Beware ag's Trojan Horse

The lesson for Australian farmers is to be extremely wary of government money.

HOW would you feel if the government had rules specifying what time of the year you could apply fertiliser?

What if it said you couldn’t exceed a certain stocking rate on your property, and once you reached its upper limit you must buy or lease more land if you want to run more stock?

Or if you were not allowed to cultivate or fertilise your cropping land within two metres of a fence line, including an internal fence, if it includes a hedge?

These are not imaginary concepts, but some of the actual rules applied to farmers in the EU since 2005 when it decoupled subsidies from production and replaced it with a raft of environmental and animal welfare rules.

The situation is fairly similar across the EU, but some specifics from Northern Ireland will help to illustrate.

Northern Ireland farms must have facilities to store slurry (ie manure, urine and washings) from housed cattle, sheep, pigs or poultry for a period of 22 or 26 weeks. Most farms have large concrete or poly storage tanks.

Spreading slurry or farmyard manure on pasture is not permitted between October 15 and January 31. Soil must have a pH over 5 before it can be applied and phosphorus fertiliser can only be used if a soil test shows it is needed.

The stocking rate limit is calculated on the basis of kilograms of livestock manure per hectare. The limit, at 170kg, means there are no feedlots as we know them, either in the UK or the Republic of Ireland.

Supplementary feeding is not permitted within 10 metres of a waterway or 50 metres of a bore or well.

Records must be kept on almost everything including slurry and fertiliser applications, pesticide and medicine use, purchase and use of feed, and even the manner and place of disposal of the carcase of cattle, sheep and goats that die on the property.

Special permission is required to remove hedges and they may not be trimmed between March 1 and August 31 because it might disturb nesting birds. A two metre cultivation and fertilizer buffer zone applies each side of a hedge.

Aside from preventing the establishment of feedlots, the effect of all these rules is to lock farms into the status quo. Paddocks cannot be enlarged for cropping, there are limits to buying store stock for fattening, and numerous decisions that would normally be up to farmers are taken out of their hands. All they can do is keep filling in forms and doing things the same way.

Some farmers say they do not mind the restrictions, arguing they are broadly common sense and compliance is not particularly onerous. The problem is about a quarter of all dairy farms, 50 per cent of cropping farms and 100 per cent of beef farms would fail in Ireland but for EU subsidy payments. With payments subject to compliance with these rules, it is no wonder so many of them say and do whatever it takes.

The lesson for Australian farmers is to be extremely wary of government money. Although subsidies are long gone, governments still provide assistance to agriculture in the form of R&D grants, drought and flood relief, tax concessions, low interest loans, ‘managed’ marketing (rice in NSW, potatoes in WA), plus the $2 billion Trojan Horse of “sustainable agriculture” handouts.

The EU is proof that if the government pays, the government says. And yet the idea that public servants and politicians, which is what governments comprise in the end, know better than a farmer is not only inherently wrong but absurd. The best decisions for any property will be made by those whose livelihood depends on getting it right. And for those who repeatedly get it wrong, the consequences should include selling out to someone who makes better decisions, not risking the loss of a government handout.

  • David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 years. He may be contacted at
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    David Leyonhjelm

    David Leyonhjelm

    has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
    Date: Newest first | Oldest first


    scrap stewardship
    4/07/2013 8:39:44 AM

    Great article David, thank you for shining light on the detrimental effects of enviromental stewardship. The GRDC and Grain Producers Australia are by stealth leading us down the same EU path. Growers are being kept in the dark by SFO's who are complicit in the deciet also. Mind you it will never work as growers will revolt and the just about daily questioning of the GRDC will ensure they back away from this draconian plan. Lets face it the GRDC is essentially a political organiation and a political reaction will follow.
    4/07/2013 9:41:28 AM

    The GRDC have far too much money with which to produce large amounts of glossy paper----------largely irrelevant or "pie in the sky "
    Bill Pounder
    4/07/2013 9:53:18 AM

    Welcome to the EUSSR. Hope yet, a turkey voting for Xmas? You're either on the gravy train or in the gutter so the average is OK to the average Euro beurocrat (sic). "Just the usual drivel about the fight against youth unemployment" at 62% in Greece & Spain's 56.5% becomes 25% Euro-wide & therefore only half the problem. QVBj43hbA#at=51 The current Euro set-up is a temporary arrangement, it's collapsing from within, along with carbon trading, from excessive govt debt, subsidies & regulation & a currency that no-one owns. Not long to go.
    Jo Bloomfield
    4/07/2013 10:57:37 AM

    A very interesting article. Unfortunately I feel in many areas in Australia we are already heading to this form of dictatorship simply through our form of land ownership as lessees.
    4/07/2013 11:07:04 AM

    The only lobby group in this country that understand the socialist agenda and the isks of allowing their stewardship programs to gain any traction whatsoever is the PGA. Why is the GRDC going down this path? Because half of its fund come from you guessed it - big government. Govt give with one hand but take more with the other. Beware beware!
    4/07/2013 11:08:32 AM

    It has already started David. The new herbicide Sakura as part of its registration cannot be used within 50m of remnant vegetation in what is being called a 'buffer' zone. It is death by a thousand cuts to the family farm.
    4/07/2013 12:17:01 PM

    Bill Pounder, I wondered whether Greece was going to be the straw that broke the camel's back. If Europe collapses, it'll be all over red rover. It'll be every dog for him self.
    4/07/2013 2:08:32 PM

    The EU farmers are not independent 'owners' and operators of their businesses at all, as their role has been reduced to following the edicts of the bureaucracy. The day the subsidies cease will be a day of reckoning for EU agriculture.Unfortunately as the rest of their economy is now a 'command' economy, that day may not be too far away. Its bad enough that Australian governments and bureaucrats are following the EU example,but its intolerable that a high handed, levy funded parasite like the GRDC is betraying the interests of its largely unaware levy payers.A voluntary levy is the only fix.
    Bill Pounder
    4/07/2013 2:48:48 PM

    That's right gabriel, a real problem in Greece right now is the dogs don't get a look in on the garbage scrounge, basic medicines are in short supply, pensions slashed. "Some companies admitted they had been withholding medical supplies." e-news/chaos-in-greece-as-pharmac eutical-supplies-drop-by-90-perce nt.28-02.html 31% at risk of poverty: phers-blog/2013/06/06/homeless-in -greece/ The EUSSR, the socialist paradise of averages.
    4/07/2013 4:17:57 PM

    some of what is in this article is very true and some of it has been twisted to suit Davids' ideological bent. whilst there may not be any 'feedlots', most of the livestock production across europe is very intensive with housed animals, have a look at the amount of pigmeat coming out of the Netherlands. This also relates to the disposal of effluent, the application to farmland is restricted there and also in Germany I believe purely because of the effect on the soil and the shallow water table. By the way the Government here does not subsidise the rice industry.
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    Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at


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