Wake up Australia

I have had the pleasure of working with Patti Pocock since I started at Faith last year, and she and I have shared many conversations on farming in Australia. Patti’s father was one of the first pioneers of the cotton industry in Australia and  chairman of the Qld Cotton Marketing Board, now Cotton Australia. She spent a considerable amount of 2011, after recovering from the floods, in looking at different possibilities, after the closure of the Golden Circle Cannery closure at Norgate saw the collapse of the beetroot growing industry in QLD. I asked Patti to talk about her experiences of life in a farming family.

I have always lived in the country – apart from 6 years when I moved to the city for work in my early 20s. Even then I remember thinking on my way back to the city after a weekend at home, that I would have to marry a farmer so I could enjoy this peaceful area forever.

I met Tim some time later and we married part way through his nursing training. He too had grown up in the country – Boonah. His family had been dairy farmers in the past, mainly producing cream. They later concentrated on beef cattle. I loved visiting there with Tim, helping with mustering and branding and it became a dream that we would move there and take this up as a living. His parents were not encouraging at all and tried their hardest to put us off.

In the meantime, my father had decided to make his crop farm more viable by expanding into another crop – beetroot, which had been growing locally for many years. He had the opportunity to purchase a contract with Golden Circle, so we were asked to join in this venture.

My childhood on a farm was pretty cruisy. It revolved around playing in the cotton after it was harvested. Of course, we were helping dad ‘tramp’ it. We had lots of room to ride our bikes, have friends over, help mum bake, play cricket or softball. We participated in the local Scouts (for my brothers) and Guides for us girls, so there were weekend camping trips interspered at times. My weekend job was to mow on the ride on mower.

Dad employed a worker on the farm, and with 2 sons, the girls didn’t help out on the farm apart from our ‘tramping’. We would chip in the holidays to earn pocket money so that we could go on holiday trips.

Returning to the valley with a young almost 2 year old, and 2 months off having our second child, was quite daunting. I had carved a life of my own away from home and now I was returning and living across the road from my parents again. My children loved it and I realized that for them to grow up in the country was the best I could give them. I never really became a part of the farm though; mum still did the office work and Tim eventually took this over and enjoyed the financial side of the business. I found I could work from home as a private piano teacher and this suited our lifestyle and bringing up a family.

My role has been one of support to a farming husband, as well as a business partner. We split from the family farm 6 Years ago and I had just started working full time away from home.

Last year was one of the most challenging times we have had in our farming history. After 20 years of drought, we were hit by the worst flood in known history. Less than 6 months later, we were told our beetroot contract would be terminated at the end of the year, with no warning. We had meetings with the Minister of Agriculture and had support from other MPs and officials. We put money together to have a feasability study done to see if there was a viable future for beetroot. We tried many avenues, but to this end it seems we had been beaten, beaten by a system. Importing from overseas turned out to be cheaper than what we in Australia can produce, and it is more important to save money where we can (according to our supermarkets) and so they tell the consumer, but at what cost!

Of course some countries can produce at a much cheaper price than we can. Their costs are lower (we have stringent standards with very high safety requirements), their costs for hiring are lower and their interest rates are considerably lower. How can we compete? But why should we have to? We should not be importing what we can produce here. Our produce is far superior with less concern to our health due to the high standards put on to us by our government.

Our children, who have by now finished their studies at University, have in the past stated they would consider farming in the future. We encouraged them to finish their studies then consider when they would take up this opportunity. They also enjoy living in the country and the peacefulness that this gives. We have felt that the farming lifestyle is a good one and would hope that they could be successful in this role. We are now rethinking this. What opportunities are there for our youth on the land now?  Simplot, the Australian vegetable processors have today told us that it is too costly to transport produce from Qld to them (New South Wales) for canning.

With rising costs across all avenues, there doesn’t seem to be a positive outlook for farming in the future. How will we continue to feed our country? Import from overseas? This seems to be what our government will do. They (our government), are earning more from selling off our land to other countries – so that they can continue to feed their own people – than in providing for our own. Or sell our resources off to other countries thereby ruining our farming land so that it is no longer able to be farmed.

Tim and I have done a lot of overseas travel in the past couple of years and believe that we do indeed live in the lucky country, however, we also see these other countries caring a lot more for their own people and environment than Australia does. I believe we are heading backwards in this regard at a huge cost to our own people.

Wake up Australia! Get serious about what is happening in our own backyard. Patti Pocock

The floods of January 2011 left a blanket of silt over many areas of farmland in the Lockyer Valley
The Lockyer Valley was responsible, until recently, for growing most of Australia's beetroot.

2 thoughts on “Wake up Australia

  1. Patti aims her barbs at the government and at the retail duopoly, and in respect of the latter that’s a good sign because often farmers are shy of publicly criticising their biggest customers. But beyond these organisations lie consumers. Most urban dwellers have a positive opinion of farmers and would try to support them if they were personally asked if they would. But when they are casually walking their shopping trolley down the aisles they reach for the can or the box that is cheaper. “Why should I pay $1.50 when I can get the same thing for 70 cents?” I think that more work needs to be done on the costs of farming in Australia and what contributes to them. This information is mainly absent from the consumer value debate in cities. So Patti’s point about lower costs overseas is valuable.

    • Thank you for reading Patti’s story and thank you for the comment. I agree with your focus on the consumer. One vegetable farmer I encouraged to write a piece for me made the comment that “talk of supporting us makes great feel good conversation at barbeques, but tends to get forgotten after the event.” Whether or not this is overly cynical, we certainly love our food cheap and the prices for certain items reflect the farmer as the price taker. I think we can afford to do more in highlighting these issues with consumers, in a way that translates effectively to an urban audience, which I have heard you mention before. The link between the farmer and consumer is vital and as more people become interested in the journey of their food, so should we be promoting the concept that our food is produced under stringent quality control programs, is of high quality and therefore worth paying a bit more for.

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