Farmer frustration

17 May, 2013 02:00 AM
Lake Grace farmer Doug Dunham.
Lake Grace farmer Doug Dunham.

LAKE Grace farmer Doug Dunham is frustrated at the lack of progress by the State Government in dealing with agricultural issues.

Three years ago, Mr Dunham wrote a letter to Premier Colin Barnett, Nationals leader and former member for the Central Wheatbelt Brendon Grylls and former Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman expressing his concerns about the future of WA agriculture.

Many of Mr Dunham's concerns are still relevant today.

Mr Dunham said the State Government had failed to make any progress in solving the issues since he sent the letter in February 2010.

While Mr Dunham admitted he didn't know exactly what the solution was for the industry, he expressed his disappointment that the State Government had sat on issues over the last 38 months and not advanced.

"I don't know what the solution is but something has to be done," Mr Dunham said.

"I worry about what the future is going to be for farming and all the industries which come off us and the local people."

His letter was also recognised by industry people at the time with WAFarmers including it as a key piece of its submission to the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) called 'The Looming Rural Crisis: How to move forward'.

"You can talk to a lot of people around here and we are all thinking along the same lines but there is just no real solution and that's the trouble," he said.

"But there are probably a lot of things which could be looked at like free trade agreements, the Woolies and Coles price wars and a bunch of other things and it is all linked through the entire agricultural industry.

"You look at it and you just shake your head.

"Why is our government just allowing it to happen?

"And all our local industries are suffering because of it.

"Maybe they should have a bit more of a closer look as to what is actually happening.

"But that is the problem - they are not looking because it is just too hard for them."

He said he did not receive an 'official response' to his letter at the time but was told the letter had been past on to then Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman.

Mr Redman has since changed portfolios.

Mr Dunham said his biggest concern was that he had a son keen on farming and he would be disappointed if he wasn't offered the same opportunities he had when he started farming.

An excerpt from Lake Grace farmer Doug Dunham's letter to Colin Barnett, Brendon Grylls, Terry Redman and others. Sent on 17 February, 2010

Dear Hon Colin Barnett (Premier)

My name is Doug Dunham and I am a third generation farmer.

We farm north of Lake Grace and I am getting pretty angry at the way government regards farmers.

It seems that the average farmer cannot succeed in this day and age because of the extremely high input costs and the very poor commodity prices.

We are progressive farmers and although it has been tough for farming for a while, in today's environment it is near on impossible to make ends meet. As the years have progressed we have become more efficient in growing our crops.

I remember 10-15 years ago you could get by with a 1.2 tonne crop and still look after the land a bit.

However, with the prices around $200 a tonne it is near on impossible to finance a crop and do the other necessary things around the farm - for example, cleaning dams, applying lime, planting trees for salt rehabilitation, repairing fences and generally caring for the land so that it will enable future farmers to keep growing quality food for generations to come. I ask the question: Why does our gutless government allow China to increase tariffs so our inputs cost so much and you guys don't increase the tariffs of our minerals, etc, that are exported to China to counteract our very high input costs?

I would think it is about time government started looking after Australia's farmers to the point where we can survive and at least Australia will have something to eat in the future. I would suggest that seeing inflation is continually increasing, why a guaranteed minimum price cannot be brought back in to enable us to continue farming and in turn keeping our country communities viable.

The way it is looking out here at the moment in the next two years if we don't get favorable season and favorable prices there would possibly be 50 per cent of the farm land on the market because we simply cannot keep going through tight seasons and being paid a pittance for our produce.

I think it is about time government came out and spent the time necessary to talk to real farmers and see what is really going on.

I would suggest that when looking at consultants reports, etc, don't just look at the top 10 per cent because there is a lot more of us in the middle range and the reason we are here is because we love what we are doing and have a real tie to the land and care for it. It distresses me greatly to see the land not being looked after properly because of the high input costs.

When the price of grain was better than $300/t we could survive and run our business but still not enough to run our business the way it needed to be run. It seems all other businesses can pass their costs on but we have to keep taking what is forced on us without any thought about how we can pay for it.

The only way for us to be able to keep affording these types of costs is for our commodities to be linked to the inflation index. If the amount of farmers go down the tube as I suspect which has quite a possibility of happening, it will go on down the line from our country stores, machinery dealerships, service providers and country communities down to city suppliers - for example, grain handlers and anyone who supplies or handles country commodities.

So I put it to you that there are lots of angry farmers out here who do not like to see their livelihood go down the drain and be seeing our government not to care, especially for WA farmers.

I have three sons, two of which would like to continue on the farm but in the current financial environment we cannot afford to even pay them a wage.

I would dearly like for one of them at least to continue on and not force me to be the last one of three generations to be on the land. I truly wonder if government has any idea about the pain in the country.

Do us farmers have to resort to hitting the streets like the French farmers to get our point across that things are not good in the bush? Please get out of your city and see what's really happening.

Desperate farmer

Doug Dunham

Lake Grace

Date: Newest first | Oldest first


17/05/2013 6:33:32 AM, on Farm Weekly

Mr Dunham becomes famous for writing a letter where he grumbles and complains, admits to no solutions then demands massive Govt intervention. It appears he even wants others to underwrite his desire for his sons to be farmers. The Govt cannot nor should it be the banker for farmers. Mr Dunham is not considering the obvious - corporatise CBH releasing equity to him and help solve some of his problems. It's called the self option.
beacon boy
17/05/2013 7:05:38 AM, on Farm Weekly

This problem exists because farmers have been paying too much for the neighbour's farm and shiny new gear. Now these mal-investments are unwinding we are in for a stormy road ahead. Land prices have crashed in our area. Pretty soon CBH is going to imbibe our debt problems and face a solvency test itself.
drowning in debt
17/05/2013 7:09:13 AM, on Farm Weekly

I'm frustrated too! But my frustration goes to the CBH board! They are denying debt-riddled farmers like me my equity and as a result I am having to sell out. & you blokes wonder why land prices are falling? Wake up and smell the roses. CBH literally could wave a wand and stop this overnight. The governmnet ain't gonna help this situation. Banks will make it worse next year as they further tighten the reigns and force more families onto the street. Anybody home CBH?
17/05/2013 7:13:40 AM, on Farm Weekly

I attended this meeting. I can categorically say that there has only two things that have been achieved from all these debt meetings: 1. They have scared buyers away from the land market, particularly in those areas. 2. They have given a lot of false hope. We don't need govt support, we need to use all this energy to convince growers their only real help option is corporatising CBH. It is actually the only way CBH is going to survive anyway because it can be taken out by bigger fish in its current illogical structure for cents in the dollar.


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