Global Challenges in Agriculture
Some may well ask why we need to look at the global challenges in agriculture in a book on Botany. The answer is clear farms and the environments are very closely linked. Trees indeed all plants need to be incorporated into the food chains as oxygen and water are vital to our survival, clean healthy air, water and soil is imperative to our health and Carbon sequestering is paramount in controlling the effects of human induced Global warming along with the daily need to supply the billions of people with a never ending supply of food.
As farms and environments go hand in hand so should the science and politics go hand in hand with the producers, plants and farmers. Carolus Linnaeus so appropriately stated “An economist without knowledge of nature is therefore like a physicist without knowledge of mathematics.”
The following has been taken from several reports with the authors own experiences in agriculture and input based on the farms in the Northern Rivers District of New South Wales.
Food Security Report: www.csiro.au/…Agriculture/Plant-industry-and-food-security.as.
Global Agriculture Towards 2050: www.fao.org/fileadmin/…/HLEF2050_Global_Agriculture.
The FAO’s long term Food Report: www.agritrade.org/events/documents/schmidhuber
What challengers Does Agriculture face 2012
www.greenfacts.org › Home › Agriculture
Growth of World Population: www.monsanto.com/improvingagriculture/…/growing-population
First we must determine what the problems are which farmers and agriculture are facing? Probably the 2 most important problems that need answering are not farming problems but need to be addressed so they do not become agricultural problems in the future. Human overpopulation coupled with changing diets are the 2 biggest risks along side global warming for human survival.
The other problems are at the farm gate and agricultural – environmental problems must be addressed by governments, farmers and communities if farmers, agriculture and the environment are to have a sustainable economic future in this country. The major problems as I see them are
* Bio energy versus fossil fuels
* Will biotechnology meet the expectations of farmers and their communities?
* What effects will Climate Change have on Australian farmers and agriculture?
* Food Production and Health of the workers and community.
* Sustainability, Dwindling Natural Resource & Environmental use on farms.
* Getting the benefits of globalization to the small farmers.
* Can Traditional Methods and Organics play a role in the Future?
* The role of Women in modern Agriculture
* Should farmers live in poverty?
* Food security in the Long Term.
* The Environmental Issues and how farmers should be compensated.
* Equity and investments – Should the farm be traded for a pension?
“We know the problem is escalating. We have the solutions. We can act now to retain beauty and life or do nothing and risk the future of the majority of life on the planet.”
Changing Population Growth Strategies:
No where in Monsanto’s report did they mention that the overpopulation problem needs to be curbed. In fact very little attention was given to the problem. Many environmental problems, such as rising sea levels, rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global warming, and pollution, are being severely exasperated by global over population. These are the major problems while overpopulation is associated with the increased demand for natural resources such as fresh water and minerals for food production which leads to starvation, malnutrition and disease coupled with consumption of natural resources like fossil fuels which are consumed faster than the rate of regeneration which leads to a deterioration in living conditions for everyone. The expansionist economic policies of an ever enlarging population from previous decades have led to many faceted rural problems now facing the present generation.
Feeding the world’s rapidly increasing population is a global problem with the world mal nutrition rate now in reverse and increasing.
The combined challenges of population growth, increased competition for land and water, biofuel production, climate change and economic development is leading to major changes in food production, consumption and environmental catastrophe. Monsanto has estimated to keep up with the demand of population the planet will need to yield 300 million acres of additional farmland is going to have to be brought into crop production by 2030. Over the next 15 years an area equal to the current area of agricultural land in the United States and China combined has to be found. The virgin forests in Brazil are being torn down; deforestation of the land is accelerating at a rate that has not been seen before for a population that cannot be controlled. The biodiversity is under tremendous strain. Countries like Australia are being sought after and pressure mounts to rape more water from the land and tear the rainforests down to feed a few more mouths.
* The solution is simple, governments like it or not have to take the hard decision and limit population growth.
* People have to be more responsible and take the population initiative and reduce the need for large families.
* Governments have to supply birth control to poor third world countries free.
* Education must be implemented to show the urgent need for smaller families.
Determining the amount of food that’s required to feed the world is more complicated than it may first seem. We can’t just increase production by the same percentage that the population is increasing, for several reasons.
Food is not a resource and it is not evenly distributed around the world where the larger populations are. The more affluent, developed areas, food is more accessible and relatively affordable. In the poorer, less developed areas of the world, there are still millions who are malnourished. Even in the U.S. pproximately 16% of the population faces food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of access by all members of a household to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.
The rapidly developing nations like China and India where the people are becoming more prosperous not only buy more food but also include more protein enriched foods in their diets. This change in diet exasperates food shortages else where. Cows, chickens, pigs, fish and other animals require multiple kilograms of grain for each pound of meat they produce. Cattle in Australia require 60 to 100 liters of water for each kilogram gained in weight which is a lot, considering the water problems faced by ordinary citizens there every year. A modest increase in the demand for protein is an enormous increase in the demand for grain, water and land to feed the stock.
Energy yielding vegetable crops contain protein, like wheat and corn actually contain more energy than meat and are still very high in actual protein. Many seeds like those in the Amaranths not only yield high energy levels but are also high in protein.
* If governments like it or not, they have to make the hard decisions and limit the populations access to meat.
* Governments need to assist Farmers in transition from meat production to fruit and vegetable production or other high protein energy yielding crops.
* Governments have to lead the way in running health campaigns dispelling the need for copious quantities of meat in the diet and the health benefits associated with low protein, high grain diets as expressed in the food pyramids.
* Foods at the bottom of the food triangle have fewer inputs and are more environmentally friendly to produce with greater yields per hectare
Bio energy versus fossil fuels Arguments:
* The economics along with the positive and negative social and environmental effects vary tremendously depending on the source of the biomass and the reliance on fossil fuels. The short rotation of bio energy crops for energy production are considered the most effective means to mitigate the effects of greenhouse and global warming.
In poor countries the use of bio mass fuels like timber are already depleting natural bushland and adding to deforestation but is the only source of affordable heating. Many countries like northern and western China the people in rural areas still use corn stubble as a source of cooking heat to offset costs of electricity, gas and fossil fuels.
The economies of wealthy oil producing and coal producing countries like Arabia and Australia will have a minor decrease in living standards as most the revenue from these businesses is controlled and converges into the hands of an elite few and not the majority of its citizens.
While oil has permeated the US economy along with many so called advanced countries are very heavily dependent on oil, the US is largely reliant upon it as a currency and trade extortion. It is estimated that 10 energy calories of heat; from fossil fuels, are used to produce 1 food calorie of chemically grown food. So it is not surprising that food costs increase proportionally to fuel increases along with fertilizers, transportation, chemicals, etc. Given historical recessions following the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the 1979 Iran crisis and the 1991 Iraq war, it is easy to forecast that unrestricted agriculture growth based on oil is “unsustainable growth.” It is over and the dire need for a cheaper, sustainable new energy is required immediately.
* The governments need to supply more funding to assist farmers to convert machinery to biomass fuels. This can be achieved by subsidising bio fuels for farm machinery which will have a net decrease in farm running costs.
* The concerns of Climate Change are a real issue that worries farmers and tourist operators more than any other sector.
Farmers hold the key to the utilization and growing of bio fuels. Bio fuels are more energy efficient and sustainable. It is not enough to restrict the use of fossil fuels to pre 2000 levels the environment demands that a pre 1900 level needs to be implemented to defer massive damage to the environment and the standard of living. It is estimated that the cost to return to pre 2000 levels will cost 7 trillion American dollars and this figure is growing exponentially every year that we bury our heads in the sand.
* Technology assistance programmes need to be enacted to further promote incentives for businesses, farmers and scientists to concentrate more on biotechnical research of bio alternative fuels.
* The unreliability of future supplies of liquid fossil fuels is of a major concern to motorists and farmers alike.
Bio fuels offer a more reliable product. The first generation of bio fuels are being produced from high sugar content crops like sugar cane and corn.
The production of bio fuels have grown rapidly over recent years due to the support of government policies in many countries and the high price of fossil fuels.
* Liquid Fuels have reached their peak production especially the heavier oily liquids like diesel and lubricating oils. There has been a steady decline since the early 1990’s.
With peak production behind in the industry of liquid fossil fuels alternative, sustainable bio fuels for engine oils need to be fostered so consistent, reliable supplies to manufacturing and agriculture can be maintained.
* The fossil fuel industry is not sustainable. There is a finite supply with all forms causing huge external damage to the environment. To rely on an unsustainable product makes neither good economic or environmental sense.
* Only bio fuels offer greater price predictability and supply predictability.
Bio fuels will offer customers better price control in the long term and stop the OPEC countries and America dictating the prices and supply of fossil fuels.
As fossil fuels especially oil and gas become exhausted or at best are forced into a hastened decline from a lack of secure sources or environmental pressures, the costs will become far more significant. Further many companies and governments will have no choice but to move towards bio fuels because of consumer demands and boycotts on industries that use or rely on fossil fuels and will not accept their responsibilities.
Bio fuel agriculture has three major drawbacks for society.
A – With increasing costs of fossil fuels, this makes biomass fuels look more attractive and as they become more fashionable and the prices continue to rise farmers will be more likely to convert to biomass fuel crops. This will cause a decline in the production of food and textile crops which will lead to the consumers paying higher prices for these commodities.
B – The second problem is that people and farmers in poorer countries will not have the same opportunities to convert to biomass energy production thus leaving them to grow lower profit margin broad acreage crops on small family farms to exist. Even if they converted to higher valued food crops the costs they incur will be determined by businesses in wealthier countries out competing them for natural resources like lime, phosphorous, potassium and fossil or biomass fuels. This may exasperate their personal situations on the land even to the extent of driving people further into debt or malnutrition.
Whichever outcome surfaces in the future, there will be a lag period for second world farmers which may give them a slight window of opportunity.
C – The more opportunities that open to farmers opens the doors for more pressure to be placed on governments to allow short term profits to rule and to determine the long term fete of existing forests. The danger is therefore the continuation and probable hastening of deforestation especially in those countries that can least afford it. Monsanto talks about support to protect 8% of Brazil’s most sensitive virgin forests but is in support of the deforestation of thousands of hectares of forests to grow soya beans for meat production thousands of kilometres away.
* Bio electricity and bio heat sources are rarely spoken about yet offer comparatively cheap supplies of renewable energy that deliver far fewer and less toxic emissions.
Renewable energy in the forms of hydro electricity tidal power and geothermal energy are long term solutions to what is now seen as a very serious problem short term problem using fossil fuels. While Australia lacks a secure water supply to move into the future it does hold one of the world’s largest geothermal supplies 3 kilometres below most of the central eastern sections of the continent. The geothermal site in north eastern South Australia could supply all of South Australia’s energy needs for over 400 years at just one site.
The Clarence River is a logical site and holds enough energy to supply the northern Rivers with low cost tidal power/electricity for ever, provided the earth continues to spin on its rotation. The same can be said for areas along the Western Australian coast and the western coast of the Northern Territory. Cheaper sustainable electricity would be a key factor to ensure local farmers remained sustainable and economically viable well into the future.
Will biotechnology meet the expectations of farmers
and their communities:
To meet the growing consumption needs of the global growing population, the challenges are not only to increase food supply, but also to improve food distribution significantly while simultaneously developing more sustainable agricultural systems. Much of this increased productivity will need to take place in developed and developing countries. It will require the successful and environmentally safe application of biotechnology in agriculture, in the environment, in human health care coupled with significant new investments in human resource development particularly in the new fields of biomass fuels, entomology and permaculture techniques.
Biotechnology science has little demarcation between basic and applied research, and new discoveries in the chemical industry, agriculture, and medicine are just the start of what can be expected over the next few generations. Modern technology is often very controversial in biology with the most contentious issue of the day being recombinant DNA techniques to produce transgenes which are inserted into genomes.
These transgene genomes; which are better known as Genetically Modified Foods (GMF), once widely accepted will deplete the ordinary farmer of genetically variable seed supplies. It is practicable to envisage a time when the seeds of one specie maybe limited to a few varieties suitable to mass production at the time. This limitation may prove to be the extinction of the species in the wild because of species being unable to adapt to its natural environment without the full range of variation of genetic material being available.
Further it is very possible that a few seed companies worldwide will possess the entire seed source and be able to extort large profits from the farmers. This is already happening with various herbicide resistant species where farmers are forced to use higher and higher doses of toxic herbicides on commercial food crops.
Newer techniques of biotechnology are manipulating heritable material without having to change the DNA sequence. Sooner or later we will find ourselves in a position of an irreversible escapee that maybe far more problem some and environmentally damaging than first imaginable.
At the present time assessment is lagging well behind the development stage. Information is usually anecdotal and often very contradictory favouring profits rather than the health and safety requirements of the public, farmers and environment. This increases the uncertainty of any benefits or adverse affects to humans or environments. Any of the risks associated with modern biotechnology are yet unknown. There is very little transparency when it comes to market and research disclosure of facts.
GMO farmers will be straddled with additional insurance costs which may escalate sharply making the agricultural program unprofitable and stressful. GMF is causing anxiety amongst Organic farmers who face loss of market certification and income from neighbouring seeds entering their properties or packaged produce. The same liabilities will apply to conventional farming produce.
This is an ongoing concern of high priority as both GMF and certified organic farmers see no middle ground to resolve this problem leaving the conventional farmer in the wilderness to move in one direction or the other.
The chart below clearly illustrates the strong support organic agriculture is enjoying. It is the fastest growing agricultural sector in the Oceania region and has been growing at over 12% year on year for nearly 2 decades.
The chart clearly indicates that organic food is on the rise but this is not the answer to all our woes.
Despite the rapid growth in Organic Agriculture, government funding for the sector has not kept pace with its expansion. The industry has basically been self funding. This is the one area that needs more funding so organic technology can be capitalized on by the majority of farmers in Australia. As a result Organic Farmers are forced to use products that may be less efficient. For example seed strains have been developed in the past to suit certain chemicals and the move away from natural organic products with short term benefits for the originator not necessarily for the farmer or consumer in mind.
The post Green Revolution era is almost totally merged with the gene revolution for improving crop productivity and quality. The exploitation of heterosis vigour and development of new hybrids including apomixis, genes for abiotic and biotic resistance, and developing planting material with desirable traits and genetic enhancement of all important crops will dominate the research agenda well into the new century with the environment being pinned as the underlying basis for concern.
Integrated nutrient management with the development of new bio fertilizers, bio pesticides, integrated farm management and biotechnology science has a great deal to offer.
Biotechnological scientists would and should play an important and integral role in forming policy in securing government funding, policy formation and direction of sustainable agriculture, soil fertility, and a clean environment. Stress biology, marker assisted breeding programs, and studying the important genes should be implemented as priorities if the industry is to have a secure future. We little to no choice other than to follow those organic agricultural practices and farmers that have already switched to and are certified organic. With greater use of biological software and biotechnology organic agriculture can be practiced on a large scale.
In India organic scientists have already achieved the cloning and sequencing of at least six genes, developed regeneration protocols for citrus, coffee, mangrove species, and new types of bio fertilizer and bio pesticide formulations, including mycorrhizal fertilizers. Considerable progress has been made with cardamom and vanilla, both important crops in the area. Yield of cardamom has increased 40 percent using tissue cultured plants and biofertilizers.
In my own case we had 10 year old mandarin trees, of the variety Imperial and an Emperor variety, yielded in excess of 90 kilograms per tree in all subsequent years with very little additional water. This was 30% higher than all the conventional orchardists in the district. If organic agriculture had the same resources available as conventional or GMF farmers then they would undoubtedly be at the pinnacle and forefront of the agricultural industry today. All the present research is directed at seeds and crops that require artificial fertilizers, chemical herbicides and chemical insecticides. The genes of these crops and seeds are not grown to withstand the conditions of organic production or localities where organic farmers are based and yet are compared to organic grown crops when asked.
In our case we found that in our district the imperial mandarin was the best suited to irrigated areas. A strain of Emperor we grew after initial culling saw the Emperor produce the best crops without any additional water.
The organic industry undertakes mandatory labelling of its products while conventional agriculture has no labelling to let people know what their products may contain chemicals though processed foods must be labelled in accordance with government regulations clearly marking what additives are inside. The GMF industry strongly objects to its produce being labelled GMF so one has to ask what do they fear in disclosure? We should ensure the safety and proper labelling of all food including genetically modified foods, so that the consumers have a choice.
Organics is the only form of farming that can support entomology and run without the need of harmful environmental damaging, expensive time consuming, and health hazardous products.
Between 1996 and 1998, in just eight countries, the area covered by new genetically improved transgenic plants grew from 16.8 to 27.8 million hectares (James 1998). (Despite the area which has been converted to organic farming, agriculturalists specializing in organics is still well below those dedicated to conventional or GMF sector both in the government and private sector.) Some of the main crops grown are soybean, corn, canola, cotton, and potato. The United States, Argentina, Brazil, and China have moved ahead quickly on GMO crops. The new plants exhibited herbicide, insect, and viral resistance, and overall improvement in product quality. Some of these plants are now more tolerant of herbicides than what is acceptable by the WHO standards. The cost of purchasing the herbicides and applying must be included in the cost return to farmers, the environment and health of the workers involved but is often omitted in the figures released.
Australia has one of the longest coast lines in the world which means Australia has potentially one of the richest aquaculture breeding grounds in the world. Australia and the Northern Rivers are ideally positioned to achieve an annual target production of several million metric tons of fish a year. Scientific aquaculture offers great possibilities to the northern Rivers if it were to be taken serious with serious government support. Aquaculture products are among the fastest moving commodities in the world and Australian sea food variety coupled with clean water can offer the world market something fresh and appetizingly different.
What effects will Climate Change have on
Farmers and Agriculture:
The relationship between climate change and agriculture is a two way operation as agriculture contributes to Climate change substantially and climate change will adversely affect agricultural outputs. Farmers like the rest of the community are going to have to be innovative in cutting back inputs while maintaining output. The fact that it presently takes around 7 kilojoules of energy to produce 1 kilojoules of energy from a crop needs to be brought back to reality or to make it a balanced equation 1 kilojoules input for 1 kilojoules output! This ratio is far greater in meat production than vegetable and fruit production. This is probably the area that farmers and biotechnicians need to address to make agriculture truly sustainable. Organic produce is less but still needs to do better.
In mid to higher latitude levels it is estimated that climate change will have a small beneficial impact on crops in most parts of Australia but at the lower altitude levels slight increases in temperatures will have far reaching negative impacts on most crops in most districts. The exceptions may be those crops presently being grown at their southerly limits provided rainfall is not adversely affected.
Water scarcity along with changing rainfall patterns may be the biggest influence to impact crops. Short term crop farmers that are those who grow vegetables have a better chance to adapt more quickly than those with long term agricultural crops like fruit and nut trees. Broad acreage farmers may have to look at changing crops several times until things settle down. There ability to change every decade may be the difference between failing and surviving.
It has been noted now for several decades that extreme precipitation will occur along with higher inter and intra seasonal variations. This has been witnessed throughout Australia over the past few decades and is increasing in its intensities. Extremes in floods and droughts are increasing and will amplify in both frequency and intensity as the impact of climate change grips the planet.
* Due to higher temperatures evaporation and transpiration will be higher and plant water use will be higher as a result.
* Humid conditions are likely to increase the chances of both fungal and bacterial diseases.
* Wildlife is going to be pressured in nature and will further encroach on rural properties in search of food, water and shelter.
* Water storage and use will come into conflict worldwide and again with local wildlife as creeks become dry and water storage systems evaporate.
* Carbon sequestration was already started which resulted in reforestation of unusable land and already marginal land.
* Many governments have already made policies to encourage shelter belts and stop deforestation.
This may be the norm rather than the seasonal drought above followed by record breaking floods in many areas of Australia below.
<<Global challenges Photo 19.7>>
What was reported to be the 1 in 1000 year flood in 2022 is likely to occur again in the next decade or so, as these occurrences are being seen worldwide on more frequent occasions- https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/mar/04/are-eastern-australias-catastrophic-floods-really-a-one-in-1000-year-event
Better crop management, integrated animal and plant management – permaculture, can help poor farmers cope with climate change. Sustainable land and water management combined with innovative agricultural technologies could mitigate climate change and help poor farmers adapt to its impacts in some locations.
In Australia new knowledge, technology and policy for agriculture have never been more critical. The latest organic practices need to be distributed amongst farmers nationally, not just by the organizations but by the authorities who need to show the farmers, that they have back up support. The policies need to be adopted, with flexibility to be adapted to local conditions and crops with mitigation strategies in place to give farmers the best chances and time frame to adapt to the changing weather patterns.
Without these measures in place Australia will suffer increased food shortages. For the people engaged in agriculture; even a small loss in agricultural productivity could mushroom into a large loss of income.
New strategies must be built around ‘green’ agricultural technologies, such as adaptive plant breeding, entomology forecasting, rainwater harvesting and bio fertilizer micro dosing, where small amounts of fertilizer are given to each seed will all assist in helping the small farmer survive.
It is not a matter of opening up more land it is about utilizing what we have smarter, converting and more farmed more efficiently. In the end it is going to be up to the individual or cooperative farmer to make the best of what they have, given the information they have and use the latest techniques available to them.
Food Production and Health of the workers and community
Despite all the evidence and complex links between agriculture, the health of the environment and nutrition the reality and policies of government and most food producers is that health improvement and farm safety hold a very low priority for most producers and government officials. In the supermarket the priority is turn over and profit, at the farm gate it is to supply what the supermarkets demand not necessarily what is healthy or what the consumer wants.
This was clearly illustrated when we took different size fruits and sold them at the farm gate. 200 consumers had choices of small, small-medium, medium, medium-large, large and extra large. The prices were exactly the same. The choice of the majority of mothers with children was for the smaller to small-medium fruits. The choice for the majority of married woman without children was for medium to large fruit. The overwhelming supply was for the pre packed small to medium size fruit followed by the small fruit. We then set about marketing this fruit to our agent in Brisbane where we were told the fruit was too small and sold slowly. Within 3 weeks consumer demand outstripped our supply for the small to medium fruit. Why? Consumer demand in those shops that stocked our fruit was for flavour and size exactly what our own survey indicated.
So why do the supermarkets demand larger, tasteless, less nutritious fruits compared to healthier smaller slower grown fruits which are allowed to develop fully? The answer is simple. A mother with 3 young children wants 5 or 10 mandarins; for her family’s lunches, she is coerced in buying the large fruit with twice the weight to what she really wants. She subconsciously is forced to pay twice as much for her fresh fruit and vegetables. The same applies to the farmer – It is easier and more efficient for the farmer to pick and pack one mandarin as it is to pack 2 mandarins so larger fruit wins at the expense of quality. I must point out that there is a difference between quality small fruit and stunted or under developed fruit.
Part of our success came from understanding the needs of our consumers and growing what they wanted – smaller organic nutritious mandarins that had flavour and not larger consistent fruit with sugar and water.
This was exemplified in a simple taste test run at the farm gate again with 200 consumers. They were all asked to peel 2 mandarins of the same size. (Medium fruits.) One organic from our farm and the other was chemical grown from another local farm of the same variety. The recipients were then asked which mandarin was sweeter, which mandarin was easier to peel, which mandarin had the better flavour and which mandarin would you buy? The results were that most considered the chemically grown mandarin to be sweeter. (83%) The recipients were divided on the peeling of the fruit writing they preferred tighter skins or the looser skins were easier for children. (Organic 40% chemically grown 60%. The organic mandarins had the thinner, tighter skins where as the chemical grown fruits had thicker puffier skins.) There was an overwhelming lean towards the organic mandarins for better flavour (96% organic) compared to 4% for the chemically grown produce as was the case for which one would you prefer to buy. (96% organic.) compared to 4% for the chemically grown produce. The recipients of the trial did not know which fruit was ours or which one was grown with the chemicals in fact they thought they were testing 2 distinct varieties. They were asked to write down mandarin variety A or Mandarin variety B.
The globalisation of world food supplies also decreases the nutritional value of fresh food as does the manufacturing and processing of the foods especially fresh fruit and vegetables.
There is a growing need to turn our attention to the health needs of consumers with more stringent policies on labelling. Health concerns that to be addressed are particularly evident in third world countries where pesticide residues and herbicide residues which will increase with the increase of GMO foods as many are grown which have higher resistances to the companies pesticides and herbicides. After all this is one of the reasons they are being developed and grown. This is not only dangerous to the consumer but also has long term affects to the framers and employers coming into contact with the chemicals on a regular basis.
Heavy metals like cadmium and hormones and antibiotics are a particular concern in third world countries where they are still being used and supplied even by companies that have had the same products delisted for use in countries; for their health hazards, where modern farming practices are in use.
Another major concern is the use of additives. This relies on governments producing loop holes where chemicals, antibiotics and hormones can be added to livestock food and not necessarily given to them directly. It is either poorly constructed policy or deliberate policy to ensure the continuation of the product.
To what extent should governments subsidize and intervene for public health especially when the risk of transferable diseases are likely to increase as the greater concentration of animal products is being foisted into the human diet.
The question still remains to what extent should trade offs be addressed between livelihoods, environmental factors, occupational dangers and public health.
Further afield the world agricultural economy has run into a brick wall. Despite countless warnings in recent years about the need to address a potential food crisis in poor countries and an energy crisis worldwide, world leaders failed to think ahead. The result is a global food crisis. Wheat, corn and rice prices have more than doubled in the past two years. Oil prices have increased more than three fold since the start of 2004. These food-price increases, combined with increasing energy costs, will slow if not stop economic growth in many parts of the world and will even affect political stability. Practical solutions to these problems do exist, but we’ll have to start thinking ahead and acting locally to sustain globally.
Here are three steps to ease the current food crisis and avoid the potential for a global crisis. The first is to promote the dramatic success of Malawi, a country in southern Africa, which three years ago established a special fund to help its farmers get fertilizer and seeds with high productivity. Malawi’s harvest doubled after just one year. An international fund based on the Malawi model would cost a mere $10 per person annually in the rich world, or $10 billion altogether.
Second, the U.S. and Europe should abandon their policies of paying partly for the change of food into biofuels. The U.S. government gives farmers a taxpayer financed payment of 51 cents per gallon of ethanol changed from corn. There may be a case for biofuels produced on lands that do not produce foods; tree crops, grasses and wood products, but there’s no case for the government to pay to put the world’s dinner into the gas tank at the expense of opening up more land adding to deforestation.
Third, we urgently need to weather proof the world’s crops as soon and as effectively as possible. For a poor farmer, sometimes something as simple as a farm pond; which collects rainwater to be used in dry weather, can make the difference between a good harvest and a bad one. The world has already committed to establishing a Climate Adaptation Fund to help poor regions climate proof vital economic activities such as food production and health care but has not yet acted upon the promise to my knowledge.
- An international fund based on the Malawi model if applied to all third world countries where malnutrition exists would certainly decrease the future need for continuing foreign aid. A short term investment for a long term productivity gain is far better than annual relief funding.
- Such a scheme would cost each of the developed countries $10 billion decreasing over the next 5 years or $9.00 per Australian in the initial year of operation. When we consider Australians spend $893.00 for each person a year on war the cost to Australians would be minimal if we transferred a little over 1% of the Australian defense Budget to Humanitarian Agriculture to make poor food third world countries move from mal nutrition and starving to self sufficient and responsive. In the case of the Malawi example it would be a short term investment that builds confidence, self reliance and eventually the elimination of hand outs known as foreign aid. (In America it would be just 0.214% and in China would be less than 0.5% of their budgets)
- To give poor farmers access to organic inputs and highly productive seeds; that are genetically variable and not the sterile hybrids, would break the cycle which makes them reliant on foreign aid year after year.
- This would decrease the food prices, increase textile production as well as decrease the energy prices at the shop front while maintaining better prices at the farm gate
D. The aim would be to double the harvest potential of all southern African countries in a year
2. With the second step, the author believes that:
B. It is misleading to put tree crops into the gas tank therefore the farms within these countries are not to be involved in additional deforestation of the land but should be involved in reforestation of already depleted forests.
C. It is not wise to change food crops into gas until these countries are self sufficient and not malnutrition.
D. Biofuels should be encouraged on a large scale on existing broad acreage farms.
E. It is imperative that we act now so as to relieve the global food shortage, the costs associated with costly refugee migration and integration which never works and the preservation of local environments which are best addressed locally by locals.
F. To implement the above policies would go along way to achieve economic growth and political stability in poor third world countries
G. To develop tree crops, grasses and wood products on presently unprofitable abandoned farms would encourage locals to take pride in the environment and create further jobs on presently unemployable land.
To conclude it is now the time to revaluate the role of human capital, education and health. Why is it so, that the public health and educational sectors are looked upon as the load bearing sector of our society that costs money while the industrial and financial sectors are the sectors financially supporting society? In reality it is the environment; the producers of a clean healthy sustainable future, the farmers; the producers of food and the educated with the knowledge of efficiency of production which are the real producers of latent wealth throughout society.
Sustainability, Dwindling Natural Resource
& Environmental use
Nature has for millions of years been more than sustainable in maintaining a balance in specie numbers and variety while at the same time storing excess energy as fossil fuels below the ground. It has been human development especially over the past 1000 years or so that has had the greatest impact since the last mass extinction removing the stored energy that nature created and using it at a rate far below even a sustainable level.
The natural resources of soil, water, air, plant and animal diversity, renewable energy and climate are all natural resources that need urgent addressing.
Part of the problem is that farmers are not scientists and scientists are not farmers. There have been few opportunities where farmers have been involved in research matters and policy makers and when farmers have been elected to higher office they often forget the roots to which they belong. What is needed is community based groups with farmers and biologists especially biologists who were farmers and have a strong agricultural heritage with a broad open mind.
Soils are the critical component in land degradation
Soils are an issue in which we need to understand the underlying causes of the declines in soil fertility and erode ability before a management plan can be initiated. In essence soils take on 3 forms sand, loams, clay or mixture between. Most the soils in Australia are sandy loams with the best soils being limited to alluvial plains. Generally soil textures determine the properties and behaviour of soils to react to agriculture or the environment.
<<Global challenges Photo 19.8>>
|Water holding capacity||Low||Medium to high||High|
|Drainage rate||High||Slow to medium||Very slow|
|Soil organic matter level||Low||Medium to high||High to medium|
|Decomposition of organic matter||Rapid||Medium||Slow|
|Warm up in spring||Rapid||Moderate||Slow|
|Susceptibility to wind erosion||Moderate (High if fine sand)||High||Low|
|Susceptibility to water erosion||Low (unless fine sand)||High||Low if aggregated, otherwise high|
|Shrink/Swell Potential||Very Low||Low||Moderate to very high|
|Sealing of ponds, dams, and landfills||Poor||Poor||Good|
|Suitability for tillage after rain||Good||Medium||Poor|
|Pollutant leaching potential||High||Medium||Low (unless cracked)|
|Ability to store plant nutrients||Poor||Medium to High||High|
|Resistance to pH change||Low||Medium||High|
As can be seen from the chart most Australian soils are highly susceptible to wind and water erosion, the loss of fertility due to leaching and are poor at retaining organic matter, soil moisture and nutrient storage. This makes management a more serious aspect of retaining good healthy soils.
Acidification is the move towards a lower pH reading. Acidic soils are usually not high productive soils especially when it comes to rural pursuits. It is usually caused by leaching, the over production of crops, synthetic fertilizers and the growing of monoculture crops on the same parcel of land for many years.
Soil Contamination is the inclusion of chemicals either as waste products or the continual addition of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides on the soil for long periods.
Desertification is the result of the removal of all the plant cover from the soil which includes the removal of humus or organic mater.
Erosion is the removal of the soil by wind and/or water.
Salinity is an extremely complex matter where the salt levels rise in the soil. They can be from deposition of saline water. Rising water tables and in the future with global warming will include ocean inundation around the coast extending hundreds of kilometres inland in certain areas.
- Many farmers in tropical areas, however, struggle to retain organic matter in the soils they work. In recent years, for example, productivity has declined in the low heavy clay soils of northern Thailand. Farmers initially responded by adding organic matter from termite mounds, but this was unsustainable in the long-term. Scientists experimented with adding bentonite, one of the smectite family of clays, to the soil. In field trials, conducted by scientists from the International Water Management Institute in cooperation with Khon Kaen University and local farmers, this had the effect of helping retain water and nutrients. Supplementing the farmer’s usual practice with a single application of 1300 kg bentonite per hectare resulted in an average yield increase of 73%. More work showed that applying bentonite to degraded sandy soils reduced the risk of crop failure during drought years.
Additives like this are good short term fixes but need to be followed up with long term strategies. In 2008, three years after the initial trials, IWMI scientists conducted a survey among 250 farmers in northeast Thailand, half of whom had applied bentonite to their fields. The average improvement for those using the clay addition was 18% higher than for non clay users but still showed a 55% decrease on the initial use. Using the clay had enabled some farmers to switch to growing vegetables, which need more fertile soil. This helped to increase their income. The researchers estimated that 200 farmers in northeast Thailand and 400 in Cambodia had adopted the use of clays, and that a further 20,000 farmers were encouraged to implement the new technique
If the soil is too high in clay, adding gypsum, washed river sand and organic matter will balance the composition. Adding organic matter is the best method for reversing degrades soils and helping the environment at the same time. The carbon sink capacity of the world’s agricultural and degraded soils is 50 to 66% of the historic carbon loss of 42 to 78 gigatons of carbon. (Science 11 June 2004: Vol. 304 no. 5677 pp. 1623-1627 DOI: 10.1126/science.1097396) The rate of soil organic carbon sequestration with adoption of recommended technologies depends on soil texture and structure, rainfall, temperature, farming system, and soil management. Strategies to increase the soil carbon content include soil restoration and woodland regeneration, no-till farming, cover crops, nutrient management, manuring and sludge (Sewage) application, improved grazing, water conservation and harvesting, efficient irrigation, agroforestry practices, and growing energy crops on spare lands. The side benefits of high carbon sequestration are the water holding and mineral holding capacity of the soil. An increase of 1 ton of soil carbon pool in degraded cropland soils will increase crop yield by 20 to 40 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) for wheat, 10 to 20 kg/ha for maize, and 0.5 to 1 kg/ha for cowpeas. As well as enhancing food security, carbon sequestration has the potential to offset fossil fuel emissions by 0.4 to 1.2 gigatons of carbon per year, or 10 to 15% of the global fossil fuel emissions. This method alone is one of the reasons that our soils at Nana Glen produced 30% more mandarins per tree over 5 hectares. Personally I believe the figures quoted are conservative when I compare them to mandarin production. The use of less water and fertilizer also contributed to higher farm gate income and consequently healthier profits. The real big winners here are the environment, soil and farmers.
* Water is the one area that unites farmers against governments and Greenies pit farmer against farmer. Water will probably be the cause of future wars as oil is the present day cause of many wars. Despite the high cost of water in terms of securing a good source, purifying it, using it and often recleansing it, its real value especially in places like Australia is often overlooked. There is also the “economic” water scarcity, which reflects low water use efficiency and wasteful use of irrigation water. On average, only 40% of pumped water reaches plants it is intended for. It is estimated that over 60% of this water is lost through leaking pipes or evaporation which includes inefficient irrigation systems – flood and sprinklers. Investments in water use efficiency and better policies; water pricing, could help remedy these problems. Where water scarcity is largely of a physical nature, the development of drought tolerant crops could help.
Our dam at Nana Glen lost about 16% of the total dam capacity every year through evaporation. On the other hand we used our water efficiently making sure all pipes were leak proof, watering at night with micro jets that captured mists and fog which increased the overall amount of water reaching the plants by an estimated 25% of the water pumped to the orchard.
* Air is a resource that has had very little research for farmers despite the all knowledge that plants as well as animals need air to survive. Without exception all the trials of which most were restricted to grasses and reeds found a decrease in growth in leaf surface area and seed production in both weight and size. The results varied on the type of air pollution experienced by the crops grown. That is whether they were in exposed to and the proximity to burnt coal air, steel manufacturing, aluminium or sulphide extraction etc.
Human health is better documented. Asthma, other related respiratory conditions and headache admissions to hospitals world wide; in heavy air polluted areas, were directly proportional to increase levels of air pollution in the same cities and decreased as the population was further removed from the centres of pollution. These figures were extracted from hospital admissions in Europe, America and China. The highest admission rates were in the most polluted cities.
The need for governments world wide to introduce real affective clean air acts is imperative to agriculture and human health.
* Plant and animal diversity has a direct correlation to the number of pests and diseases which attack agricultural crops. The greater the diversity of plants means the greater diversity of animals including insects which eventually results in fewer types of specie and individuals available which will attack crops as they are being checked by the natural balances and diversity in nature.
* Renewable energy was addressed early in this chapter.
* Climate and Global Warming is something we all need to accept without division and derisiveness. Those that are being derisive are those that have most to lose financially and are blinkered by the facts that this is real.
The promotion of research centres that are able to better exploit strategies and to predict future movements of climate change need to be realized and acted upon urgently. Advise and better communication between all the parties involved from the highest government minister to the smallest individual farmer will allow the farmers to make better decisions.
While climatologists have the T.V, radio and web at their disposal for weather alerts the same sought of coverage or equivalent is not available to long term strategists, particularly where non committed or denial governments are in power. These research centres and scientists need autonomy coupled with local and globalisation of their research.
Maximizing resource of individual farmers through the assistance of the CSIRO, maximizing the individual farmers ability to maneuver through the web of uncertainty to make better decisions so they can maximize efficiency in crop production will ultimately lead to less environmental impact, less cost to farmers, increased yields and hopefully better profits.
Getting the benefits of globalization to the small farmers:
The gap between present large scale non sustainable and small scale more sustainable agriculture is being exasperated by the exploitation of global markets where some farmers are better suited to extrapolate every dollar from forward orders and expensive long hauling.
To start the debate lets look at some real issues of where production output and prices are going. Production rates despite what the big companies are telling us and spruiking are actually in decline. Agricultural production was growing at 2.4% in 1961 but since then with all the new technology production rates have been in a decline and is now growing at just 0.42% per annum since 2005 through to 2010. The biggest increases in fact have come from the organic industry not from chemical farming methods as often talked up.
Secondly some of the muted increase in demand is attributed to price changes and resulting consumer adjustments. In 1991 the retail price of eggs in Australia was 9 times the price of flour, whereas by 1996 egg prices were a little over 3 times the price of flour and have been steady since at this ratio. Notice the sharp drop following the disbandment of boards after 1976 in Australia which led to many poultry farmers going broke and walking away from their farms.
A similar affect is being seen now with milk and the fall out costing many dairy farmers their lively hood. These are generally the smaller participants who make up the majority of farmers not the large scale broad acre farms. Farmers are generally the victims in organized price wars by large corporations like Coles and Woolworths.
The graphs below are the historic charts for wheat yields and prices since 1890. The upper chart shows the decline per hectare which started in 1991 despite organic growers having an increase of 2 to 5% in the same period based on American research models. In historical terms, this productivity in decline of yields is more rapid than in any previous period in the history of Australian wheat growing. The middle chart shows the Australian decline in exports of wheat since 1997. The lower chart displays the inflation adjusted returns at the farm gate for farmers which peaked in 1075 and has decreased ever since. These circumstances force the increasing numbers of farmers who are caught between rising costs and falling returns to make sacrificial cuts to inputs that often exacerbate the rate of decline and potentially render the farm uneconomical. Farmers need to readdress their individual circumstances and should be strongly encouraged to adopt organic approaches to producing grain by reducing cropping intensity, utilizing legumes between crops to rebuild soil organic nitrogen, carbon and biotic life. The reintroduction of carbon inputs is the single most advantageous thing they can do. Organic farmers are increasing yields receiving higher farm gate prices and are being less affected by disease and insect attack. The lack of insecticides alone is a huge cost saving and is environmentally friendly at the same time.
Now that we have seen the problems the logistics of international transport and government regulations is an accruing nightmare to all farmers. This is where the agents or better still redeployment of former farmer owned cooperatives offer the best solutions. Cooperative managers are more converse with business dealings, business trends, logistics distributions and border controls and regulations. This is the single area where the individual small and middle size farmer is totally overwhelmed. Cooperative managers would be responsible all the marketing and attaining the best prices for the farmers. The basic problems of many of the past cooperatives were communication with the farmers losing control of the cooperatives and managements demanding unreasonable restitution.
Free trade agreements are now becoming the norm rather than the exception which allows easier access for Australian produce to be sold abroad especially in the bourgeois middle class economy of China.
The other advantage at the present time is the falling value of the Australian dollar which is estimated, that it will again return to around the beneficial 0.75 to 0.80 American Dollars. A stable dollar around this mark is highly regarded by most Australian businesses as the ideal.
Can Traditional Methods and Organics
play a role in the Future
Monsantos’ bias against organics gains a special mention when they write “Some vegetables that are labeled “organic” are grown on big farms, thousands of miles away from your grocery store. If you care about eating local, which is better: an “organic” head of lettuce grown in, say, California, or a non-“organic” head of lettuce grown 50 miles from your home?” The exact same argument also applies to chemically produced crops which are more often grown on large enterprise farms rather than smaller family owned agricultural farms. In fact organic farms are more likely to be local than the large farms Monsantos refers to. As more and more farmers are converting to “organics” locally produced crops are popping up everywhere which further negates their bias attempt at reasoning.
Monsantos continues with, “Perhaps the most important question is: What’s the best way to increase the production of healthy, nutrient (rich) food, while simultaneously reducing the amount of land, water and energy required?” The answers have already been addressed above in populations and diets.
Monsantos again stated that the two sides will never find middle ground and that there is a middle ground. I dispute this statement entirely as a Certified Organic Grower I was 100 committed to the environment and the natural methods that organics offered. What middle ground is there? You either abstain from toxic herbicide chemicals or you use the toxic herbicides there is no middle ground. You purchase insects to combat insects and abstain from using toxic insecticides or you use toxic insecticides where is the middle ground they talk of? The use of GMO foods with unproven long term affects is strongly cautionary with organic growers and is used by a minority of ill informed farmers who may have large insurance writs to pay out on in the future. I believe Monsanto are very wrong in writing there is a middle ground.
While the role of agriculture as a driver of overall growth will diminish over time along with its share in GDP, organic growing will actually take a larger slice of the GDP form the Agricultural perspective.
Organics with greater research and development spent on organic food production – biotechnology, carbon inputs to the soil and growing of crops most suitable to your environment soil and climate are the best methods to succeeding. With success comes happiness and greater satisfaction.
Science Fiction comes to Agriculture:
“What seems far fetched now may be the standard for tomorrow.”
Watering, nutrient inputs, sowing and harvesting times may all be the tasks of your computer controlled robots.
Even today there are mechanical harvesters so why not UFO’s, ah I mean UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) also known as drones.
Look at this photo taken of a farmers crop. Image from the University of Melbourne
Now place this technology used here in a chip then place it on a UAV connected to your computer, link it to your micro sprinklers or trickle irrigation. Irrigation solved without even stepping onto the field. Further enhancements could include; with electronic valves already used extensively in manufacturing, connected to fish emulsion or water soluble compost tanks for nutrient distribution when required or even for the inoculation of crops.
Broad acreage grain soil moisture optimum could be relayed to the farmer letting him/her know the best time to sow. Then again sugar cane could have indications for the optimum time to commence harvesting of the canes which all means dollars to the grower.
While nutrient and water stress increases the temperature of the crop, many plant diseases also trigger minute changes in temperatures of the plants for the same reason. Similar to you going to the doctors and having your temperature taken. High temperatures equate to something being wrong. Disease and fungal attacks also trigger stress responses in the plants but would be displayed as circular rings of orange-red in the field as against the straight rows for water or nutrient deficiencies.
So farming of the future may be more like playing Star Wars or Commando on the computer. – Attacks of Pieris brassicae in field 4 section 2.Send out 20 grams of the Bacillus thuringiensis to field 4 section 2, surround them and let them have it. Power, power, power gotem. Watch it water stress in upper section of field 8 developing open flood gates field 8 upper zone for 10 minutes. Stress levels abating. Well done Captain Ag.
The role of Women in modern Agriculture
“Women hold up half the sky” Mao Zi Dong
In many small family farms even in Australia it is the woman, the mother and daughter who sacrifice their labour for no cost to keep the family home and farm from the wolves. Present women represent 20 to 70% of the workforce in farm production and post harvest activities like packaging and value adding on the farm. This will grow as niche export markets open up for Australian produce. Even when women are employed in farming activities they are often exploited and paid below recommended weekly awards and work in sub standard conditions. Lower working non paid positions is often bought about by diminishing government support for family run rural production over what they see as more economic efficiency in supporting large land holdings with fewer workers. The introduction of migrant workers has also exasperated the rights of rural wives. Other causes for the increase use of women are the increased exposure to natural disasters, decreasing water quality long hours and unknown prospects in relation to environmental factors and Global warming.
The need for gender balance and equality are critical in maintaining a sustainable agricultural industry in the face of all the adversities that the industry will be confronted with in the upcoming decades.
Should farmers live in poverty?
The short answer to this question is Multination companies and even many Australian companies don’t give a damn provided they reap the major profits for themselves and exploit those who help garnish the profits.
Over the past 60 years the real prices for food has decreased alarmingly when adjusted to meet inflation. The problem is that a marked decline has also been experienced in the profitability of farming at the same time. The cost cutting is usually taken out on the environment without any real thought for the future. For products where longer time series are available, this downward trend can often be extended back for nearly 100 years. The only good news is that, the pace of decline has slowed somewhat over the last 10 to 25 years with trend lines appearing to have bottomed out with a reversal now in place.
The reasons for the long-term decline are well known. They include rapid productivity growth in agriculture which included higher yielding varieties and breeds, scale effects of larger farms, improved managerial skills, a growing satiation of high protein food demand in wealthier countries, subsidized production by governments being abolished and exports of OECD countries, temporary lower energy and input prices, and overall, a moderate growth in industrial use of agricultural products.
Equally known are the factors that have driven up prices over the past decade and have resulted in a pronounced price hike for many agricultural commodities. These include: increased production of biofuels from agricultural feed stocks, adverse weather conditions in key producing regions like north Queensland and droughts in Western Australia. The higher costs of manufacturing, longer storage times and larger storage facilities all add to the cost of food. Export restrictions and different weights and government laws have all taken there toll on the farmers.
There are divergent views as to what factors will likely shape the trends and swings in future prices and what relative weight these factors will have. The FAO long term outlook for global agriculture does not provide price projections to 2030 or to 2050. What is available, however, is a discussion of the underlying factors that are likely to affect future price trends and swings. On the demand side, the outlook suggests a gradual slow down in the growth of average farm prices due to global uncertainty on Global Warming and the affects it will cause.
Food consumption, brought about by a further slow down but still a growing population coupled with a growing satiation of demand will probably maintain the upward rise being seen at the present time. Overall, the growth rate of aggregate food demand in developing countries is expected to slow from 1.8% per year between 2005 and 2030 to less than 0.8% between 2030 and 2050.
Despite world food demand increasing especially the demand for livestock products estimated to rise from 2.2% for the 2005 to 2030 period to 2.8% for the 2030 to 2050. This demand will be as a result of greater general prosperity not necessarily individual prosperity as a whole which will lead to greater pressure being placed on an already stressed environment.
It would be assumed then that upward pressure on prices would have to follow especially as lower productivity growth or constraints in agricultural resources with environmental impacts having to be addressed at the same time.
More serious constraints will arise from limited physical availability of fertilizers especially calcium and phosphate, or higher costs of nitrogenous fertilizer production. This will see a greater shift from chemical farming to organic farming probably commencing at the turn of the decade.
Given the potentially huge demand arising from the energy sector and liquid fossil fuel shortages, the energy market will see higher prices which will alter the demand, thus generating market pressures for farmers to shift into bio fuels. This in return will cause food shortages and generate higher prices making farming an economical alternative business in which the consumer will have to start paying for the real cost of food production otherwise farmers will leave the land causing a further upward price in the real cost of food. The only other alternative to very high prices is to have locally produced fresh food again subsidized by governments for the poor or populations as a whole. Which ever system eventuates farms; especially the family owned farms, must not be allowed to be driven into adverse poverty as is happening at the present time for the sake of the environment, food security and the well being of the individual farmers and their families.
Farmers will also be seen as the lungs of the earth and will need to be subsidized for maintaining forest cover, sequestering carbon and purifying the water and the air.
Food security in the Long Term:
It is envisaged that Australians won’t have any long term food shortages despite global warming. That is not to say that there won’t be short term food shortages bought about by drought, floods, sever storm activities or inundation of good flood land causing interruptions to supply before farmers react to the shortage and shift to different crops.
Inundation is most likely to cause interruptions in sugar production and the downstream industries like the fermentation industries and sweets.
The environmental Issues and how farmers should be compensated:
* This is undoubtedly the most controversial issue of the present time.
The sequestering of carbon in forests is vitally important but gives the farmer very little in the way of being recompensed,
* The preservation of clean water relies on the farmers and land holders understanding water and land use hydrodynamics then working together with governments to solve any problems that may arise,
* To maintain forests and water ways for bird, fish and animal habitats,
* Mitigating the affects and impacts of Global Warming,
* Converting to organics takes time with a reduction in initial production. Our orchard never went through a transitional period as such but the initial years saw decreased yields which would be experienced by transitional farmers before production rates recovered then increased,
* The need to generate local markets which rely less on transport but remain efficient and cost affective for the farmer.
Further it is expressed by many that farmers should invest heavily in R&D but this is impractical as most farmers are small and are working day to day. The business of R&D is the responsibility of the government through bodies like the CSIRO and universities that have the equipment, knowledge and time to allocate to research. These bodies are in a better position to carry out research having the libraries, climatologists, botanists, zoologists, physicists, chemists and other persons of expertise in areas outside the science to collate the information prior to commencing and spending any funds on projects considered to be worthwhile. Programmes can be fully utilized far more efficiently. The government is in the best position to share the burden of cost sharing amongst all Australians not just a few. In periods where there is a downturn R&D expenditure would cease to flow from individual farmers who often would rely on someone else doing the work and spending the money.
While I have listed 6 important areas that farmers can improve the quality of life for all in the end it is the community that must decide just how much the individual farmers should be paid for allocating land to the environment and alleviating the impacts of global warming that we all will gain the benefits from.
Equity and investments
Should the farm be traded for a pension:
The farm even a small rural farm of 10 hectares can be worth a million dollars. Who wants to buy it? Who can afford it with present returns on investment? And what if the children decide to take over the running of the farm? In this respect the farm is often calculated as a business on assets that cannot be realised unless sold. Presently we are dictating that farms should not be broken up and sold as real estate to which I agree whole heartedly. They should be maintained for future generations like National Parks but how can the farmer retire without selling the farm? Should they be allowed to stay on the farm until they die or infirmed to a bed? These are difficult questions to resolve. Simply if a farmer’s offspring takes over the farm there is no financial gain for the couple retiring, there is no immediate superannuation for his years of work. With little or no return on the equipment and property improvements it is not difficult to understand why many farmers are disillusioned and have one of the highest rates of suicide.
I can vouch for this all to readily. We sold our orchard on 100 acres with a good income well below its real value. If it were a business in Sydney or Brisbane it would have fetched over $500,000 just for the income generated alone, and if the assets were to be included it should have realized well over a million dollars. But instead we received a little over the cost of the land, house and sheds. Nothing for the huge dam (4 years supply of water if rain doesn’t fall) built to Water Resources specification, nothing for the 1,500 citrus trees and 100 fruit trees like the brown pine, Sichuan peppers, loquats etc. Nothing for the fencing, nothing for the reforestation of part of the 85 acres not used for farming which included many rare and endangered trees and shrubs and nothing for the swamp lands dedicated to the wildlife reliant on the permanent fresh water. All this was done for the environment so everyone could enjoy it yet if I were to retire there with my wife there would be no pension unless the farm is let to deteriating beforehand. We would be forced to sell the farm or work till we die. I am not grizzling as this was my choice I had alternatives but many farmers retire and the farm is all they have. Then when the time comes for the pension a productive farm becomes a burden.
I believe and I believe that most fare minded Australians would agree a life time of service deserves some compensation with the right to retire on the property especially if it has been left in a condition that benefits the whole community.
The Gini – coefficient could be used as a public criterion for policy assessment along with the more conventional methods of inflation and environment standings of the property. That is if 90% of the property has been converted for environmental factors then the property is only to be valued at 10% using the above criteria.
There is a broad consensus that the impacts of climate change on global agricultural output will remain limited as long as the global mean temperature (GMT) rises by less than 2°C. This appears to be the case in most projections until 2050. GMT increases beyond this level are expected after 2050. This is when conditions will move more rapidly resulting in stronger and more adverse impacts which will leave less time for adaptation to changing the agro ecological conditions. Faced with extinctions, reduced overall production potential, uncertainties with the result in an upward spiralling pressure on food prices farming looks bleak especially in the more marginal zones. Stronger climate change will also result in more frequent and more severe weather extremes, a potential trigger for larger price swings. Such wild swings would become even more pronounced in a world where a large part of demand comes from wealthy consumers who are generally unresponsive to price changes. Poor consumers in disadvantaged production areas especially low latitude developing countries will be most affected by such a development.
The overall deterioration of agricultural land and its production would be more significant and more directly exposed as a result of global warming. The impacts of extreme weather will make farming extremely tenuous, to say the least and far more vulnerable to wild price swings. Such a scenario would further compromise the overall insecurity of agriculture.
Global warming will eventually dictate the type of environment we live in, along with the daily need to supply the billions of people and the animals; that have adapted so far to the changes. With a never ending supply of food the outlook for farming should look bright but the reality; as it looks now is far from bright with survival being more tenuous than ever.
Further Comments from Readers:
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