THE ANNOUNCEMENT of closures of the Churchill beef and Ipswich chicken abattoirs and the increase by US giant ADM to 25 per cent of Wilmar are just a few more dots in the future picture for farmers and graziers.
Start with the closure of vegetable and dairy processing plants in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria over the last decade as processing giants, mostly multi-nationals, took control and rationalised for efficiency.
Not all those ‘strategic decisions’ have gone to plan, along with logistic rationalisation by major grain and cotton processors and marketers.
The tension between efficiency (as loved by multi-nationals servicing shareholders and their short-term bonus-driven CEOs), effectiveness (best quality food with the best return for farmers and consumers), what’s good for a broad range of farmers, and what’s good for Australia is palpable.
None of those four gives the same answer — especially if you add sustainability for farmers and consumers through the seasons and cycles (not just weather but the all-important political, economic, ‘flavour of the month’, currency, energy price, land and water policy changes).
Most of the decisions affecting food and fibre and those who produce, market and manufacture or retail are done on a short-term and narrow basis.
Decisions to hugely increase electricity and water (and lots of other government fees and charges) are looked at only as ways to backdoor fix government budgets suffering from their own profligate spending. No consideration for farmers and processors who export or have to compete with imports (some from countries using Queensland coal to generate electricity at cheaper rates than our home grown variety).
Foreign investment is considered on a narrow basis by Boards made-up largely of the good and great from the top end of town who profit from deals, not long-term building a business.
The impact on country towns of a processing plant closure is given short shrift (in today’s world that means a look of serious concern on 30 second TV interview).
It’s time for a 360 degree consideration of these issues.
Otherwise it could get ugly.
Look what’s happening in France where growers have formed ‘hit squads’ to empty wine vats of imported Spanish wine (into the Langeudoc which grows more grapes than Australia and all the Southern Hemisphere countries combined) or milk from Poland in areas which make world famous cheese. And Spain and Poland with France are both part of the European Union that supports farmers with more subsidies than anywhere bar Japan!
Subsidies aren’t the answer — just reality.
Where’s the far-sighted, pragmatic, quality policy?