Saturday links

Normally each Saturday’s post is a collection of links, stories and other things related to agriculture and urban farming that have surfaced in the previous week. It’s a very incomplete snapshot of the things that have been being talked about. This week I’m not doing a link fest. Almost all of the stories have been about two things: the Graincorp takeover-or-not, and Paul Howes’ comments about ma-and-pa farming.

The Graincorp takeover/sale/thingy that was blocked by Joe Hockey – I don’t really understand what it was, which is why I’m not writing much about it. I have nothing like sufficient economic or broadacre-ag background to recognise the pros and cons. I know that the response I heard on social media was about 50-50 with farmers saying “thank goodness they had the sense to stop it” and farmers saying “well there goes our hopes of anything improving, you idiots”. It was a big issue, and apparently a divided one, which could have led to much conflict and ill feeling in the ag sector. However, never fear, Paul Howes is here to save the day. Suddenly many previously arguing farmers were in complete agreeance: Paul Howes is an ignorant idiot.

Basically, someone who’s big in the trade unions came out and said that we should be getting rid of small businesses in ag and moving to US-style large conglomerates. The thing that really makes me laugh about this is – who the heck did he think was going to agree with him?

  • Most Australian farms are family-run – and successfully so. We’re not talking about hillbillies, as one farmer put it, many of these farms are million-dollar businesses. Effective businesses. Then there’s the economics – the US and Aus ag sectors are economically quite different with regards to tariffs, subsidies, export markets, internal markets. Assuming any model of business from there can be just be transferred here is economic idiocy. So, most farmers and agricultural economists are going to think he’s an idiot.
  • Then there’s the average consumer. Ag is already dealing with a PR battle over the difference between industrial farming methods and what someone described as “Little Golden Book” farming which consumers seem to want to believe in. Shifting to huge corporate conglomerates isn’t going to sit well with many consumers. Rubbing it in their face definitely won’t sit well.
  • The enviro inner-urban types (I count myself in this basket much of the time) definitely aren’t going to like it – those of us doing our reading are already aware that there are calls from major global food/ag institutions to support small farmers and reduce conglomerate-type practices *in all nations* as our best way forward for global food security across the next several decades.
  • Even those inner urban types not listening to global ag chats are aware of things like the Transition Movement and the growing efforts to localise food, to reduce dependence on large transport and distribution chains, to restablish small production points within your own neighbourhood, to share produce with friends and neighbours at swaps. They may not be seeing the global picture, but local food is in their heart. They definitely don’t want to increase the sense of being fed by “the machine”.
  • Lastly, the farming sector workers – many of whom come under Paul Howes’ own union. *They* don’t want the small businesses shifted out and they definitely don’t want to bring in US-model work practices (who would?).

So really, I’m mostly impressed about how anyone can open their mouth and get everybody offside. I’m not going to link to the many many articles and responses there were on the topic, because there were too many and again I don’t think I know enough about economics to be able to select the best / most insightful ones. Plus, those of us interested have already seen most of them. There was a lot of talk this week.

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