Is Australia’s psyche at risk if we don’t save every farmer?

In amongst the stories of genuine distress from many rural areas in Australia, the debate is emerging again of how far should we go to keep farmers on the land. The widespread acceptance that climate change is a reality which may be exacerbating current and future droughts adds an extra layer to the debate.

Agriculture Minister, Peter McGuaran, has said the government is “going to fight to save every farmer.” He has also said that “farmers “are the stewards of the natural landscape, 60 per cent of Australia’s land mass is in the hands of farmers, if they walk off the land then the land will be swept away and become barren.”

Now to top it off, the Prime Minister has said fewer farmers would damage Australia’s psyche.

“It is part of the psyche of this country, it is part of the essence of Australia to have a rural community,” Mr Howard said. “Not only would we lose massively from an economic point of view [but] we would lose something of our character. We would lose something of our identification as Australians if we ever allowed the number of farms in our nation to fall below a critical mass.”

I think it’s time for some balance in the debate. Saying we should save every farmer, that they are stewards of the natural landscape and an essential part of our national psyche is just as extreme as saying farmers are all destroying the country and sucking the taxpayer dry.

Making Holden cars in Australia used to be part of our national psyche (or at least part of the mythology that makes up a national psyche). That is no longer the case. No other industry can expect to have every single worker maintained in it, regardless of economic and environmental reality.

Nobody wants farmers and their families to starve, or the towns and communities they are a part of to close down. But no one wants people to lose their jobs when manufacturing plants close down either. There is only so far we should go in propping up economically and environmentally unviable activities. We are in a state of semi-permanent drought in some parts of the country. It would make more sense socially, economically and environmentally if we were provide adjustment assistance – whether into different activities or different areas.

We must have pretty fragile national psyche if we have to preserve it by funding farmers to keep farming economically and environmentally unviable land.

UPDATE: Here are links to items in the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun which touch on the human impact and some of the economic factors.

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  1. Coke and vegemite: what’s there difference you ask? These products are innovations, not substitutes. There is/was nothing like them when they entered the market

    Kangaroo/emu meat ect: They are considered substitutes. Like I said before, a good marketing campaign can only take a product so far, if the product just cant compete with existing substitutes or its just plain bad value for money, then it will never take off and never sell.

  2. Josh I definitely only said SOME AREAS. If sheep and beef are marginal and destructive, native wildlife could be the solution. Huge areas, low management requirements. Ask the people of St George who are doing well culling roos. Also have you read some of the anecdotal accounts from central queensland. Miners working their 7 days on and then shooting roos for 7 days on their off days for the growing European health market in roo meat. You say emu is not tasty – important for marketing it has to taste good! Ostrich is really tasty. Apparently croc is good too and maybe it is time we started cull programmes again. As a rural cynic said, wait till someone gets eaten in Brisbane when the salties get down that far – they are reclaiming territory and it is only a matter of time. Similar to the white pointer – when attacks happen near small towns, conservation laws cannot be queried. When the 2 guys were taken off Adelaide, shooting was okayed and planes and boats were all over.

  3. Ah Rob, we seem to have found some agreement at last.

    I have been provokative for the sake of discussion but I am really closer to what you say than I am letting on.

    Josh, if there was an essence to my position it would be diversification. The method would be gradual change.

    I am no native absolutist which is why I have included camel and hemp in my examples.

    And I think you are wrong about coke and vegemite. There was plenty of soft drinks and sandwich spreads before these products turned up The market develops.

    Also vegemite, plenty of sandwich spreads before it turned up, the innovation was marketing a waste product (like the Hawaiin macadamea nut industry)

    try telling an English person that the kipper market is different to the lamb and beef market.

  4. or tripe, or black pudding. Just the left over blood and guts from the abbatoir, the organs that process excrement – yuk. High in vitamins – much more than steak.

  5. John, we are not talking about Englishmen here, we’re talking about Aussies. The oranges are apples in this case.
    Disagree with the coke and vegemite marketing position though, as yes they are considered a softdrink and sandwhich spread when they came out, but the Brands coke and Vegemite are now labelled within their own market, hence you here people say “would you like coke” and not “would you like a cola flavoured softdrink”.
    iPods are considered an IT product, yet they have created for themselves a unique position and entity in their market.
    Rob, I realise Im generalising, but I dont forsee a wide spread take to croc, emu and roo meat here in Aus. Export is a great option, markets can be created and if its viable lets get some money flowing in that direction.
    I honestly know very little about farming practices and technology, though I understand the impact and market implications of the producst they produce. Beef and Lamd are highly desired in Australia. Currently, we rely on Aussie farmers for to bring these products to market. What happens when energy (in the form of capital and workforce power) get diverted from producing these products??? Prices rise, people get annoyed, and more web blogs like this are hit with avid writers trying to do something about it.
    In solving one problem lets not create another

  6. Export only market. Then when it becomes fashionable in Europe, the Aussies will copy!

    Karen: another thought for small farmers to gain economies of scale is co-operative farming where equipment is shared (often through starting a company owned by all and the equipment is leased from the company plus to outsiders which offsets some of the maintenance costs). Advantages: better borrowing terms, better prices (bulk), better markets (more relaible supply), shared service providers etc. Farmers strength is their independence but non co-operation is often their undoing.

  7. More innovation – macadamias again

    makadamia shells are hard to get rid of because they take so long to break down. A problem has been turned into an assett where macadamia farmers sell their waste to an electricity company.

    I don’t know the green house implications but as it is fast turn around renewable fuel that does not dig up old carbon from the ground but just speeds up the process of carbon emission through slow composting. I suspect it is pretty good on CO2 business too.

  8. And to all the agricultural conservatives. Did you see the news tonight?

    Wheat, barley and canola have all hit their lowest production in a decade.

    If we do not innovate and diversify and build new markets for different products then there is no hope for rural communities and the national GDP as well.

  9. >>And to all the agricultural conservatives.Did you see the news tonight? Wheat, barley and canola have all hit their lowest production in a decade.

    Indeed…& from the reports I’ve been reading there have been massive crop failures across the World…some say we are on the verge of Global famine.

    Interesting reading the comments on China. I’ve always believed the Chinese economic miracle is going to hit a large bump soon…the Olympics, Space Programme, Tibetan railroad incursions, rampant military build up & purge of top execs are indicators that the political economic strategists there are preparing for a pro-unification, mucho Nationalism ‘get prepared to defend our energy resources’ shift. They are aware that droughts are becoming a common factor…that’s why they built a huge dam & have closed down much unviable farming areas…furthermore they’re going nuclear energy full bore, amongst other things…looking to self-preservation/self-sufficiency I reckon…but it’s worrying that we have so much of the uranium they need.

    The Chinese manufacturing industry is already being forced to look beyond its borders for cheap labour. Unions are making inroads. Worker demands are increasing…as are those of the peasantry/rural sector. This will call for drastic reforms, including more efficient Health, Social Security, Transport & Education systems. Anticipate heavy expenditures in these areas…& health & safety acts etc. to go w/ it.

    Imagine what that will do to the present Chinese mining & manufacturing industry. The price of goods coming out of China. And in turn Australia’s relationship w/ China….???

  10. I believe its well beyond the stage of calling it a “miracle”. Just out of curiousity, how do feel about the states, japan and the german economy? Here we see countries that spend huge amounts on:
    “Health, Social Security, Transport & Education systems. Anticipate heavy expenditures in these areas…& health & safety acts etc.”
    Yet they remain superpowers none the less.
    It comes down to capital, trade and workforce. China’s receiving the capital now, trades with the world and when the next generation of Chinese comes through with more university graduates than citizens in this country, then we’ll know about it.

    China is just a piece in the future economic trading map. There are many more “developing China’s” in the world, and we are only just in the beginning of this globally linked world

  11. >>Yet they remain superpowers none the less.

    that’s right…but they also had recessions…& they developed during periods w/ less urgent demands…certainly military expenditure & ‘cold war’ type investments are not abnormal for developing Nations…nor the requirements to construct aspects of a functioning social democracy (as mentioned above)…but the scale of the energy demands (considering possible peak oil scenarios)…the demands to deal w/ Climate Change & provide ‘cleaner energy’, the projects to deal w/ & prevent potential large scale natural disasters emanating from said climate transformation…& expenditure on space related activities to counter US & allies moves…seems like quite a burden to me.

    >>China is just a piece in the future economic trading map. There are many more “developing China’s” in the world, and we are only just in the beginning of this globally linked world

    Now there I agree w/ you…

  12. I Say,

    Let’s grow lots of cotton and rice. Let’s grow lots of grapes for alcohol. And let’s make sure the multi-nationals are well catered for. Then you can all come on down to Lake Mokoan and kneel in the mud next to me. Because not too many of the current business exploits will save very many farmers, the life blood of the country where, in the end, only food counts.

    Lance Whyte
    Save Lake Mokoan(Vic)

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