Australian farmers losing competitive edge

Posted on December 13, 2016

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Farmers in Western Australia (WA) and Australia are gradually and painfully becoming non-competitive!

While great progress has been made with widespread uptake of no-tillage, which has held the bankers mostly at bay, we are seeing only minor genetic gains compared to USA farmers and our costs are much higher than wheat farmers from the Black Sea.

Our farmers have had a recent major political win with the removal of the moratorium against the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops by the WA State Government in October 2016, but still I can’t see it opening the floodgates of GM crops into our state. Not one breeding company has expressed any interest in making any GM crop available for our farmers to help them improve their productivity. While this is understandable as the cost of registering the technology globally is $150 million, there is no Australian company who has the enthusiasm to risk it all in making any crop GM while dangerous scaremongering from fanatics still abounds in our cities. 

Our common crops (peas, oats, barley, lupins, triticale or even wheat) may never see GM technology that will benefit them. It is painful to watch my farmer friends and clients grind into retirement with little reward and too few of their children wanting to take up the challenge of isolation, risky weather and the financial stress. 

Where to from here? I suspect more Chinese land take-overs. If only we could stop the fearmongering of GM technology. I know that Argentina will embrace GM wheat by 2018 for drought tolerance and our supposedly “Cleaver Country” will watch on curiously and will give little thought for many in our industry who will exit it without even a bonus from their Co-operative Bulk Handling who will give them a $2 cheque with a ‘thank you for coming’ note. 

While this may all sound pessimistic (and I am usually a 'glass half full' kinda guy), I have come to view this as the new reality. Something must change for our farmers to remain competitive.

Bill Crabtree is a farmer in Western Australia. He's known as "No-Till Bill" for the role he played in the Western Australian no-tillage revolution. Bill spent a year in Canada in 1996, learning how we do no-tillage. Visit his website for more information.
Bill Crabtree
Farmer and Agronomist at Crabtree Agricultural Consultants