Don’t call me a farmer.
The term farmer is tied up with all sorts of myth, entitlement and guilt. Thousands of words of poetry, song, prose, and countless McLeod’s Daughters box sets have been produced chronicling the heroic struggle to tame the bush and carve a living from the land. Years of selective breeding, careful husbandry of bloodlines to get the right progeny.
The Tax Office call me a farmer, but I have never liked them. I maintain a good relationship with them because I hear they can be real bastards, not as bad a banks though.
My mates call me a farmer but not in a nice way, something to do with my relationship with the Tax Office.
The ABS call me a farmer and send me forms to fill out and threaten me if I don’t complete them.
I don’t call myself a farmer, but will answer to: son of the soil, hillbilly, or primary producer. I grow food and sell it at a profit.
I now live on the property but for the first 10 years of operation I lived and worked somewhere else. I have owned the land for 20 years. I have an affection for and connection with this piece of flogged-out scrub, but only in the sense of what has been created and achieved. Sort of how an artist or a craftsperson might look at a finished work. I also have some chronic back pain to remind me not to get too romantic.
The business was developed with sound planning and research, sweat equity, patience, the support of friends and family and almost non existing capital; my experience tells me that hope, thoughts and prayers are not good business planning tools.
The biggest threats to the viability and sustainability of the business have been directly linked to a changing climate, exacerbated by uninterested governments. The rising average temperatures mean pests and diseases kept out of our island state by our legendary cold winters can now make a beach head.
Blueberry rust and Queensland fruit fly incursions once considered almost incapable of getting a foothold in chilly Tasmania are now a thing. Since 2014, biosecurity officers have visited the farm more than my friends have. Yet isolation is still the best protection from pests and diseases.
Despite living in an isolated part of an isolated island, we are impacted by globalisation. Globalisation should mean we all have the same opportunities to sell our produce, not all having the same pests and using the same chemicals.
Finally, cracks are appearing in the crusty, weather-beaten exterior of agri-politics. As Leonard Cohen told us in his final stanza, cracks allow the light to get in.
Finally, farmers living in prolonged drought are asking questions about climate change. I think it’s too late for them and too little from the rural leadership. We are through the looking glass now, where climate change deniers are given bigger platforms than established experts. Farmers don’t like change so have been easy targets for the collection of hucksters, paid urgers and tub thumpers doing the rounds, but I don’t want to focus on One Nation and its lesser partners, the Nats.
When we were working with small communities to create local jobs in the 1990s, my boss and mentor fed me a maxim: ‘If I feed the poor, they call me a saint, if I ask why the poor are poor, they call me a socialist’. My take on that these days is: ‘If I donate hay for drought affected farmers, I am a good bloke (same as saint in Australian). If I ask questions about anthropogenic climate change, I am a greeny dog (Australian for socialist).’
It is reasonable that in a once-great country which prided itself on the concept of the fair go, that we support our rural brothers and sisters during tough times. It is also reasonable to support them during times of great change and upheaval brought about by climate change.
Industry packages have been used to transition people, business and communities from failing sectors to a new future. These packages have had mixed success, but with the best will and proper engagement they can succeed.
In Tasmania in the late 60s early 70s, orchardists were paid to pull out their fruit trees because the traditional markets were destroyed by the England joining the European Common Market (spooky eh?).
Rather than look for other market closer to home, the orchardists fired up the D7, ripped the trees out and ran a few cattle and sheep. It’s hard to believe today when you see our fruit exports to China.
Can we pay farming families to leave a farm that has been in the family for generations? Not first up. Take them through a process to identify any other sustainable opportunities, put a plan together and resource it: solar farms, growing trees for carbon sinks, agri/cultural tourism—or heaven forbid, give it back—there are no dumb ideas, only dumb people who refuse to look the future in the eye.
My view is that if you can’t sustainably farm and make a living without killing yourself, burdening the next couple of generations with debt and guilt, and stuffing the environment, then you should leave, get a job, retrain if you have to, and have a life.
Wanna buy a farm? I am getting out, because while you can always make more money, you can’t make more time.
Steve Beams is an organic blueberry producer.