Bailing out farmers?
The Landholders Institute
Article - Bailing Out Farmers?
By Judith McGeorge, Leon Ashby, Ian Mott, & Ruth Quigley

* Australian Landholders have begun "The landholder institute" to bring better public debate into land management issues . Here is their first article.

Over recent weeks, farmers have been copping some criticism from numerous journalists, and academics arguing that Australian farmers are not managing the land very well, and by now should know the vagaries of farming in Australia and therefore not need handouts and support in times of drought.

As farmers that has been through droughts in seven of the last 12 years and having been keen to seek all sorts of financial & other advice, we have found the best help often comes from fellow farmers and those with real experience, rather than "advisers" with purely idealistic / theoretical advice.

The suggestions to not bail out farmers in times of exceptional droughts falls into the "non real / purely idealistic / theoretical " category.

We are particularly annoyed at "shiny bummed intellectuals" waxing lyrical on government handouts, welfare etc available to farmers as opposed to the lack thereof to urban Australians.
It is a myth perpetuated by journalists who lack a great deal of credibility by not researching their facts.
So here are a few facts that need to be appreciated.

* Australian agriculture contributes $ 30 BILLION to the economy on an annual basis- money which is retained in Australia.-

* This money has a 6-1 multiplier effect for the Australian community

*.For Farmers to access exceptional circumstances assistance, they must be suffering a –1 in 25year natural disaster- and it may take up to 6 months or longer to access any assistance ( compare this with just a 6 week wait for the dole)

* Unemployed people get assistance to "survive financially" when their income ceases (compare that to a droughted farmer who not only has little or no income, but has the added responsibility and cost of trying to keep enough of his future income producers (livestock) alive to continue being a farmer. Surely it is an investment to have some form of assistance to provide these families household support during these times.

* Farmers in Australia, have to deal with the most variable climatic conditions in the world, and many have developed excellent methods of handling short and medium lengthed droughts, but when exceptional droughts occur, the resources needed are outside the ordinary farmers ability to cope.

* Young farmers are most at risk during droughts because they often are cash strapped in their early years and find it financially difficult to get into a sound position for a long time.

* Bushfire, storm and flood assistance to urban dwellers occurs on an annual basis and is immediate-but action to mitigate the recurrance rarely occurs - this is often due to green lobbyists decrying the clearing of native trees around high fire risk areas such as urban development - and then everyone then pays for this in increased insurance premiums.

* Comparisons of aid in the form of government assistance to farmers -
EU-$565 per acre-
US- $70 per acre-
Australia $2.50 per acre ( and that $2.50 is mostly a diesel fuel rebate which in essence is not a subsidy - but a user pays recognition of no road funding for off road diesel)

* The EU spends half its annual $150billion budget on farm subsidies- and this is the “level”playing field on which Australian farmers must operate.

* Livestock numbers in Australia are at their lowest in decades- This is in no small part to action taken by farmers to protect their land- yet state Governments do not play their part by managing kangaroo, emu, and feral animal numbers appropriately with roo & emu plagues contributing to environmental stress- i.e. starving kangaroos dig up grass tussocks, which reduces valuable ground cover.

* It is not just the car industry that receives government assistance- many grants are paid to various industries to keep them in Australia- Kodak(a multinational organization) received $60million to retain its business in Australia!

* Whenever a dust storm manages to impact on urban Australia- the blame is pointed at farming mismanagement- yet glacial coring in NZ identified Australian dust long before white settlement and any farming activities were undertaken.

* If the roller coaster ride of the NASDAQ in the past 2 years is an indicator- then IT on its own will not sustain an economy! You still have to have tangibles in the form of commodities- And these commodities emanate from ......(wait for it) ......rural areas!

* Farming practises have changed and continue to evolve with new technology- in fact farming came in ahead of the medical profession for IT usage (before the government supplied doctors with computers to unify the system.)

* Our cities are the most environmentally unsustainable places on earth- they supply little of their own food, changing the landscape dramatically by covering it with concrete, tar and iron, which then raises the average temperature of this area. Then their "enlightened intellectuals" try to tell farmers how to operate- while being ignorant to the fact that their own house is in worse order.

* In the 1980’s Barry Jones roamed the countryside declaring agriculture a “sunset industry” contributing only about $14billion to the economy- Today agriculture has doubled that figure, ignoring Barry`s setting sun!

* When the price of bread in the cities escalates in the near future- the reason will be a supply shortage of wheat - but remember many farmers will not be benefiting though because they won’t have a crop!

* Our children are no longer taught about where their food and fibre comes from, how markets and the forces of "supply and demand" work, and how the true wealth of a community is based on actual products being brought into existance (i.e. sunlight, water and plants >>>(leads to) primary products >>> industry >>> jobs >>> increasing standard of living >>> increasing community wealth >>> better health >>> better care of the environment and so on)

The critics of support for Australian farmers in times of disaster, fail to see the "whole" picture of how our society works and the interrelateness between rural and city communities.

We would like to ask these intellectuals this question. ....Out of all the countries of the world, which one or two has the standard of living you want, while supporting their farmers less than what Australia does (via either subsidies or a social safety net mechanism)

To give you a hint, the OECD has a measure of the total support to agriculture- called the TSE. This report noted that only Australia and New Zealand could be said to be totally market oriented, yet we Aussie farmers have to contend with the most variable climate in the world at the same time.

Surely our intellectuals should be praising the resourcefulness of the best farmers in the world, rather than kicking them in the guts during a severe "one in a hundred year" drought.

Judith McGeorge, Grazier, Quilpie, Qld, 0746 564795

Ian Mott, Forest owner, Byron Bay, NSW, 0738 930612

Leon Ashby, Dairy Farmer & Grazier, Kongorong, SA, 0887 389313

Ruth Quigley, Cotton & Mixed Farmer, Trangie, NSW, 0268 887430