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Friday, February 08, 2013

Is there any motivation to keep farming ? 

There is very little motivation to farm in Australia in 2013.  If we can't support our own to avoid high risk and low returns,  how in the world can we pretend to offer soemthing to the really poor in the world They try to farm too .  To understand why we , of all people should be so ineffective in supporting a key industry, we need to look at how we now see industry in general and industry policy in particular.

The picture is taken in Australias most productive and sustainable dairying country in the Western District but only just after the low  bush was cleasred and the soil nutition altered with micro nutrients . ( Many  said at the time - it should never be cleared )
 The attitude of all the major parties to industry policy in 2013 is all one way and all the way with " let's exploit eh"
I always remember a miner , come farmer near Ballarat telling me we Aussies are more gamblers and speculators  miners than we are real custodians, yeoman and landcarers.
His point was valid . In our communities there are always people who don't care for their environment . However being helpful means being properly targeted and there is nothing properly targeted by pushing the earth and the people living on it . Unless our culture calls us back to care ) and not just in some token political way ) , our focus ( both city and country) will result in the  highest  productivity and the greatest risk for agricultural producers.  
The aradox is that soem parts of the world have taught their people to accept marginally lower productivity and mush less risk. Admittedely in Europe, Agriculture is less subject to the risks of semi arid climates. Farmers have holidays in europe now insated of food wars . Are they dumb or are we dumb and uncaring . After all exploitation will keep driving the killing and the risk taking in  Northern africa and themiddle east
The problem we have in undersatnding why we are, as Australains  in 2013, so ineffective in supporting rural communities runs very deep . Deeper than any edition of Landline ever goes and deeper in our thinking than most want to go - the complexity and delicacy of nature's gifts and the simplicity of our own simple economic imperatives.

There was a time,  not so long ago, when there were lots of moral ( or value )  incentives for landowners to feed our own people  -eg in nearly all the centuries before this one. Most of the new disincentives to feed the people are not obvious because they are not talked about ; criticisms  of producers is "not nice" in any circle  - its not politically correct to say up front what is thought deep down .Yes they are rich ( capital wise - they have to have high equiy to survive )
The Greens aren't right of course,  but they dig in a important and sensitive area - a sore that must be exposed before it can heal . The silence on this subject doesn't stop people thinking bad inadeqaute and misplaced thoughts and those thoughts finally finding a place in policy - because the discussion is not a open one. Policy by default (HIFFEA)- "its de other blokes fault " (HIFFEA)- can really become the standoff position for many? People at parties quietly talk about a better way,  but they haven't found one (Everyone becoming vegans isn't really ' an answer -- is it ? You tell me below  Ruminants for example are necessary to maintain  grassland and tundra ecosystems . The simple fixation of many Greens with trees is simply wrong being both simple and wrong , A simple view of nature means a highly constrained view of life and thats what many are stuck with.   Limbo land is not motivating - its depressing and we are living in it   Copyright EA Feb 8th  2013.
 Farmers were once valued as' the salt of the earth"; Now, in this century  there is some doubt they do anything right (which is in itself not right ,but its real - how about in your neck of the woods?)  . "Put it all back to trees" many say , from the comfort of their chairs infront of the TV.

I , just like those who cleared the land and still feed you, don't want any quick patronising responses to this rant . There is at least an element of quick fix in most responses  I see in over 3 decades of work in this area; Whose on to talk about it thoroughly?   Who reading this will seek to hear a local farmers hurts ?
We,  like many of you,  though, think our past Governments , Agriculture Departments and accountants have not really helped us live sustainably-  all the same.The problem of poor perception of what is needed still dogs the left and right in politics . This shaky ground on either side means we are lonelier than we thought when both parties at least placed people in our communities. .
Our only safety as eco communities here is in the truth and there is far too much shallow talk and implied criticism in the media- and fewer and fewer production ecologists to help us establish the truth. There is hardly a forum , with all the noise about this , for the truth .
Did this land go salty for example or did the soils deteriorate ? Under what circumstances will the damage be restored ? Confusion and unanswered criticism remain like salt on our wounds - no truth -just questioning and implied judgement
While it is not often said is that today in 2013 some new things are implied - a new political correctness ;new fears and new realities: a new religious and politically correct vocab. "Humans are a scourge and farmers the instrument of that scourge " 
Because we don't talk about it we, as asociety  don't really know and live  the truth . Farmers have become the focus in what is now seen to be man's role as a pest -Man has become "the scourge of the earth" and men who work the earth just dumb defendants .
The subtle shift of blame from the greed of people to greed pressure on the ground is almost impossible to make a talking point - does  the city want to bury its guilt somewhere and on some one?  ; we like to shift blame onto someone other than ourselves and the process works most reliably when the people are far away and not like us? ; When we don't have to understand them and clearly don't .

We farmers didn't want to play the game now as Australians mostly wanted to play it . We like all conservation people still hope we can have a change of mind on this - but we must do it together . ( even compared  to Europe where Ag policy is less simplistic and less economically deterministic- farmers still get a living out of it over there ) The reason we as communities are oppressing our farmers is  partly because we are swamped by stupid simplicities about the nature of economic progress ( "extracting the last drop-"- "the margin of competition" --"the cliff is king,  not the margin of respect --the fence the sign"in the picture  ); 
If only our people realised how short term ( short term gain long term pain ) that view is .   I put it to you that farmers want to help ; they have been calling  to let their cows and chooks enjoy the outdoors for decades before some of us got the idea ; , it isn't the farmers  that force the issue on the land  . They are forced by pressure from the cities , by those unlike us,  who know how to leave the edge of the field for a harvest of another kind ( those of us who multibag the ecosystem and respect it for that wonder)  , for those us who know that simple bookeeping is a form of hell imposed on God's good ecomia: A form of oppression imposed on one man by another .
You see , many of us are sucked in to the stupid simplicity that the world was made in the image of a machine ( Is this what the city believes ?)  - we clearly know from working with it every single day that it was made for His creatures to enjoy - both its abundance and its scarcity.( ask me for a paper I produced on the subject !)   But we are only 1% and ,,,,,we come from the country so what would we know ? Many Australians would be surprised to find out that we think 90% of aussies are  living in the dark ( about our situation ) and happy to stay there.
Some readers may question whether the picture I have painted is accurate . Well,  I trust you accept my point about farmers isolation on this,  and where the pressure to behave badly partly comes from . Tell me , who, in the Australian parliament is supporting my call for independent observers to back farmers. The dills will get a shock at the next election at how many independents will get votes ( can 1% win ion their own ? For nearly 20 years I know  there is no move in Australia yet to clear up confused and careless talk about sustainability. Its all just talk in a shallow pond of political football . For Tony Burke and his entourage its about a reserve here and a buy back there, a garnd blunt marketing meacahnsim instrument that is just as likely to screw the poor than those who need to limit their waste ( the rich)  -Looking after land you look after people , Goverening has  nothing to do with screwing people and adopting simple levers to manage the wonderful diversity that a managed landscape  can support ; if only the dummies would stop pressing on the accelerator and govern for a change .
New realities: We are rightly unsure that anything we do is sustainable so its tempting , because "we" pushed the environment so hard in the past , to assume that it's not natural and therefore bad to do anything with it .We are no longer allowed to design with nature ,just design like nature or just keep our lives separate . The religious idea that we "can't touch" means that jobs like mine are under threat - Vic government no longer supports such work. Even though there are still jobs there there is less and less motivation ( if people become more religious)  .There is therefore much less motivation to farm and support farmers when farmers just may be doing the wrong thing by being there and using their hands and machinery in the area. The safe way to touch the environment is to go to Safeway (copyright EA Feb 2013) .
Farmers need more than ever, concrete evaluations of whether their farming is sustainable and where it is not .They need people trained to do this . This I know , cause I have worked in that space for decades and know it provides HOPE and some objectivity  and motivation for both parties; the participants and the observers ( neither of whom can be assumed to be reliable)
You may not believe it,  but most farmers in Australia think the time for talking about this has past . This is because the complexities are huge and the city has no real way of knowing ( apart from the TV?) whether something is really sustainable or not . Farmers have a working knowledge ( hence their impatience  with simple stuff  from the city) , but even that is not enough . Sustainability discussions MUST be rigorous to resist the desire, in particular  by some religious types( always the most dangerous cultural elements?)  for a write /right off / quickfix.
 Our local National party members haven't met for five years . How many farmers do you know that blog ? How many farmers do you know that would have the energy to blog . As one who has blogged for farmers for nearly 2 decades,  I know you need a lot of energy because few want to see that the environment discussion HAS to be AS COMPLEX as its got to be . Farmers for example
There is no future for farming unless the people INSIST that sustainable agriculture is identified and know that risk has both a use and a management component and yet the Greens don't get that deep - a use is bad to them and that measn ban it  . Not only that,  sometimes we can improve nutrient recycling in ecosystems making them more diverse than they would naturally be  (The land in the picture ).  The balance can be well kept by professional observers and participants working together but not politicians ( with the tacit support of a cynical audience) .
Some decades ago,  farmers did think that people were listening to them but increasingly they notice its less respectful , more suspicious and more patronising than before .Some decades ago , farmers did think that people were listening to them but a lack of real understanding of their dilemma ( even by them but mostly by the 99% of people who don't occupy their territory ) is a deep wound that continues to fester.
Many producers are now in "no talk" mode.
The sore festers because just criticizing Woolys and Coles is too easy .The sore festers because the solutions offered to the production dilemmas are not well targeted and can be so patronising they can kill ( I can't explain this important matter here) .The sore festers because no real cure is seen : because the problem is not really understood.
The sore kills because the one silly and vain group who think they can solve the dilemma ( the Greens ) are just meddling . If agriculture is unsustainable ( as their green glasses are saying in church ) then we should close the country down , live in bark huts and eat possums ( not sure we would have anything to eat really under their current eating rules ?)
You see the problem is religious , not technical : simplified not dignified , a theory about unity of all things and NOT a way to accept the natural diversity of all things ( one of the Greens most profound areas of religious hypocrisy ) Note I use the capital G for Greens ie political  , most of us, I  trust, are "greens"

Farmers too are used to low returns - they can cope with that and always have . What they can't hack is the careless criticism by the Greens in particular . Care has to deal with the truth if it is to be truly respected as care 
Am I saying all agriculture should be accepted ? No, clearly not .Infact marginal land s use must be targeted for change but in a careful way . Finding the balance between pushing the boundaries ( the unwise attitude of early agriculture)and accepting new and reasonable  boundaries ) is  a reasonable way  forward ; for eg " wilderness is not diversity if fire is the main driver : and some agriculture and some agriculture  next to native ecosystems is quite sustainable.
Common enemies 
The really  big threat to our sensitive environment and ecosensitive  farmers  is the insensitive nature of modern economics. Farmers were once were screwed by this on one old side only  - now they are screwed from both sides ( value and the values) .
The recent report into Tasmania's production dilemmas talks about "motivation" . If men who were once "the salt of the earth" have become to be seen as scourge agents there is now  no real deep motivation to work with nature . Whether we see it or not, there are lots of people who  project our/their careless treatment of the environment  onto people ; None of us are allowed to dare to touch the now sacred objects; farmers now being key offenders in that regard .  Motivation is a religious matter. The ongoing pressure on rural producers is to try and sit on the knife edge of 'screw you jack economics " .
What can we do?  Sorry about this lengthy rant . I do believe there  is lots consumers in particular can do here. Best not to add the detail  here - but summarize them later-- if you are interested

City people need to expand their minds to the possibility of more than one way to do " economics" .That way there is the possibility of hope and a way forward for both sides .
 if our people chose to buy non caged eggs - how wonderful .
If they choose to buy local milk their few cents a week can give farmers a holiday
People who make these choices are doing what no government with all its power can do . Our people are chosing to a pay a little more for local produce and thats a great thing because its all about margins ( $0.10 extra for a litre for milk could give dairy farmers a holiday they have never had )
This issue is important because if Tasmania can have 2 heads about this (ie show some leadership and diverse tension thinking ), so perhaps can the poor people in the Middle east and Africa who face the same pressure and more - to push boundaries in search of a profit .To only just get their one year and go out backwards the next .

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