Strength of farming lobby a boost

DURING OUR travels through the US as part of the GRDC ‘Way We Were’ tour, we thought the Farm Bill would be a hot topic.

Given America has been living way above its means, we thought anywhere there was the potential to trim the budget would be looked at.

However, the farmers we spoke to were not particularly concerned that there would be changes to the Farm Bill.

Firstly, they reasoned there had been too much invested in ethanol to get out of it now, but secondly, they know the power of the US farm lobby.

While Texas farmer Ken Davis mourned the watering down of impact farm lobbyists have on US policy – it is still a situation that would have Australian farmers’ mouths watering.

Central to this is the political system, which means agricultural states such as Iowa, Kansas and Missouri are all vitally important in gaining Federal election.

Farmers here have a clout far above their weight.

Compare this to Australia, where there are perhaps a dozen staunchly rural seats that are among the safest in the nation, meaning neither side of politics bothers to pay them any attention.

The scale of the industry in North America also means this is a serious industry.

Looking around the acres and acres of trial plots that Monsato and Pioneer have in, its clear there’s big dollars to be made, and while big agribusiness and the family farm are often split on opinion, in many cases they are singing from the same hymn sheet, which gives some decent backing to any issues farmers are looking to push.

Again, this is in contrast to Australia, where the leading agribusinesses would probably have balance sheets the size of Monsanto’s spending on its gardens.

The sheer size of the North American industry gives farmers there economies of scale we can only dream of in Australia.

Farmers there have the chance to access a multi-peril insurance policy, because of the spread of climatic zones. The product is subsidized, but it is able to operate because of the spread of risk. Compare this to Australia, where private products are now being offered, but the premiums required to allow companies offering the product a profit are close to prohibitive for growers.

Let’s not pretend the US or Canada are the promised land for farmers. There’s plenty enough bickering between producers of different products, or producers with either export or domestic focus, as they compete for dollars. The big difference, however, compared to the Aussie grains lobby, is that they appear to be able to agree to disagree on certain matters and can cooperate where it is beneficial to all interest. I still get the distinct feeling the spectre of wheat marketing still casts a pall over many other worthy issues in the Australian industry, as groups who have many similarities refuse to cooperate.

Another interesting factor is the level of regulation within agriculture. I expected the United Kingdom, with its array of hedgerow protection laws and the like to be a farmer’s nightmare. However, there’s much to suggest Australian farmers, with our array of arcane road transport and land clearing rules may be about the most regulated in the world.

Obviously the rules are there with the right intention, but if we had a stronger farm lobby, perhaps we’d be able to negotiate alternatives that make it easier to get on with the day to day business of farming.

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Grain of TruthRural Press grains writer Gregor Heard on the big issues facing the broadacre farmers today.

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