Given that there will always be good years and bad years, can a ‘good’ farmer in Australia still earn (on average) a good living?
I doubt there is anyone in Australia, no matter how disconnected from the madding crowd they may be in their multi-million dollar capital city penthouse, who isn’t aware of a sense of crisis in our rural economy. So in terms of my question, what’s ‘good’? Let’s say money – wise, would $80K + after tax, as a running 7 year average, be fair? And farming – wise (taking farming in a broad sense to include croppers, graziers, orchardists, other fruit and veg growers etc), would that be someone applying the latest proven technological and agriscience knowhow? If the answer is “No”, then I humbly think we have a big national problem.
Firstly though, a little background / history. Whilst a capital city dweller for coming on 50 years (never in a penthouse however J), my formative years, up to early teens, were spent in or around the Bundaberg, Rockhampton and Murgon / Kingaroy districts. Back in those days when we still had droughts, floods, fires and gluts, farmers generally were looked up to as much for the fact that they were the ones driving big cars, sending their kids to grammar schools and so on, as much as for their hard work and productivity. The rest of the rural communities worked in shops, for the railway, the PMG, at the mills, in garages, drove trucks and buses, ran small stores, taught and nursed etc. Few of them showed the trappings of wealth, save for the odd very successful medical / dental practitioner, engineer, architect, stock and station agent or the owners of emporiums like Millroys in Rocky, or Buss & Turner’s in Bundy. Successful farmers were the landed gentry, but that never included small (subsistence) dairy farmers. Later on, in the early 60s, I enjoyed the eye – opening experience of getting to know some of the largest grazing properties west of Collinsville, and their legendry family owners were plain evidence that the landed gentry were still alive and well!Sorry for the big segue, back to the question! Accepting that the vicissitudes of the weather will always impose cyclical problems, and we are certainly experiencing them right now, are all farmers being robbed and bankrupted by unfair, uninformed government regulation? Such as locking up of land for carbon credits, ‘green’ policies precluding proper fire protection and the live export fiasco? And as many now seem to be claiming, the ‘robber baron’ foreclosure actions of the self – same banks that played a key role in saving Oz from the depths of the GFC fallout, and remain the cornerstone of millions of superfunds?
Or, are ‘good’ farmers following sound agrinomical and management principles still able to ‘do OK’, managing their relationships with banks and government?.
Coming from a city background in business and finance (not banking!) as I do, I could assure any reader that I have known a heap of small businesses, and big ones too, that have sadly gone down due to the economy and changed circumstances. In many cases, no fault of their own, other than perhaps of not having ‘read the signs’, and adapted. Some complained bitterly of the support available to farmers and farming organisations but not to them, pointing out that those organisations continually fought to reduce / remove tariffs which supported other industry. Sadly that’s life and while bank lending is no doubt an important part of the mix, in the harsh world of survival, is it the entire cause of failures? So is farming so different? Are 3rd generation plus farmers failing because the banks pulled the plug on them unfairly, in hard times, or as some ‘globalists’ might say, are they also victims of bad management, lack of forward planning and ‘we’re farmers, and therefore owed a living’ mentality? Or perhaps above all, of poor, fragmented and unsophisticated representation in what is an increasingly competitive and technological world? The ubiquitous small corner stores of the 50s – 60s are long gone, as increasingly are stand alone pharmacies, medical practices, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers ........
I really worry about this, I think it is an extremely important question. What do you think?