Droving in outback Australia

Why Australia needs a holistic agricultural policy

In Business and Environment, Environment, Ethical and Eco Agriculture, Politics, Social Development and Justice by Living Now0 Comments

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The world has shrunk, and a hungry man knows no boundaries. Since moving to Australia in 2011, Roger has been working with many good people, concerned people and caring people trying to figure out how to get Australian agriculture onto a stronger footing.

 

A century ago there were 300,000 commercially viable farms that were fit enough to be handed down to the next generation. Today there are only 12,000 farms in that position.

Here are two more scary figures:

  • Since 2008 agricultural properties in the north have been devaluing at roughly 15% per annum.
  • The banking industry has reported that 98% of properties in the north have a67.5% debt-to-equity ratio BEFORE a devaluation of their land is included.

So agriculture is in a mess a huge mess.

The best description of agriculture in Australia, financially, is that it is a giant Ponzi scheme [“A fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organisation, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator.” Wikipedia]

As long as new investors can be found, it is propped up. Currently those new investors being wooed are the Chinese. This is the situation and financial outlook for Australian agriculture, because no one knows how else to keep things going. Local families cannot make a go of things, and there are almost no farming families left.

Now the fact that staple food sources have been kept low priced to feed the masses in the cities does not help. There has been NO INCREASE in price paid to farmers for staple foods such as beef and wheat for over 60 years. In fact, if inflation is put in, then there has been a net reduction in the price paid for staple foods.

All governments need this situation to continue as, when food prices spike, governments lose elections in democracies. As such, they continue to destabilise farmers to allow the politicians to stay in power: be this a live export ban, or a duty charged, or a foot and mouth outbreak–whatever they need to do –these are all tools of destabilisation.

Socially in Australia the rural towns are dying: there are no sheep left, no shearers left, no income left. There are lots of suicides each year and the figure is around one per week among the farming community. So towns and farmers are dying, and most worryingly parents are convincing their children to NOT return to the farms when they graduate from school.

Environmentally things are not much better:

  • The amount of sediment flowing out to smother the reefs is truly scary.
  • The bare soil, dead crop lands and decreasing yields are all indicative of a large problem.
  • There used to be 2 billion sheep in Australia, and now there are less than 400 million. So the carrying capacity has decreased dramatically.

Now, if we look at the problem, we realise that Australia has never had an agricultural policy for the nation. Australia has had lots of policies towards addressing perceived problems in the industry. However the nation has never said, ‘we as a nation will do this, this and this agriculturally, with these goals in mind for these purposes’. This is very strange. Without agriculture,“the production of food, fibre, fuel from the land and waters”, we cannot have civilisation and cities.

So why would we have a city-based civilisation in Australia and not have an agricultural policy for the nation? It does not make any common sense.

Could it be because the nation started off with farmers and gradually changed to urban without anyone noticing the shift? Or is there a deeper issue? Could it be because farmers have no voice in our urban-based democracy?

I will argue that it is because Australia has no holistic context as a nation.

What does this mean? Well, when we manage complexity, we need a context within which to make decisions. Managing a nation is complex. We need to have a method of creating policy to allow for the management of that complexity. We need decisions to be made to create policy to reduce unintended consequences.

We need policy to assist us to live the lives we desire thousands of years into the future, which are socially, economically and environmentally as we ALL desire.

This context would cover all portfolios of government, as complexity cannot be managed in isolation. Agriculture is one of the most complex things that can be managed: labour is vital for agriculture, transport is vital for agriculture, imports and exports are vital for agriculture, environment, infrastructure, water, power are all vital for agriculture, and therefore none of these can be managed in isolation.

Now as all I have mentioned so far is about the doom and gloom of agriculture, why do all parties need to be involved?

In politics you never draw attention to a negative otherwise you lose the election. Hence, as for at least the last 60 years there has been no positive message in agriculture, no party has even mentioned it. However after 60-odd years, the chickens are now coming home to roost. We have 1 billion hungry people on the planet and in the next 24 years an additional 2 billion people will be born. The world has shrunk, and a hungry man knows no boundaries. So we have no option –we have to get farming, and get farming fast–even if for our national security alone.

To do this, we actually need a policy that is bankable. That policy needs to have ALL parties involved, and this is too important to have a fight over,as, if we fight, we all go down. It is of vital national security interest that we create a context in which to write a policy for agriculture, and, as neither party will want to write one, ALL stakeholders will need to contribute –so that the entire nation has ownership in the context and the policy that will need to be created to be able to achieve all the goals the nation desires.

And here is the kicker. It is not farmers who must demand it. It is each and every person who relies on agriculture to live who must demand it. So if you are clothed in cotton or wool, and live in a house with wood, and eat three meals a day, you are the person who must demand a national holistic context and a national agricultural policy written to achieve the goals desired. It is you, the people reading this article, who must make waves politically in your party as your very survival depends on it.

[LivingNow has direct experience of how effective it is for lots of us to write to our local MPs to demand something. Please do so. If you don’t have time to write an email or letter, just phone your local MPs office. They record how many people comment about an issue. Ed.]

 

Rodger Savory is a Director of Savory Grassland Management who address climate change by building productive, profitable farming enterprises, one property at a time, their goal being to assist property owners to increase production dramatically so as to feed an additional 2 billion mouths in the next 25 years on 5 billion hectares.

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