Do we value our food and those who grow it?
The recent storm up north, Cyclone Debbie, has brought to the fore the question – Do we value our food and those who grow it – enough?
This was one of the responses, from a farmer who gave up farming 5 years ago because of poor returns:
“(…) The answer is people have to pay more for their food and allow food producers enough money so that they can rotate their land so as to rest it e.g. five acres of land producing a crop should have at least two acres of compatible land “resting” so the cost in that alone blows out. We need to allow for the cost of water as it is not something that can be just used at will. There are also many other problems that are swept under the carpet just like the recent floods – they have not been costed into the price of food!
As a food producer I have not seen a price rise in my crop for the last five years so have decided to retire – it has now become uneconomical to produce food for the normal market – even with me who produces for a top end high quality market it is no longer profitable!”
Farmers are vulnerable to weather events read more…
We need to flesh this out as there are 2 or 3 story lines that intertwine:
- High retail concentration has driven large-scale corporate/industrial farming, which tends to practice mono-culture, has high input costs (chemicals), often degrades soil, wastes water and has high rates of waste and spoilage. Because of scale, they tend to rely on labour hire firms which have proven to employ farm workers on below-award wages and conditions
- This food production method doesn’t properly take into account the cost of soil degradation, water use, nitrogen wasted in run-off and the subsequent environmental damage this is causing to plant and marine life. It is also not sustainable long-term, as more and more inputs are required to achieve the same level of fertilisation, pest and weed control
So on several levels, we are not paying enough for our food. Many farmers are reporting little or no increase in farm gate prices of many farm commodities.
This is also illustrated by the lower share of household expenditure that food makes up: in 1984, we spent nearly 20% of our total spend on food. In 2009/10 (the last available period), this had dropped to 16.5%. This is indicative of the degree of commoditisation of food over the past few decades, which coincides with the growth of supermarket chains which now control 80% of the grocery market, and the wholesale disappearance of independent grocers and fruit shops. This is only partially offset by growth in farmers markets.
How to make food production more resilient.
To make food production more resilient, it needs to be decentralised, grown by many smaller farms across many different regions using more holistic methods of weed and pest control (e.g. permaculture and polyculture). However, to attract more people to become small-scale farmers, we would need to expect to pay more to ensure farmers get a reasonable return on their investment and labour.
Harvest Hub Farm
Harvest Hub is putting its money where its mouth is: we are in the process of buying a run-down farm on the NSW mid-north coast, and over the coming years we’ll be re-developing this as a permaculture farm. We’re also sourcing fresh produce from surrounding farms in the Wingham, Manning and Hastings Valleys and supplying this to Hubs across the Central Coast and Sydney Basin. Yes, it’ll keep us busy – but we’re very excited about this new adventure!