of food, in fact we grow too much for our population so we throw away  and waste an enormous amount. Ironically, obesity and diabetes are now the scourge of the Developed World, both ailments can be caused by eating too much of the wrong foods.

Child in Aden.

The  cause of of hunger and starvation in this world is mainly war, but alarmingly there is an increase in the number of hungry people in the small nations in the Caribbean and in the dry corridor in South America . Men, women and particularly children go without food while politicians and world leaders fight wars and satisfy their own selfish agendas — they are all culpable, but they will never be called to account while the the citizens of the so-called free-world, look the other way.

When will the  world Population Peak and can all the people be fed what they want?

The most up to date estimate that I can find  on world population predictions is from ‘Lancet’,  and published in Science Daily. Lancet, until they got very commercial and controversial during the Covid19 hiatus, have been a very reliable, science based organisation.

Their estimate in 2020 was that the world population will peak in 2064 at about 9.7 billion and then decline to about 8.8 billion by 2100, a figure which is about 2 billion less than previous estimates.

The question then is not can the world survive because it surely will, but can the world continue to produce the food that the people of the world are increasingly demanding as their standard of living continues to improve, or will there be an increase in hunger and starvation?

There is no doubt that the amount of arable land in the world will decline.  This is a serious question for Australia when we consider that for the last thirty or forty years we have built another Canberra every year to house our increase in population, most of that growth has come from migration. We have to consider carefully whether we can afford to keep on building new towns on our precious arable land.

Photo: ABC

Salinity will always be a problem in Australia and particularly in the biggest grain growing state, Western Australia. In 2000 the Howard government  budgeted together with the states to spend some $14 billion to fight salinity, I can’t remember over how many years.  The programme was to be managed under the auspices of The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. At that time it was estimated that in Australia we were losing a football pitch every HOUR to salinity.

The consensus is that the programme largely failed.

Australia is not alone in fighting or not fighting salinity. In California in 2017 it was estimated they were losing some 10% of crop yield or US$3.7 billion a year to salinity. They have an added problem that some of their irrigation water is going saline.

There seems to be agreement among the research fraternity that worldwide salinisation and sodicity are increasing, by how much nobody really knows.  El Nino and La Nina seem to have an effect on Australia, and  what is going on in China remains a mystery.

It is hard to predict how much arable land will be gobbled up as the population increases and cities become larger and new cities emerge. It has been estimated that between 2000 and 2030 global croplands will decrease somewhere between 1.8% and 2.4%.  leading to a loss of production of between 3% and 4%.

It is also estimated that the ‘lost’ land will be used for new habitats for humans and what’s more  it will the best land that is lost, land with productive capacity 1.7 times better than the average.

It’s not all bad news, researchers from communist China are claiming that their arable land will increase in the future as urbanisation of the people increases from 56% to 80% of the population between now and 2050.

Terrace farming in Viet Nam

This migration from the country to the city, the Chinese claim, will release another 5.8 million hectares of land for food production, an area equivalent to 4.2% of China’s cropland in 2015. Consequently the Chinese claim that food production, even off these low quality lands will increase in China by 3.1% to 4.2% by 2050 compared to 2015.

Science in the future will not be standing still.

The prospect of new discoveries and innovation in science continuing even accelerating agriculture’s capacity to increase production and keep pace with the ever increasing population, will only happen if the governments of the world increase the funds they make available for research and development (R & D). Tax dollars are the people’s money and the people must demand a say in where the money is spent.

The return on investment can be massive if we produce the food the world will certainly want.

Genetic Modification.

The very mention of genetic modification (GM) raises the temperature, the hackles and the ire of many, mainly because of the fear generated by activists predicting Frankenstein crops and animals which are totally without foundation in fact. Many don’t realise the contribution GM technology already makes, much of it not in food production but in medicine, keeping people alive, including:

  • vaccines
  • antivenoms
  • bacteria derived toxins
  • Immunoglobulins
  • monoclonal antibodies
  • allergens
  • blood products and clotting factors
  • hormones such as insulin, growth hormone,
  • enzymes such as pancreatins
  • heparins.

GM crops have been around for forty years and they have raised production in some cases many fold. During that time there has not been any evidence that has shown a deleterious or harmful effect on either man or animals or the environment during that time, none.

Some products have been abandoned it is true and that is the very purpose and nature of good science.

Scientists within organisations with the same views and ethics of the broader community develop GM technology. Claims that these scientists would be party to launching harmful food on the people of the world is ridiculous, ludicrous, simply because it would mean that by so doing, they would harm their own loved ones.

Winds of Change’.

It is well known that many parts of Africa struggle to grow enough food for their ever growing population. The forecasts are that population growth will accelerate in Africa in the future. Nigeria for instance, is predicted to have a larger population than China by 2100 with 791 million people , it will be the second most populous nation in the world only topped by India with 1.01 billion.

Since the ‘winds of change’ swept through Africa in the fifties and sixties there have been problems with insufficient food in many parts of that continent.

Scientists in Nigeria have just made a major contribution to improving the diets and welfare of all Africans by releasing a genetically modified cow pea which is resistant to the borer Maruca vitrata which has been known to reduce yield by as much as 80%.

This important food  supplies much needed thiamine and iron as well as protein in the diet and this GM technology will help Nigeria fight its constant battle with malnutrition, especially among the young.

There are other saving as well, Nigeria, if all goes well, will no longer have to import, every year, up to 20% of the cow peas it needs.

Omega-3 oil.

Omega-3 oil has been known for a long time to be beneficial in our diet. The only source has been from wild, oily fish, now that has all changed, the  CSIRO and the GRDC together with Nuseed in Australia, have developed an Omega-3 Canola, which is now being grown around the world. One hectare of canola replaces the oil from 10 tonnes of wild fish. The world-wide benefits from GM technology, like this one saving the wild fish stocks from over fishing, seldom make the main stream press.

GM North Atlantic Salmon.

The consumption of fish per head of population, world wide, has more than doubled in the last sixty years. In 1961 the average consumption per head was 9kg and in 2018 it was 20.5kg.

Global fish production was estimated to have reached 179 million tons in 2018. Total fish production is predicted to increase to 204 million tons by 2030 and consumption per head to increase 1kg.

Currently fish farms supply 52% of the fish for human consumption and this is forecast to increase. In fact it has to increase because wild fish stocks are at best being maintained and at worst being depleted by ocean harvesting, mainly by communist China. With their own waters depleted China’s fishing fleets are ranging far and wide in search of catch.

Consequently the  global wild fish catch is increasing, up just 7% in the last decade. The challenge for the fish industry is to provide enough fish for the ever increasing demand and not obliterate the natural wild fish stocks. The global interest and the investment in fish farming, particularly in R & D is increasing.

For example in the 1990s two scientists genetically engineered the Atlantic salmon to grow twice as quickly as the conventional salmon while consuming less food.

That GE salmon has been on sale in Canada for a number of years and the producers have recently overcome the last hurdle to enable the GE North Atlantic salmon to be sold in America.

The time consuming debate on labeling  was with those who catch the rapidly declining stocks of wild North Atlantic Salmon and with some of the regulators. Now resolved GE North Atlantic Salmon are  being sold in Canada the USA and shortly they will be sold in Brazil.

There is no doubt that GE or GM or GMO (genetically modified organism) fish, of which some claim there are already about 20 species developed or under development will make a major contribution to the ever increasing world-wide demand for food and protein.

One of the most important factors breeding GM fish and all animals both GM and non-GM is the feed conversion rate or FCR that can be achieved. The FCR is how many grams of food it takes to produce a gram of weight in the animal or fish.

Pigs, for instance, have a feed conversion rate (FCR) of  about 3 to 1. That means for every 3 grams or kilos of feed consumed by the pig it grows 1 gram or kilo. Cattle have an FCR of 5 – 7 to 1 , so they are not as good as the pig at converting food into meat.

The GM salmon has a FCR of 1.2 to 1 and a new GE trout has an FCR of 1 to 1. That seems impossible to me but that is what they have done. The sustainability of the fish farming industry and so the feeding of the ever growing population is greatly improved by gene technology.

The debate will continue and no doubt rage at times, what we must all remember is that compromise may be needed if future generations can live as well as we do now.

Scientist in America developed a GM potato which provides 42% of a child’s daily needs for vitamin A and 34% of the child’s daily needs for vitamin E all from just one 150-gram serve.  Women of reproductive age get the same benefits. That is a huge step forward for the Developing World.

M98H61 ETHIOPIA, Amhara, Gondar, school for blind children

Twenty years after its invention and after many thousands of people have died from a Vitamin A deficiency, Golden Rice looks like it will finally be produced in the Bangladesh and the Philippines. It will save millions of people, mainly children from premature death, blindness and loss of their immune system.

I will never understand Greenpeace and others and their fight to never allow this life saving rice to be grown. Their nasty rumours and down right lies have now been overcome. Twenty years have been wasted in bringing this potentially life saving plant into production.

CRISPR technology.

I think CRISPR technology will answer more of the impending challenges of feeding more people off less arable land than will GE.

What is CRISPR? : The essence of CRISPR is simple: it’s a way of finding a specific bit of DNA inside a cell. After that, the next step in CRISPR gene editing is usually to alter that piece of DNA. However, CRISPR has also been adapted to do other things too, such as turning genes on or off without altering their sequence.

There were ways to edit the genomes of some plants and animals before the CRISPR method was unveiled in 2012 but it took years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. CRISPR has made it cheap and easy.

Gene technology of one kind or another is obviously going to play a major part in answering  the inevitable food production challenges that are heading our way in the next seventy years or so. Less arable land, changes in rainfall patterns whether they be caused by anthropogenic climate change or not doesn’t really matter, the people will have to be fed.

This is where CRISPR or gene editing technology, I think, will come into its own. Making plants resistant not only to insects but pathogens. Another area which is showing great promise for CRISPR is creating plants that use less water and even more exciting plants cereals that can use saline water and need less fertilizer. Plants that can convert sunshine better and so grow quicker, maybe enabling multiple crops in a season. Disease control without chemicals, so important because so many currently vital crop protection chemicals are derived wholly or in part from the petro chemical industry.

One of the great successes in CRISPR application has been with tomatoes. Remember this isn’t achieved by transferring genes from another entity it is just changing  the plants susceptibility to all manner of diseases like botrytis and in some cases, like golden canola, getting the plant to produce better nutrition.

Now they have gone a step further and removed the need for constant pruning to maximise yield and they have done that as well as bringing the harvest date forward to an amazing 5 weeks. It’s a great story and one of many around for this technology.

What can ALL Australian governments do to meet the challenge facing agriculture and the fisheries of the future in Australia?

Fix the Roads.

First and foremost it will be a major challenge for agriculture to get both state and federal governments to recognise that Australia has got a major roll in global food production in the future — but it will not happen unless they embark on long term strategic planning and turn that planning into action.

Holding a conference in Sydney and calling it the Global Food Forum means nothing to the man and woman on the land when their truckload of stock or grain comes to grief on yet another poor, narrow and inadequate road.

Governments around Australia have for too long ignored the fundamental needs of agriculture for a highway system that works and is cost effective. Without better highways and roads agriculture cannot grow.

Good and at one time efficient railway systems  have been allowed decay or have been deliberately and systematically dismembered by all state governments. They have done it with no consultation and with little thought for agriculture for which they were originally built. The result is that agriculture has been driven into using bigger and bigger trucks on roads which are demonstrably old and in poor condition and not fit for purpose.

All states need highways that can get farm produce, food, from the farm to the city quickly and efficiently.

Water – Harvest it – Move it.

Australia is not a dry continent, we have just lost our ability to harvest water and transport it to the places where it is most needed.

If water was moved from or harvested in the north of Queensland to the black soil country in that state and NSW, the production of food in this country would dramatically increase. There is almost nothing, nothing that cannot be grown in that vast region.

The same goes for Western Australia, all that state needs is water. We have had the late Ernie’s (Bridge’s) pipe dream and Colin’s ditch and many other moves to move water from the North to the agricultural areas.

I have watched the Fitzroy River in flood for months, goodness knows how many Sydney Harbours  ran out into the Indian Ocean.

I have grown wheat in a dry year and watched it die before maturity. We have the answers to these challenges, it is about time we used them.

Make food Processing an industry to be proud of again.

We cannot continue to base our agricultural exports on produce to which we don’t add value and at one and the same time import food to which value has been added. We import potato chips from Europe and South Africa – how silly is that? We import pasta and export Duram wheat. I know! The amount of food we are importing is alarming and going up every year. Why is that when there is nothing I can think of that we cannot produce in this country? We did once upon a time, to find food from another country was unusual and usually a luxury item, now it is the norm and ever increasingly so.

If we are to be great food traders again our food processors need cheap power and good roads or rail to get their produce to well organised ports.

Coles, Woolworths and IGA.

The big three need to tell us why they scour the world for the cheapest food they can find, often at the expense of Australian producers. The farmers and the processors in Australia need their support – not just in trendy TV ads but in everything.

If ALDI becomes a force all over Australia we need to recognise that most of their food, apart from fresh food, is imported from the EU and mainly Germany – the trade must be reciprocal – Germany must take Australian produce – fairs fair.

Zero Carbon by When – 2050? -2035?

Nobody knows by when and nobody knows what it will cost. That is the world we live in.

According to the Royal Society it seem unlikely that increased levels of CO² to 550ppm will have any effect on crop yields of many of the crops important for harvestable food, known as the C4 group. So there is unlikely to be any benefit to food producers from climate change as it seems the world will rush headlong into carbon zero by 2050.

What farmers will almost certainly be challenged by is this rush to electrify everything. I have no idea and I don’t think anyone else has the foggiest idea what this will mean for agriculture – what will the change cost? Can today’s big trucks and huge tractors be electrified and presuming they can – what will it cost to change over?

Rural debt in Australia is increasing at about $1 billion a year and the real price of many crops like wheat have been in decline since the abolition of the Corn Laws in England in 1846. So your guess is as good as mine on prices producers will receive to pay for change.

Cheerio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Must Not Give Our Birthright Away.

Henry David Thoreau, circa 1850. ‘I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage.’

For the sake of future generations, Australia must not give away its birthright for  a mess of pottage.

I wrote the following after a long  on-line discussion.  It was the culmination of a larger debate about the real cost of renewable energy. I have tidied up a few phrases for clarity.

Thank you for your considered replies. I am in my eighties. My profession is agriculture from farming to science to agribusiness.

I have watched this country change substantially over the last 50 years or so. That we have largely lost our ability to be self-sufficient in some of the vital parts of our economy concerns me greatly.

Manufacturing jobs have been exported, it started way back when, when it was to Japan because their labour was cheaper than ours. Then there were others others like Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and Russia for wool. Now we have China.

Fifty years ago , even twenty years ago we were self sufficient in oil, now our position is strategically fragile because the majority of our oil has to make two trips through the South China Sea and there is tension on that sea as China builds artificial islands.

There was a time we were self sufficient in food, now we rely heavily on imports, our food processing and manufacturing industry has fled due, in the main, to high power costs, much of it has gone to NZ, where they now process Chinese produce and then send it here — we eat frozen Chinese fruit and vegetables.

Continue reading “We Must Not Give Our Birthright Away.”

Australia – An Astounding Place.

 

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A new dawn for Australia? The Stirling Range from the Porongurup, Western Australia. Photo: Roger Crook

Australia – an astounding place.

In the Beginning.

It came as something of a surprise to me the other day when I realised that my wife Lynne and I have lived in Australia for over fifty years — half a century! Most of that time in Western Australia.

As I write, it is Australia Day. For some there are parties and fireworks. For others there are protests, rallys and marches because they believe that today should be a day of shame, because it is the day that the British stole Australia from its indigenous people.

Jacinta Price puts Australia Day into context for me:

Australia Day is often heralded by ads about lamb and barbies being ‘Australian’. But what does it actually mean to be Australian? I am half Warlpiri and a mixture of Irish, Scottish and Welsh. My sons are of Warlpiri, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Malay, Indian, French, African, Chinese, Scandinavian and German ancestry. My stepson is half Scottish and a quarter Mauritian. They are all 100% Australian. My husband and stepfather of my children is Scottish but calls himself a ‘Scaussie’. What we all have in common is a love for this multifaceted and beautiful nation.

My great grandfather’s grandfather was convicted of ‘robbing a soldier of his arms’, in 1832 in Kilkenny at the age of 21. He came as a convict in 1833. He was an Irish patriot fighting for his faith and people. In the current political climate I would not be expected to acknowledge and celebrate his life because I have a Warlpiri mother. Most of the self-identifying indigenous members of our community who claim to feel hurt by Australia Day being held on the January 26 would also have white ancestors in their family trees and may not even have been born if the First Fleet hadn’t come.

Continue reading “Australia – An Astounding Place.”

A Reason for Bed Wetting – Australia has less than 30 day’s supply of fuel and oil.

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?

days supply of goods

Continue reading “A Reason for Bed Wetting – Australia has less than 30 day’s supply of fuel and oil.”

Convincing evidence – Short of a miracle, the Australian wheat industry is terminal.

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.

Continue reading “Convincing evidence – Short of a miracle, the Australian wheat industry is terminal.”

The Farmers in Europe are Revolting

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.

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The team from Copa – Cogeca – Brussels.
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 !

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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?

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Not the last word – MCPI #3

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Below is an email I received on June 3 from Jay Horton from Strategis Partners, the company that is promoting Multi Peril Crop Insurance. I have attached a copy of the spreadsheet to the email I sent to you informing you of this article. I hope it works, if not then write me in the comments section at the end of this piece and I will forward it to you.

I circulated the email among consultant friends and I have to say that none have been enthusiastic. One said he could see ways of taking advantage of the proposition. Some of the comments I cannot repeat. Let’s say they were from non-believers. But here is a sample of the comments and questions about the commercial proposal to provide MPCI:

  • Fire and hail is only 1% or $5/ha compared to $$21/ha. Do not tell me that isn’t an extra cost.
  • It will happen(government assistance) and I wish I could have that sure bet on it.
  • Benefits are imaginative. In risky areas where the cover would be most useful the premium will reflect the risk.
  • I fail to see why interest is saved. We normally pay insurance (F + H) after harvest. I am sure they will require payment before.
  • What about the interest on extra inputs?
  • Real cost $32,000 net of saved insurance. You could get the yield by extra inputs anyway, nothing to do with insurance.
  • For every winner with forward pricing there is a loser. Is the farmer better at this than the speculator? In the end forward pricing is a COST. Frankly it has to be to pay for the broker of the deals. Otherwise everyone would be in on the act. It is only sensible when prices are towards to top decile as currently with wool. How much can you cover forward anyway, safely? (Remember this was written early June, just this morning wool has continued to go down and wheat up. It needs an expert to comment but I have noticed the Shanghai Stock exchange has taken a hit over recent times. Once again China controls the market this time in wool. Ed)
  • Only a % of the output is covered. 70% as I read it. To me that business will have a serious loss if only 70% of the proposed output is achieved.
  • Jay relies on security of income to make business decisions that could or might pay off. Returns from extra inputs. Forward pricing. True should they work but they are not assured. Observe Canola prices this year. Early pricing, which looked pretty safe has been eclipsed. Do you hedge currency as well?-you should at extra cost.

End of comments. I welcome comments from farmers and anyone else in agribusiness. If in this article I have missed something, then tell me. Same goes if you think I am wrong.

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Multi Peril Crop Insurance

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Bob Hall is a well-known agricultural consultant based in Darkan, Western Australia.
Back in the sixties Bob challenged us all about the way we managed our merino sheep.
There was nothing theoretical about Bob’s challenges. They were based on sound, practical and proven experience gained through working with his clients.
Bob offered solutions stretching from sheep yard and shearing shed design, to management practices designed to improve the efficiency and profitability of growing merino wool, which are still, maybe even more, relevant today.
Bob now manages a broad portfolio of consultancy covering all aspects of farm management in the wheat sheep belt of Western Australia. Here he presents his views on a hot topic of the day, Multi Peril Crop Insurance.

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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.