When I was invited to speak at 2012 Agricultural Land Conference “Managing the future of Australian farm land” being held by Australian Farm Institute at the end of May I was very excited and honoured
“This two-day conference brings together policy-makers, industry representatives and landholders to consider the most up-to-date information on these issues, and to engage in discussions about what future Australian farm land policy should aim to achieve”.
We recently hostedDr John Keniry in his role as NSW Natural Resources Commissioner who also just happens to be chairman of the board of Australian Farm Institute and you should have seen his eyes light up when he spoke about the work the institute does and what it achieves and I don’t blame him I am very proud of it too
So why did I get this gig and why I am struggling.
Well I got the gig because I am expert in the joys and challenges of farming in a peri urban landscape with both our farmshaving a high rural urban interface.
The tentative title of my talk is “Farming in a Goldfish Bowl – is it doable” Well at the moment it is but it’s not getting any easier and I am starting to question our resilience and why we bother. Now as anyone who knows me or has heard me speak there is no-one more upbeat about farming and proud of farmers being part of the noblest profession than me
In fact I started a Youth Movementto shout it far and wide but at the moment I am not feeling the love and I am angry
Let me share with you why
I normally start my talks with “I have big picture vision for agriculture in this country. I want a dynamic, innovative and exciting agrifood sector that the next generation best and brightest see as a career of first choice but agriculture has a number of internal issues to address before this will happen”
The elephant in the room is farmers lacking the very necessary skills sets to effectively and productively engage with consumers and policy and decision makers and come to the decision making table with the solutions.
Farmers are less than 1% of the population and we know as little about the other 99% as they know about us and that’s dangerous. Sadly it is becoming very dangerous for food security in this country.
Internationally renowned agriculture sustainability expert Louise Fresco points this out very well.
“Never before has the responsibility of feeding the world been in the hands of so few people. Never before have so many people been oblivious of this and have the luxury of taking food for granted” Hear her insightful TED talk here
How does this relate to our story?
Setting the scene. We farm in paradise on possibly the most fertile soil with highly reliable rain fed pastures in Australia – there is no denying that
View from my front verandah
We supply more than 50,000 Australian with milk every day on just 118 ha and to top it all off we do this in a highly sensitive rainforest environment
Wow I just love bringing those cows home through Picasso Corner and taking in what we have achieved through strong natural resource management community partnerships
We do it in the middle of a dairy centric rural residential subdivision where houses sell for in excess of 2.5 million and even include a Glenn Murcutt house
We do it on the edge of Jamberoo where not only do the thousand people who live in the village see our farming practices everyday so too do the tens of thousands of people who travel by on the highway each year .
Now don’t get me wrong our region loves its farmers and so does the local council. Sadly in the main they love their farmers not because they produce food but because they maintain the landscape and paradise. We do such a good job the local real estate agent took a picture of the Lemon Grovefarm and splashed it right across one of their exterior walls. (must get a picture of that myself)
My Clover Hill neighbours are gorgeous but there a number of them who say privately they love the vista the cows provide but would prefer the cows and their manure had a virtual presence. There are times I cant blame them – turned up to a few events with manure on my shoes myself. We know reality says you can’t have one without the other. I do hope the ever declining farmer terms of trade and external pressures out of our control don’t determine my neighbours actually witness the ramifications of a cow free landscape shortly.
But I can live with these minor frustrations what I am really angry about is despite successful farming in this country requiring ongoing innovation, efficiency gains, increasing intensification and active farmer/community/decision policy maker engagement this isn’t happening.
Why isn’t it happening you ask?
At a regional level farmers find themselves locked into a system where they are unable to free up capital constrained by archaic planning systems based on prohibition and mathematical exercises. We have regulators who impose urban ideas of separation and rigid rules which they apply in isolation with no understanding of the landscape or landforms.
Too often so called agricultural experts are selected by tender not expertise leading to regulators being ill-informed. The one size fits all and a lack of collaborative ethos stymies diversification and innovation. Well-meaning green councillors have preconceived ideas and prejudices of farmer motivations and are driven to reinvent the landscape into what they think it should look like. In fact this was recently played out when all of the “prime agricultural land” in Jamberoo was zoned landscape or environmental land and because of lack understanding of how our local dairy farmers farm the dictionary definition of dairy farming actually precluded dairy farming. Just as well we identified and reversed that impending disaster before it was too late.
Most of all I am angry with Coles. $1/litre milk is not sustainable. Food has not been realistically priced in this country for a long time and now Coles is hell bent on devaluing it to the level where farmers feel worthless.
What is the answer?
Well Coles and their partner in crime in this race to the bottom to demoralise farmers and destroy agriculture’s viability in this country are out of my control.
However engaging with, and convincing the community and the regulators that fostering the rural idyll of 1950’s style agriculture is unrealistic and counterproductive to innovative, dynamic, profitable sustainable agriculture in the 21stcentury is one I will pursue fervently.
We all have a role to play Australia. Countries who do value food because they can’t grow it themselves will continue to buy farmland in this country. Don’t get angry with them instead recognise valuing your farmers is not enough. Firstly we must be prepared to vigorously lobby our regulators to give our farmers a mandate to innovate, achieve efficiency gains and intensify their businesses. Most importantly we must realistically value the food our farmers produce and be prepared to pay for it.
In the words of Louise Fresco “Food is as important as energy, as security, as the environment. Everything is linked together.” Yet we continue to ignore this at our peril and we are denying these young people a future as part of the noblest profession and this wont happen eitherJulia if we don’t have the farmers to fuel the agribusiness sector.
Thank you Australian Farm Institute for the opportunity to be heard and vent and hopefully help bring the solutions to the table
Some other food for thought can be found here
Richard Black – Farming needs “Climate Smart” Revolution
Geraldine Doogue – Foreign Investment in Australian Agriculture
Shaun Coffey – What Price Cheap Food
Marian MacDonald – Confidence to Grow
Lynne Strong – I must be a good person because I am a Christian
Nate Berg – One things missing from the Urban Farm Movement – Farmers