I’ve bought the last couple of issues of The Weekly Times -the Melbourne-based 'voice of the country' - it has operated since 1869. More than anything I bought it to find out what country people are thinking about. It is an informative newspaper where most major stories are published online. What worries the cockies? I did a random flip through the last two issues and some things stood out. The choice of stories I made is not a random sample but I did focus on major stories. The issues emphasised included many that interest an ‘urban greenie’ such as me – climate change and the environment, trade liberalisation, animal rights, economics.
The following provides a survey of selected issues discussed in no particular order.
1. How the rise in the value of the Aussi dollar hits those farmers hard who are just recovering from the drought. There is particular concern about increasing food imports from China and the prospects for stone fruit producers of a free trade agreement with Chile. It is a sound observation particularly given that in some sectors, such as wool, there is expected to be price weakness anyway.
2. This Melbourne-based newspaper is very concerned about Victoria being shut out of the Commonwealth’s national water plan and potentially missing out on millions of dollars in handouts and free infrastructure. The paper seems broadly supportive of the Commonwealth’s approach to giving handouts.
3. The economics of organic farming, farming native species and game, genetically modified crops and bio-fuels. All interesting niche areas for those of us interested in pursuing green alternatives in the agricultural sector.
4. The paper has concerns with promoting the health benefits of red meat. It also remarks about Australian lamb being sold in New Zealand. Interesting for me, at least, since I have always thought New Zealand lamb was much higher quality than the pongy Australian stuff. Australians seem unable to produce quality lamb and to deliver pork to supermarkets that doesn’t have a disgusting odour.
5. There were fearful observations about the role of flatulent beef cattle in promoting global warming. Also there was concern for the wine industry, which will be one of the agricultural sectors most hard hit by climate change – grapevines are sensitive to climate. In the longer-term these emissions will need to be included as a component of the Commonwealth’s emissions trading schemes.
6. There were fears for the consequences of Victorian moves to treble red gum forest reserves along the Murray River in Victoria and to ban grazing of cattle in the Barmah forest. An editorial thundered over the evils of ‘urban green environmentalism’ that will involve huge water diversion costs – these forests will need to be flooded once every 5 years. This periodic flooding I have suggested in an earlier post are essential for biodiversity conservation but of course they make some of these greedy sods cranky.
7. There are concerns over animal rights organisations such as PETA and such issues as sheep export deaths. In my view unless humane practises can be established here the trade should be banned. It is a national disgrace to assign sheep for export slow, agonising deaths.
8. The role of the WTO and the Doha round aroused interest and there were the usual concerns over US food subsidy plans for the next five years. Ho hum, these justifiable complaints have been around for a while.
9. Finally there is lots of information about new developments in agricultural machinery that meant little to me. Ditto for information on sheep and cattle prices, weed problems as well as wool and canola prices. There is detailed information on very recent rainfall trends and current water storage levels is provided but not much in the way of long-term forecasts that I assume farmers access from the Bureau of Meteorology website. I was interested also in the obviously deep market for Australian agricultural properties and, as I have remarked before, in the surprisingly high prices paid for capital assets in this low rate of return sector.