Fighting alligators isn’t much fun

In the last two years I have been very lucky to have met some amazing farmers from different industries all over Australia through my role as a Climate Champion as well as working with the new breed of exciting young farmers through the Art44agriculture Young Farming Champions program. These young people have fire in their bellies and see farming, and the entire agribusiness chain, in a new light.

Nick and Emma Eng Shoot (10)

Young people like Nick and Emma have fire in their bellies and see farming, and the entire agribusiness chain, in a new light.

Anyone who reads my blog post regularly will also note my growing concern for the  hostile environment our farmers are finding themselves in. As Victorian dairy farmer Ron Paynter says its like fighting alligators all day, everyday.

Its just bizarre when you think of the 1 billion hungry people in the world, half are small farmers – a quarter are landless labourers working on plantations and over 24,000 people are dying of hunger each day, half of them children. Yet the spend on agricultural research and development is a mere 1.8 cents of the developed world’s science dollar. This gives a very clear idea how unimportant most of the world’s governments now consider food production to be. (Chartres C, World Congress of Soil Science, Brisbane, August 2010)

We talk a lot about the rural urban divide but I believe the real disconnect is between value and price. Consumers in affluent countries do value food they just don’t want to pay for it. The Australian government absolves itself of responsibility and fosters the notion of food at rock bottom prices as a birth rite. (See what Julian Cribb has to say on this at bottom of the post)

There is a complete lack of lack of understanding of not only what is required to produce high quality affordable nutritious ethical food BUT also what it takes to do this consistently and AD INFINITUM.

In Australia, agricultural farm land has become the poor cousin to mining and residential land. Whilst mining is yet to impact on our farming enterprise there is a constant regional conflict between the need to house people without sacrificing our most productive farm land to housing.

Surely is must be a plain as the nose on your face and Louise Fresco is right when she says  “Food is as important as energy, as security, as the environment. Everything is linked together.” After all sustainable food production and consumption is pivotal to the health, wealth and happiness of all Australians and many people around the world.

What’s the answer?

Well I am giving it a lot of thought as I prepare my presentation for the 2012 Managing the Future of Australian Farm Land Conference next week.  I am looking forward to hearing and working with the “big ideas” people to do my little bit to ensure our policy makers have all the facts to enable them to make the best decisions for everyone including our farmers.

We all have a role to play.  Its time to take the shackles off our farmers and enable them stay in business for the long haul.


Why Farmers Need a Pay Rise…



Globally and especially in developed countries, food has become too cheap. This is having a wide range of unfortunate – and potentially dangerous – effects which include:

§ Negative economic signals to farmers everywhere, telling them not to grow more food

§ Increasing degradation of the world’s agricultural resource base

§ A downturn in the global rate of agricultural productivity gains

§ An ‘investment gap’ which is militating against the adoption by farmers of modern sustainable farming and other new technologies

§ A deterrent to external investment because agriculture is less profitable than alternatives.

§ The decline and extinction of many local food-producing industries worldwide

§ A disincentive to young people (and young scientists) to work in agriculture.

§ Loss of agricultural skills, rural community dislocation and increased rural and urban poverty affecting tens of millions

§ Reduced national and international investment in agricultural research and extension

§ Lack of investment in water, roads, storage and other essential rural infrastructure

§ The waste of up to half of the food which is now produced

§ A pandemic of obesity and degenerative disease that sickens and kills up to half of consumers of the ‘modern diet’, resulting in

§ Soaring health costs causing the largest budget item blowout in all western democracies

§ The failure of many developing countries to lay the essential foundation for economic development – a secure food and agriculture base – imposing direct and indirect costs on the rest of the world through poverty, war and refugeeism.

From this list it can be seen that low farm incomes have far wider consequences for humanity in general than is commonly supposed.