Pages

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Agriculture ... my industry


I'm unable to lay claim to generations of pastoralists in my family tree.  One of my grandfathers was a pie-man, the other a pineapple-farmer who due to ill health moved to town at a relatively young age.  I do have fond memories of riding shotgun with Grandad Cec and being given the rather daunting responsibility of hanging the bell out the passenger side window of the pie-van to signal our arrival at various workshops around town.  An important job for Grandad's 'little bush princess' at age four.  And I'm still rather fond of a McHugh's Pie on a drizzly day in town.


I am no less proud of my heritage and equally proud of how far Matthew and I have come in our pursuit of a slice of the agricultural pie.  My love of animals, and in particular cattle can be firmly blamed on my own parents who, like us, worked hard off-farm to buy their own small parcel of land and raise some cows.  From an early age I can remember days spent with my family, working with horses and cattle and dogs, making do with antiquated machinery, fallen down yards, an often absentee-Dad (away driving a dozer, in an era when interest rates reached over 20%), experiencing anger and frustration throughout the day, and laughing around the dinner table that evening as issues were re-counted.


The agricultural industry can be a fickle one, and is more often a tough one.  The vagaries of the weather being first and foremost a huge variable with which we dance each year.  We are ever at the mercy of Mother Nature, rain being the integral ingredient necessary for all that we do, and a harsh reality of Australian agriculture is that we live on the driest inhabited continent in the world.  It is a difficult business scenario when the most important aspect of that business (weather) is one over which you have absolutely no control.  Thrown in the mix with world currency fluctuations and an inability to accurately guage forward pricing for our product, it's little wonder farm profitability is waning.

99% of Australian farms are family-owned and operated.  And 2014 has been declared by the United Nations "International Year of Family Farming", a great time to recognise and celebrate the achievements of all those family farmers.


(Words from farmon.com/farmvoices)

The beef industry, our particular area of agriculture has endured some particularly hard times in recent years. In May 2011, Four Corners aired "A Bloody Business", the explosive expose which showed the horrific mistreatment of cattle exported to Indonesia, slaughtered in the most inhumane of ways.  I clearly remember being unable to watch the footage, so saddened I was by the sight of such abhorrent cruelty.

However, the knee-jerk reaction of our government to suspend all live-cattle exportation did little to rectify the problem, but instead caused the most profound ripple effect through the northern beef industry, the consequences of which are still being felt, possibly even moreso now.

More incredible though than the financial woes, devastation, loss of income for graziers and all those associated industries and communities brought about by the suspension, was the tidal wave of anger, resentment and disdain cast upon those in the cattle industry.  Truly hurtful, nasty, untruths hurled at cattle producers by some of those within the animal liberation movement.  I spoke to cattlemen and women who said they'd never felt so lost, so misunderstood, so un-liked.

There is no greater advocate for cattle welfare than those people who breed, raise and manage them.  They aren't just our source of income, they are our life, our love.  No cattleman tires of witnessing the birth of a baby calf, hearing the loving murmurs of its mother, those first, unsteady steps as he moves towards Mum's udder.  What cattleman hasn't sat on the edge of the water trough in the weaner yard, enjoying the company of all these babes, their curiosity inevitably leading them towards you for a sniff, a lick.  What cattleman hasn't worked into the night, delivering lick, checking water troughs, ensuring the welfare of his charges.  What child hasn't grown up in the bush, learning the simple rule that animals must be tended to before ourselves.  From the age they could speak, our children have recited 'the golden rule' of our family "Look after your animals and be kind to each other", the latter not always strictly adhered to.


Combined with the drought that has since taken hold in the north and west of our state, graziers were forced to send cattle south, flooding southern markets and depressing prices statewide, a situation from which we are yet to recover.  Some optimism is returning as the boats are again sailing, solid prices are being offered for export cattle, and at the same time our presence back in countries like Indonesia ensures high standards are adhered to and education processes are in place.

Farm debt has reached an all-time high.  Though astute managers of costs, farmers are price-takers and thus struggle to remain profitable whilst expenses escalate.  We will watch with interest as the government's white paper for agricultural competitiveness is developed, one issue being discussed is how to increase farm-gate profitability.  Whilst politicians have a great gift for 'talking the talk', I'm unsure how they will implement the changes necessary to lift profitability for producers, or even what those changes will be.

Yet people in the agricultural sector will carry on, for they know no other way.  It will rain again, interest payments will somehow be made and children will still feed the dogs and ride their ponies.  Cattle will be tended, crops will be planted and life will go on.

And in this International Year of Family Farming I hope that all people will gain a greater understanding of agriculture and those who make it their life's work.  For rural producers certainly aren't seeking sympathy, nor hand-outs, nor attention, but would very much like to be valued and understood.  As everybody deserves to be.


19 comments:

  1. Oh Fiona, this is by far the most moving piece I've ever read.
    From one passionate farming family to another, well done!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thankyou Ainsley, it's easy to write passionately about something you love ... though admittedly the tough times see the passion ebb and flow.

      Delete
  2. A great piece. We have an amazing life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed Maria, never to be taken for granted.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for such an educational, personal and emotional read Fiona. I loved it. My love is for the land but my life isn't there unfortunately. I remember when I did an Ag course in 2007 and how promising the industry was... so many jobs available, promising condition of the land and stock...
    The government has a lot to answer for. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your support Jackie, it's nice to know there are people who may not be involved in the industry firsthand, yet have a love of it.

      Delete
  4. Well written and a great insight into your life and all our lives...thank you Fiona. I love the way you write and your photos are ever so amazing. It doesn't matter where you come from if you have a passion for something you should do it and you and Matthew are and great example of that...as your children will be too. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the lovely compliments Trude, we are truly blessed to have the opportunity to live the way we do and raise our children in such an environment. Sometimes you have to step back and really look at the big picture.

      Delete
  5. can you hear the applause from there? Brilliantly written. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sharon. You are a wonderful friend.

      Delete
  6. Fiona what you have written just about moved me to tears! Despite not being australian born and bread we love the outback and the people in it! You and others in that ilk are to be admired and that's exactly what the country needs. Why this XYZ government of ours does not look after its own is beyond comprehension. We try our best by buying australian as much as possible and also go to the foodies market to support the vegie farmers. Any way, keep up the good work with rising your beautiful kids etc By the way, a friend of ours Graham Rodger is a country singer. He does a Tournee from Miles to Birdsville. If you are near Miles I can give you the details for the concerts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the lovely comment Therese. We are situated with Rockhampton as our main base if that helps you with bearings, Miles still quite a way from us.
      We can all do our bit by supporting local produce and producers.

      Delete
  7. This is such an interesting post Fiona. There is so much I don't know or understand about agriculture and I really enjoy learning more. Your post highlights issues I have never considered.

    When I was little, I wanted to be a farmer (in the Swiss Alps) but I suppose with no farming history in my family, this was never a realistic plan... my closest brush with agriculture is the weekly program "Countryfile" on the BBC, which does include interesting segments on farming in Britain. Both my husband love it in a townie kind of way (meaning naïve but fascinated). Cx

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wonderful post about what you are passionate about, and it certainly comes through. I can certainly relate to the start of the story. My family aren't farmers, and I don't believe they ever were, at least not in recent generations. Only through a more recent remarriage did farming come into the equation. Somehow, however, I have seemed to develop a love of the land, the outback, cattle and all that goes with. An interest that goes back a long way. One day Mr Sparky and I will have that dream, that parcel of land and hopefully pass a love of it onto another generation. I think this passion and love of the land and rural industry just gets down in your veins, wiggles it's way into your heart.
    Well done and keep carrying on. Also I love the quotes especially the one about farm children. I think it is so true about, farm, station and county children ... they learn respect of many things. Again ... brilliant post, straight from the heart!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Posts like this are the reason you won an Excellence in Social Media award. I hope this article gets picked up by a national news agency and gets the coverage it deserves.
    Weather and politics are the two things we can't control (but which ultimately decide the profitability of farming no matter where in the world you farm) but any one of us in farming could follow your example and explain what we do and why. Here in the UK we have an annual Open Farm Sunday where ordinary farms invite local people to the farm to show what happens on a farm.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is a piece of writing that needs to be in the Courier Mail, Sydney Herald, The Australian. We saw first hand, those affected by the banning of live cattle and the ripple this had across the various supporting industries. Keep up with writing pieces like this that reach the hearts of those on the land and those townies like myself. Sending you a huge pat on the back.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Amen to all that. I'm grateful to have your blog to read - I learn a lot from it, as well as being delighted by your photos and your family's approach to life. I couldn't be further from farming in my own life in a city and yet I have farming in my family tree and something deep in me still responds to the land.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Every word is steeped in your love of what you guys do. I cant even imagine what life is like on a farm, but I love getting a little peek into it via lovelies like you xx

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...