Jun 08

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Year of the Farmer

When I leave the city confines and visit a working farm, a curious ease settles over me.  I enjoy the integrity of it all.  I have no idea what the pin stripe in the city is doing but the bloke over there’s ploughing a field.  Clear as day.  Even the dead carcass has authenticity.  Don’t think you can cheat death.  One day, it’ll get you.  Brutal.  Real.

On a run across to Tamworth last week, I also witnessed the ru-urban war.  ‘No mines.’  ‘You can’t eat coal and you can’t breathe gas.’  ‘Keep your fracking gas.’  Fair enough.  Or is it?  We live in a commercial world – a world where there is a demand for power.  And it must be met.  But at what cost?  This is good land.  It is not the sun-scorched rock of the Pilbara.

Last year, Australia had 134,000 farms.  On average, these farms fed 150 people in Australia and 450 people overseas.  Although produce leaving the farm gate may only contribute 3% to our gross domestic product, farming, in some form other, takes place on 61% of our land.

Now is a good time to visit a farm.  Many parts of the country are looking pretty lush.  But, it is not always thus.  Our land is not a magic pudding.  It must be nurtured through drought, plague and fire.  It must be nourished through periods of high dollar and low demand.  It must be nursed through soil-loss and salinity.

In this Year of the Farmer, we must realise the value of land.  In a world of burgeoning population, food and water will become vital commodities.  By 2030, we will need 50% more food and 30% more water.  Some countries have woken up to this and are buying vast tracts of land around the world.  They call this land-banking.  Others call it food-banking.

Even small countries like Qatar own 730,000 ha of Australian land.  They plan to meet 35% of their food supply from farms in Australia.  Korea’s Ho Myoung Farm alone owns 500,000 ha of Australian land.  Government scrutiny of agricultural land purchase by foreign countries only occurs if the value of the purchase is north of $244 million.  With most Australian farms worth less than $10 million, this doesn’t give much control.

The Federal Government, via its Australian Bureau of Agricultural Research (ABARE), refutes the National Farmer’s Federation claim that 11% of Australia’s agricultural land is foreign owned, and says it’s nearer 1%.  The truth is difficult to verify given the use of Australian front companies by many overseas interests.  We must be careful.  Some foreign ownership is appropriate, but we must not sell too much of our nation’s soil, minerals or intellectual property offshore.

Australia, like its farmers, must think long-term.  I was reminded of this when chatting to someone whose family had farmed his property for 150 years.  In this fast-paced world, this sort of time-frame can be difficult for a person to grasp – particularly our politicians.  Many can only think in terms of four year electoral cycles.

Most of us would benefit from a few more days in the country.  We might connect rather more with what is real and realise rather better what is false.  We might also get reminded that:

  • ­   Vegies come from the ground, not a can.
  • ­   Something needs to die in order to have a barbie.
  • ­   More value can be added by a man in jeans than in a suit.
  • ­   Even when life is messy and smelly it can still be beautiful.
  • ­   If we want to harvest next year, we must plant this year.

Many of my boarders know this.  Do we?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.timhawkes.com/year-of-the-farmer/

1 comment

  1. Hamish Boyd Jones

    Well Said Sir. Throughout this year working on the ‘Year of the Farmer’ I have met many different people from all walks of life, however we all need the agriculture industry and we all need to value it. It is fantastic to see your support for The Australian Year of the Farmer and our agriculture industry.

    Thank you, from The Rockhampton Show
    Hamish BJ

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