Fair go for farming's battlers

15 Feb, 2014 01:00 AM
Farming can be a heartbreaking occupation in a very perilous environment

SOMETIMES you scratch your head and wonder what motivates people.

In his FarmOnline blog last week, incoming Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm had this to say about the plight of our farming colleagues in south-east Queensland:

“In economic terms, it makes no difference to our national prosperity whether an individual farmer … goes broke.

“When a farmer goes broke, the farm does not disappear or food production cease. There is always someone else, quite often a neighbour, willing to purchase the farm.”

“Food production, if that is what the farm is used for, barely falters.

“Even if a third of the farmers in the drought-affected areas were to go broke this month, which is not even remotely likely, there would be no adverse consequences for the rest of Australia. No shortages, no price rises, nothing.”

Well, why worry about them then, you ask.

Economics commentator Alan Mitchell jumped on the bandwagon too, in The Australian Financial Review:

“Drought is a regularly recurring part of Australian farming. If farmers can’t make enough profit in the good years to see them through the inevitable drought years, they are not viable … We have to reverse the slowdown in farm productivity. We also need to better target consumer needs in Asian markets. We won’t get that by mollycoddling undercapitalised, inefficient farmers.”

There’s a gaggle of these types, droning on about why we should not prop up what they deem to be unviable farms.

Prop up? Unviable? Who are these jokers?

If a farm is unsustainable, are they really suggesting a neighbour would buy it?

And I suppose if somebody flew in with a bag of money to buy the farm and give the poor farmer some sort of life in his retirement, they would be shooed away because foreign investment is unacceptable. The farmer can’t win.

Should governments withhold public funding support from people in urban communities when they suffer from floods or bushfires, even when they could reasonably be expected to take out insurance?

Farming can be a heartbreaking occupation in a very perilous environment. Farmers are at the mercy of elements that can wipe out their crop and they can do little about it. They can lose their crop on the day before they were planning to harvest it – and descend from hero to zero in a matter of minutes.

Most farmers are also completely at the mercy of the market. They do not dictate the price of what they produce. They take what they can get for their produce.

Farming is a greatly misunderstood profession – it is more than a business; it is a way of life that binds generations of families together and binds small communities together. Importantly, farmers manage large swathes of Australian landscape and also generate significant export income that underpins the Australian economy.

Yet they come in for an unmerciful bagging from all and sundry.

Jan Davis is chief executive of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association.

Date: Newest first | Oldest first


15/02/2014 4:51:15 AM

The farm could be unsustainable because of its lack of size or access to capital for technological or other improvement. There will always be a buyer at a price who will judge the return as being commensurate with the risk. At present there is too much expectation of capital gain in the model which is not factoring in the risks involved with managing a natural system.
15/02/2014 5:40:53 AM

It is very apparent that city dwellers are ignorant about farming life and in turn lack the ability to empathise. This needs to change. Either useless organisations like MLA start to actively market farming life or we sell all our produce overseas. People not being able to eat what they want for a few months might also change some opinions. Google the "Peterson brothers, I am a farmer and I grow it" for a great way to promote what we do.
15/02/2014 6:43:41 AM

Who'd like to offer Allan Mitchell an equity position in their farm? How about something like letting Allan operate/purchase/manage 3,500ha around Condo-Nyngan-Coonamble etc. Give him reality of 60% equity in the farm. He's got to front up his own money (or borrowed) to get a good taste of the modern farming business. Tractor(s)/airseeder/header payments at 40% equity. He just sunk 100's of thousands in last years crop - at best he span the wheels. Give him 5 years & let's ask about the uncapitalised & inefficient farmer. Hope he does well.
Barbedwire Bill
15/02/2014 7:45:43 AM

If Holden Ford and Toyota all shut up shop and went home Australia would be no worse off. It would cost the Government less to pay the displaced workers the dole than the ongoing multi million dollar hand outs to the car companies .The profits of these companies go straight back to America. The same applies to SPC Ardmona prop them up and the profits go straight back to Coca Cola Amital.Support Australian farmers and you are supporting the second largest export industry and the profits say in Australia and are spent in Australia thus supporting other Australian industries and supporting jobs
15/02/2014 8:04:21 AM

One farm dosn't make a difference . But the entire QLD cattle industry & a large portion of NSW does .All the towns meat works & other related industries do matter . Remember what a cyclone & the bananas did to our inflation rate .This will flow through to the rest of the country .How much flows might depend on how much help comes now .
15/02/2014 8:07:21 AM

Sorry but i don't believe anybody is having a go at battling farmers. What does make me mad is that farmers all get tarred with the same brush. There are a lot of forward thinking, progressive and business centric farmers out there who are managing just fine on the other hand there are others who are drowning in debt with paddocks full of poor cattle who were hanging on this wet waiting for the big score on restockers. As farmers we are gamblers, our long term odds are good but 2013-2014 will not be our time to shine.
Bruce Watson
15/02/2014 8:57:18 AM

A splendid and necessary piece, Jan. The likes of Leyonhjelm and Mitchell rabbit on about productive management, etc., which is what all committed farming families do as a matter of course. However, the impact of droughts, the oppressive terms of trade, the uncertainty of markets, the international subsidisation of agricultural competition all make our farmers' planning and financial commitments very difficult. Commentators need to look beyond their textbooks if they want to make sensible statements about farming in Australia.
15/02/2014 10:52:09 AM

Alan Mitchell's comments about making sufficient profit for the inevitable drought years begs the question of why there is a superannuation levy and age pension. Using the same logic wage earners should provide for their retirement during their working life. And why should anyone help the sixty homeowners in Bundaberg who had no flood insurance. Unlike economists who produce nothing most of the general public have an affinity for their fellowman doing it tough. Most of these graziers will produce more in one good year than an economist in their lifetime.
15/02/2014 7:09:11 PM

Can the land please stop printing any more of David's comments. I purchase the land every week and read it online but may stop if the land continues to allow people like David to constantly bash your customers that purchase your paper. It's ok for others to have an opinion but when they have proven to have very little knowledge of farming, I find it offensive. If the land want to aid others in bashing farmers when we are down, you may find you will lose your subscribers.
17/02/2014 9:30:59 AM

Well how-about farmers give discussion and planning a fair go by actually answering peoples' questions about their long-term viability. (Some) farmers are cornered on this issue and have come out swinging in these forums. They know they are not viable. Some very astute (business) people are asking farmers to prove long-term viability in some regions. All we get is the same old rhetoric about the plight of the Australian farmer. This has not and does not help the planning you want.
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