Crucial need beyond the family farmgate

05 Oct, 2014 02:00 AM
Barnaby Joyce and Tim and Kristi Morrison.
You’ve got to give people more than just a love of the lifestyle to survive
Barnaby Joyce and Tim and Kristi Morrison.

AUSTRALIAN family farms are the cornerstone of the nation’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who’s taking a personal political interest in protecting their future fortunes.

The Nationals deputy-leader produced a burst of superlatives when speaking to media this week about the role of Australian family producers in relation to the International Year of the Family Farm promotion.

The media event was hosted on the Morrison family property, “Mt Campbell”, Royalla, NSW, just south of Canberra.

Mr Joyce said the fifth-generation farming enterprise – which started in the 1860s and today produces cattle and fat lambs –typified the Australian family farm his government is working to ensure reaches the next generation and beyond, though better farmgate returns.

“Family farms are the cornerstone of Australian agriculture,” he said.

“They are emblematic as to how we see ourselves as a nation.

“They’re the group of people, when things are going tough, that manage to lock everything down, to live without (and) to go without so they can see the better times coming.”

Mr Joyce said the Year of the Family Farm promotion seemed unusual but was also essential to communicate an important message about food production in a city-centric society.

“As our nation grows, as more and more people live in streets where they don’t have the uncle or the aunt or the grandparents back on the land, we’ve got to remind people that it’s people such as Tim and Kristi (Morrison) who actually produce the beef so you’ve got a steak to eat at night, who produce the eggs, who produce the milk, who produce the vegetables, who are the essence of your standard of living as reflected by what’s before you on your dinner table,” he said.

“And not only that, they put the fibre on your back, whether it’s the cotton they grow out at Moree or the wool they may grow around here.”

Mr Joyce said family farmers needed a commercial return but a sense of patriotism also underpins their work.

“People are doing this because they love the lifestyle but you’ve got to give people more than just a love of the lifestyle to survive,” he said.

“I’ve succeeded in my job if Tim and Kristi have a future.

“I’ve succeeded in my small part in doing something for our nation, if we have families that continue on the land.

“We’re doing our job as a government if those families are surviving on the farm and for all their hard work they’re actually making a decent return, back through the farmgate.”

Mr Joyce said Australian family farms were similar to others he’s observed on the international stage like the United States and China, where decent people are doing a decent thing, producing food.

He believes Australian farming has a great future given the nation’s close proximity to growing markets in Asia.

But while those markets provide an opportunity for profits from selling premium products, the ultimate test of success is ensuring those returns make their way back through the farmgate.

Australian farmers 'going without'

“As more and more of South East Asia make their way into the middle classes in the hundreds of millions, then their demand for their standard of living is going to be reflected in two things - the clothes they wear and the food they eat - and we’re in the right spot for both of them,” Mr Joyce said.

According to Mr Joyce, in the 1900s the Morrisons would have received, on a broad-based average of goods, about 85 per cent of the final retail price for the sheep and cattle they produce and other commodities, about 50pc by the 1950s but only about 10 to 15pc today.

He said farmers are making efficiency improvements but going without the improved retail returns.

“People can only reinvest back into their farms if they’re making a return and making a fair return from the produce they produce,” he said.

“Whether it’s sheep-meat, beef, whether it’s wool or whether it’s cotton, these are all products which if they’re at the premium end of the market will produce a very good return, because we know when we see it in its final price on the shelf there’s a lot of wealth in agricultural product.”

To improve farmgate returns, Mr Joyce said the government wanted to ensure farmers are being treated fairly and not exploited in markets.

He said the government was also working “as hard as it can” to develop markets, put a workable infrastructure plan in place to ensure fluid movement of produce to markets and to ports, and is spending $250 million per year to ensure industry research and development is “cutting edge”.

He said Australian family farms contributed to agriculture achieving $53 billion worth of production and $41 billion of exports in 2013-14.

Farming voices heard

Mr Morrison said the media event provided him with an opportunity to meet and congratulate Mr Joyce for his government’s work opening markets which have helped increase farmgate prices over the past six months.

He said cattle prices at saleyards are higher than he’s seen for several years at this time of year.

Ms Morrison said the key to family farming was maintaining a stable income from on-farm business without having to go off-farm to earn an income.

“Farming is a lifestyle and a way of life as much as it is a job,” she said.

”But nowadays, for farmers to realistically maintain a viable income, they don’t get a lot of recreational time, so you can’t blame people for leaving the land when it gets so hard.”

Ms Morrison said many supply chain segments - from supermarkets to the higher costs of making inputs like fertiliser and chemicals - were contributing to reduced farmgate returns.

“Our production costs are a lot higher than they would have been 100 years ago and realistically in comparison the prices aren’t that much better,” she said.

Mr Morrison said complying with red and green tape like environmental and regulations were becoming an increasing demand on family farms.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Jock Munro
6/10/2014 8:58:08 AM

Well spoken by a true champion Barnaby. Convincing the Liberals will be the biggest challenge-they are more interested in the big end of town then the small business and family farm sector.
Bushfire Blonde
6/10/2014 11:38:50 AM

Mr Joyce, what the Primary Producers who primarily export their product, require is an Australia wide equivalent of the QIDC that was operating in Qld until Premier Borbridge sold it off at the expense of these Producers. Just ask the people and the communities that it helped. I personally benefited from it after being almost wiped out with Death Duties.Now these people are being wiped out with Interest Rates that are presently the highest in the Western World and that have been too high for too long.
Bushie Bill
6/10/2014 12:37:50 PM

“Farming is a lifestyle and a way of life as much as it is a job,” says Ms Morrison, and with one short sentence, tells the world that it owes her a living because she has made a lifestyle decision. Barney has no more brains than Ms Morrison. The only chance for agriculture to prosper in Australia is to dump inefficient lifestyle family farming and go large scale corporate. What could be clearer and more self- evident?
6/10/2014 2:49:34 PM

If that were the case Bushie, why can't corporates make a profit? Ms Morrison was simply explaining why people have kept farming in spite of poor returns. How-ever poor returns have now become crippling loses.
John Hine
7/10/2014 4:05:38 AM

Perhaps not large scale corporate but certainly not small, independent,commodity focused farms either. Yes, costs have risen and returns stay pretty much the same. Ask manufacturers who will probably say the same. Cooperation in production will save money and there is some pretty fancy automation around now. Cooperation in markets will allow niche marketing. More of the same is unlikely to work, we need to look at new ways to do things.
7/10/2014 5:37:41 AM

Australia's farmers have been exploited to the betterment of the likes of bushie bill for too long now, it's starting to catch up. Qlander nailed it. I have lost count of the broke corporates in my area, the only ones left use farming as a tax dodge (hobbie) for their "real"enterprise.
8/10/2014 6:52:29 AM

What a totally ridiculous question for the online poll. How about, do waiters own millions of dollars in assets?
Bushie Bill
8/10/2014 7:29:17 AM

Cocky, it should be obvious; there is absolutely no connection or similarity between corporate and hobby farming. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
KA S/West Vic
8/10/2014 11:22:00 AM

Corporate s, here today gone the next,usually leaving the farm run down, ,Investor farmers it doesn't matter if we make a profit we just use their tax benefits and capitalize later,Hobby farmers normally small acreage that pay their own way,Family farms however seem to be the ones that pickup the pieces from corporates,try and pay over capitalized prices off investors,while trying to be more efficient with less return,if families create a lifestyle at their work place and home so be it ,what about fisherman etc not all work is bad,"only if you don't get rewarded."want proof drive through sw vic


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