Date of publication: 1 November 2018
I read with interest in the Friday October 26 West Australian, Christie Kingston’s article Farmers on the Front Line of a Changing Climate. It is written from the perspective of a farming family from Goomalling who are obviously concerned about the implications of climate change on their farm business. They are not alone; Western Australia’s 4000 Wheatbelt farmers have been cleverly managing the short and long term climatic impacts of natural and human induced changes to rainfall and temperature for generations. They do this by using the best available science and technology, and as a result are remaining profitable and steadily reducing their carbon footprint.
Unfortunately too many commentators who enter this debate are not interested in the economics. Rather they prefer to focus on emotional stories such as linking calls for urgent action with unlikely climate induced scenarios such as the price of beer doubling and its taste declining. Or that the eastern states drought is a foretaste of looming global food security risks and nutritional values of food staples is suffering from increased CO2. All good material to feed the media with the doom and gloom stories needed to drum up public support for governments to act.
Unfortunately for the farmers in Goomalling and across Australia, doing something might come at a very significant cost to their ability to operate productively and profitably. The facts are the world is awash in grain, the quality of our food keeps increasing, our beer tastes better than ever and its price remains very low globally. But if we as a nation really wanted to virtue signal to the world that we care about climate change the next government could respond by simply reintroducing the Gillard carbon tax as just one of the measures favoured by those who want to see action on climate change.
According to a 2011 Australian Farm Institute study, a $36 tonne carbon tax would cost the average Western Australian farmer up to 5.7% per annum in additional operating costs which would effectively wipe out their long term profit margin.
While many farmers would battle on, the battlers in the suburbs would find the cost of their beer actually going up and if such a cost was imposed worldwide the cost of bread would become unaffordable to those who literally live on the bread line. WAFarmers take climate change seriously and our farmers work hard with all the scientific and technological tools available to address it whatever the ultimate cause. What we don’t need is demands for government to do something that have not carefully considered the cost implications on farmers, consumers and export markets.
What the WA farming community would like to see is recognition by many of the green groups calling for higher taxes and regulation on agriculture is that most of us have already adopted farming practices that are steadily reducing our impact on carbon dioxide output.
Modern minimum tillage practice is reducing the amount of diesel (energy) required to plant a crop, best practise use of herbicides and fine tuning fertiliser input using state of the art digital soil mapping is making a marked difference.
New rotations using pastures legumes and new varieties of lupins and field peas is substantially decreasing the need for artificial nitrogen all help to reduce farming’s contribution to the carbon balance sheet.
Many other opportunities exist in carbon sequestration in agriculture such as Wheatbelt forestry as well as soil carbon sequestration that can be adopted by WA farmers. What we need is green groups to call for incentives for farmers to do their bit via tax and research and development support rather than more taxes which ultimately kill farmers ability to invest in best practise carbon and environmental management.