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First Place – Law: The Place of Law in the Australian Agricultural Industry

This essay was authored by Jordan Soresi (UWA) for the AgriEducate Essay Competition, winning first prize in the Law Category.Many thanks to Bailiwick Legal for supporting this competition category. The competition encouraged students from across the breadth of university degrees to apply their knowledge to agriculture and food security. More information on the competition can be found here. Each week we’ll be publishing one of the winning entries so stay tuned for more, or sign up to our monthly Newsletter so you don’t miss out!
I INTRODUCTION
‘There are no areas in life which are outside of law’. This quote by Aharon Barak aptly
describes the ability of the law to permeate every aspect of society. The agricultural
industry is no exception. Indeed, this essay will argue that there are opportunities for law to improve and grow the industry. Firstly, it will present ways in which legal theories can and are being applied to agricultural practice. It will then argue that the law can boost productivity and sustainability. Finally, it will show that better incorporating law into agriculture can help ensure global food security.

II LEGAL SKILLS AND THEORIES
There are opportunities to apply legal theories and skills to agriculture. The very existence of agricultural law as a discrete area evidences this. In agricultural law, theories of property, contract and torts reach a crossroads. Fundamentally, these legal skills are necessary in order to protect private property rights and ensure no one is illegitimately encroaching on one’s space; to ensure contractual obligations are fulfilled and discharged adequately; and to provide remedial avenues where there is no formal legal relationship. In addition to this, it is through law that the State regulates agricultural practice. Given the absolute importance of agriculture as a source of food, legal regulations are necessary to outline requirements of bio-safety and –security

III SUSTAINABILITY AND PRODUCTIVITY
Greater legal involvement in agriculture can enhance productivity and sustainability in
a number of ways. It can improve sustainability through the enhanced regulation of
animal welfare. The current state of regulations is a patchwork of inconsistent standards, which lack scientific grounding and transparency. Furthermore, they manifest an inherent conflict of interest. These standards are headed by government departments, which are in charge of both protecting animal welfare and physically growing the industry. Ultimately, the law can assist and resolve these issues in several ways. The Productivity Commission has suggested the creation of an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare. This would act as an independent statutory agency, which would be in charge of developing national standards and could develop clear objectives through transparent processes. The creation and maintenance of this proposed body, and its own development of evidence-based standards, are inherently legal in nature. The law is well versed in the establishment of such bodies and in the writing of their quasi-legislative materials. Thus, legal intervention would facilitate and enhance the sustainability of animal welfare in
agriculture.

Australia can develop a more productive agriculture industry through a greater emphasis on contract law in the space of new technologies. One example of this potential is seen in the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Bill 2015. Prior to the Bill’s enactment, large data and agribusiness companies would commonly enter standard-form (ie one-sided or non-negotiable) terms of agreement contracts with farmers over the use of digital farming technologies. Being non-negotiable and often containing terms that were not readily accessible or difficult to read, there was a manifest imbalance of power between the contracting parties. The new law is intended to protect small businesses from unfair contractual terms. Wiseman posits that it will simultaneously protect smaller farming businesses. In doing so, contracting farmers will have more control over the data being collected and better understand where it goes. This should encourage the farmers to work with data companies more enthusiastically, and equally to use new technologies. In turn, such technologies inevitably improve efficiencies and ultimate business productivity.

There is also potential for competition law to improve productivity. Producers in the agricultural supply chain are particularly susceptible to power imbalances because of vulnerabilities relating to perishable produce, climatic variation and limited infrastructure. This is exacerbated by the highly concentrated nature of the Australian market. By discouraging large companies with a lot of power from unduly interfering in the market, competition law works to improve efficiencies. Indicative of this are the Harper Review recommendations, some of which were enacted in 2017. The reformulation of s 46 to include an ‘effects’ test, for example, is directed at making it easier to address market power imbalances and empowering small producers to confront multinationals corporations. Through robust competition law, efficiencies and productivity can be boosted in the industry.

IV FOOD SECURITY
Greater legal involvement in agriculture worldwide can contribute to ensuring food security. This is because there is a strong correlation between the law and food security. In order to have a sustainable farm and grow food for themselves consistently, the world’s poorest people must be able to depend on agriculture as a viable and reliable source of income. In order to depend on their land, such farmers must have secure land rights, which equate to enforceable private property rights. This land security can only be achieved through the rule of law. After all, without it, governments can arbitrarily and illegitimately seize land. This leads to uncertainty and means that the poorest cannot use their land in a consistent and reliable manner to sustain themselves. Self-evidently, once someone has secure land rights, they can feel comfortable accessing and controlling their land. This empowers them to grow their own food and use that to generate income, some of which can be reinjected into the process to continue a sustainable cycle.

In addition to being capable of enforcing land rights, governments can use the law to create further frameworks, which support and improve their profitability. An example of this is a legal framework that compensates smallholder farmers and encourages growth. Encouraging people at the grassroots levels of society to partake in the lawmaking process also encourages knowledge of the rule of law to make the above outlined process a sustainable reality. Global food security is innately tied with the rule of law. In theory, by strengthening the latter, the former can consequently be achieved.

V CONCLUSION
The agricultural sector is essential to Australian society. Improving its efficiencies, productivity and sustainability is a long-term challenge. One way this can become reality
is by engaging the law. When considering agriculture globally, it is apparent that the law also has a significant part to play in securing food for the future.

From paddock to plate: The holistic application of anthropology in agricultural discourse

This essay was authored by Abby Georgeson for the AgriEducate Essay Competition, winning first prize in the Arts Category. The competition encouraged students from across the breadth of university degrees to apply their knowledge to agriculture and food security. More information on the competition can be found here. Each week we’ll be publishing one of the winning entries so stay tuned for more, or sign up to our monthly Newsletter so you don’t miss out!

The need for academic rigour in the agriculture industry is well established. However, few disciplines are as far-reaching in their use and effect as the field of anthropology. Grounded in the pursuit of understanding human behaviours and social relationships, anthropology reaps benefits that other fields fail to reach due to its broad gaze; while it can evaluate the abstract, business-related elements of agriculture, it can also be used to understand and promote the understanding of the practical, lived experiences of the individuals in the Australian agricultural industry. By virtue of its broad reach and methodological willingness to assimilate cross-disciplinary knowledge, anthropology must be appreciated as a valuable voice in discussions of productivity and sustainability in Australian agriculture and its place in global food security.

In terms of disciplinary skills, ethnographic fieldwork has been the classical domain of anthropology, allowing a close examination of the “intimacy” of social relationships (Appadurai, 1997:115). For agriculture, this means a wealth of detailed information about regional centers, farmers, corporations, and consumers, the composition of these groups, and the dynamics that emerge between them. Through the scope of the minutiae of life, the anthropologist extrapolates the lived realities of their subjects into the wider framework of ongoing social and historical processes, affecting both the local and the global. Accordingly, through anthropology, the current status and potential of Australian agriculture can be brought into focus.

There are numerous theses based on agricultural anthropology, touching on the countless forms, issues, and experiences of the industry. One ethnographic account of animal husbandry in North Carolina details the rise in ethical pig farming, and the ways that consumer interests alter industry practice; another, an interdisciplinary analysis of the reasons, means, and effects of indigenous timber extraction in Indonesia (Weiss, 2014; Ellen, 1985). Both represent fundamentally different perspectives of agricultural processes, and the environments and peoples implicated; nonetheless, the lessons of both can be applied to the Australian context and further towards the global food economy.

To demonstrate this, the topical issue of coal seam gas ventures in northern NSW will be used to showcase the methodological benefit of anthropology. In this, there is a large rift between those in favour for regional jobs growth through mining and those in favour of environmental protection and agricultural longevity. The case for both is clear, but without academic rationalisation, there is little room for reconciliation. With its objective stance and ready inclusion of indigenous and otherwise marginalised voices, anthropology holds great leverage in policy-making, holding the key to ongoing collaboration and constructive debate through its intermediary capacity.

Certainly, as stated on the AgriEducate website itself, an informed industry and
understanding on a wider societal level is paramount to the productivity and sustainability of the Australian agriculture industry. Through anthropology, such cooperation can be realised.

Another benefit of anthropology is that it dismantles the bounded categories of academia, favouring active engagement with the language and interests of multiple fields of enquiry in order to best represent the topic at hand.

This provides a unique opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration and with actors in the industry to identify and consider alternatives and future directions for Australian agriculture, in order to enhance productivity and sustainability in the face of looming global food security concerns. These two paradigms increasingly show themselves as going hand-in-hand, but disciplines that can handle this duality are a minority; only anthropology can synthesise these and situate them in a real-world context.

Herein, productivity can be measured and improved through careful analysis of the present situation of agriculture. An enlightening ethnographic account of a post-mining West Virginian township highlights this; it shows the real-world negative effects of industry collapse and the ways of life that have subsequently emerged (Stewart, 1996). While not related to productivity or sustainability discourse, by virtue of the vignette this account paints, it can serve as a basis for considering the present and future policy and planning directions in the region. With the input of information from other fields, it becomes a simple task for the anthropologist to assess the present and future requirements for enhancing productivity. Similarly, Australian agriculture could be treated anthropologically, generating change through consideration of the ontological experiences of related parties.

Likewise, sustainability is essential to contemporary Australian agriculture. Recently, much of the farming discourse in anthropology has centered on the consumer’s contribution to the changing face of agricultural practice. Amongst other reasons, ethics (Weiss, 2014; O’Kane & Yuliani Wijaya, 2015; DeLind, 2010) have increasingly played a role in shaping the sustainability narrative in agriculture. However, the sustainability paradigm of anthropology is not only social. In keeping with the dynamism of anthropology, the definition of “sustainable” incorporates all spheres of sustainable development and practice, be it economic, environmental, or industrial.

Additionally, by virtue of the ethnographic focus on the “local”, anthropology has also analysed some of the contemporary food security concerns pertinent to Australian society, such as the “Malthusian trap” generated by urban spread (Lang, 2010:1815). Significantly, discussions of productivity and sustainability, as well as recent analysis of global processes played out locally, anthropology is already contributing to the global food security debate. Admittedly, since anthropology is the “study of humans”, it does have an at times overwhelming social focus. However, the paradigms discussed here have all been grounded in posterity; all of the major considerations of agriculture, be it productivity, sustainability, or the global food network are founded with humans in mind. Accordingly, the thoroughly human pursuit of agriculture is ripe for analysis by an equally humanistic discipline.

As an aphorism in the field goes, “anthropology is the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanist of the sciences”. It’s assimilation of a broad scope of practices makes anthropology one of the most dynamic perspectives available to agriculture, encompassing everything from production to business and consumption. A sincere engagement of anthropology in this sector shows promise, due to its ability to provide synergistic proposals to improve the present condition of Australian agricultural productivity and sustainability, and envision its future in the global food economy.

References

AgriEducate website, viewed 30 May 2018, retrieved from

Appadurai, A. (1997). Discussion: Fieldwork in the Era of Globalization, Anthropology and Humanism, 22(1):115-118.

DeLind, L. (2010). Are local food and the local food movement taking us where we want to go? Or are we hitching our wagons to the wrong stars?, Agriculture and Human Values, 28:273-283.

Ellen, R.F. (1985). Patterns of indigenous timber extraction from Moluccan rain forest fringes, Journal of Biogeography, 12(6):559-587.

Lang, T. (2010). From ‘value for money’ to ‘values for money’? Ethical food policy in Europe, Environment and Planning A, 42:1814-1832.

O’Kane, G. & Yuliani Wijaya, S. (2015). Contribution of Farmers’ Markets to More Socially Sustainable Food Systems: A Pilot Study of a Farmers’ Market in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Australia, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 39(10):1124-1153.

Stewart, K. (1996). “An Occupied Place” In Senses of Place, Feld, S. & Basso, K. (eds.). Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Trigger, D., Keenan, J., de Rijke, K., Rifkin, W. (2014). Aboriginal engagement and agreement-making with a rapidly developing resource industry: Coal seam gas development in Australia, The Extractive Industries and Society, 1(2):176-188.

Weiss, B. (2014). Eating Ursula, ​Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, 14(4):17-25.

The Role of Engineering in Agriculture: First Prize – Engineering

Steven Liu wrote this essay as part of the AgriEducate Essay Competition, winning first prize in the Engineering/IT category. For the full list of results please head over to the results page. Each week we’ll be featuring a new essay from the winning group of 15!

Since ancient Egyptian times, agriculture and engineering have worked together to feed humanity, enabling us to prosper. Through engineering, innovative technologies applied to agriculture have enabled farmers to become more efficient in terms of both land and labor. Engineering is the practice of applying scientific discoveries to real world situations, by creating new tools and ways of doing things. There are many different types of engineering, including mechatronic (mechanical and/or electronic) engineering, software engineering, chemical or biological engineering, and civil or structural engineering.

Mechatronic engineering is concerned with the interaction between artificial systems and the physical and natural environment. Mechatronic engineers work with manned and unmanned vehicles, from simple tractor-towed farming implements to complex autonomous agricultural robots. Existing systems such as the ACFR’s RIPPA[1] robot uses GPS and chlorophyll sensors and implements to destroy weeds, sow seeds and irrigate plants, enhancing labour productivity on farms and resource productivity by saving seed, fertiliser and herbicide. Reductions in resource consumption and solar power mean that these vehicles are environmentally sustainable. Research is currently directed at making mechatronic farming implements cheap and scalable enough to be accessible to all farmers, including in third world countries, to modernise agriculture and improve global food security. Other future opportunities for mechatronics engineering applied to agriculture include completely automatic agricultural robotics which could raise a crop from seed to harvest with minimal physical interaction from the farmer.

Software engineering is concerned with data storage and security. Within the scope of agriculture, software engineers help design data storage systems for record keeping of livestock. Blockchain technology is a current technology that provides the opportunity for vastly increased data security and availability. When applied to agriculture, blockchain based data storage could replace current physical records such as the NLIS with electronic records which are significantly more secure, failsafe and easy to manage. Blockchain works via distributed data storage, meaning there is no central point of failure. Within blockchain, smart contracts and other tools can be used to allow farmers to process transactions of both funds and livestock with greater transparency, less risk, and improved productivity. In a blockchain-integrated world, transparent access to consumer data could provide better marketing opportunities for farmers, increasing the efficiency of food distribution.

Chemical and biological engineering refers to technologies such as genetic modification. These techniques have already been employed in crops such as BT cotton, and will continue to play an integral role in Australian agriculture. Currently, the TALEN[2] gene modification technique allows plant crops including cotton and wheat to be precisely genetically modified, enabling genetic advances against natural pests and diseases to be made. However in larger animals current genetic technologies including viral insertion have not been precise enough to be effective. With CRISPR technology, a new level of precision in gene editing is available; enabling genes to be added to larger livestock. This may lead to similar disease resistant species of cattle or sheep, or new species of animals which may produce hormones or other medicinal products, increasing the value of their production. In the future advanced genetic engineering could produce entire new species of animals which cause less environmental damage compared to traditional breeds by producing less gaseous waste and being more nutrient efficient, increasing sustainability. Breeding of hardier animals more tolerant to extreme or poor conditions could also be accelerated by genetic engineering, increasing the landmass available for raising animals, improving food security.

Civil and structural engineering is crucial for developing infrastructure for transportation of agricultural goods. However modern structural engineering also enables the construction of large scale vertical gardens, which could revolutionise agriculture by providing a self-contained growing environment free from pests and weeds. Such structures could be placed in urban centres or have urban centres built around them, allowing farmers to escape social isolation in agricultural towns with ever decreasing populations. A vertical farm implemented by silicon valley company Plenty claims to multiply land productivity by 350x[3], and use only 1% of the water requirements of a traditional farm through recycling. Such vertical farms could be built in extremely arid areas at minimal costs for farmers, and vastly increase the amount of viable agricultural land, improving food security. Water use reduction also improves the sustainability of farms and their integration into existing natural ecosystems, reducing the pressure on natural waterways.

Aerospace and space engineering includes the development of UAV’s (unmanned Aerial Vehicles) as well as communications and imaging satellites. These can be used for remote monitoring of crops, as well as large scale imagery for planning and analysing farms. Communications satellites also enable technologies such as GPS-based automation and broadband to make urban comforts more available to farmers. UAV’s in particular are progressing towards higher weight limits and flight times, allowing them to be more useful in taking aerial photographs for data analysis, or for crop irrigating, crop spraying and animal herding. By providing low cost and high accuracy farm-scale imaging, farmers can better analyse and plan farm operations such as fertiliser operations, increasing productivity of limited farm resources and mitigate the environmental impact of agriculture. Additionally, by increasing the range and capabilities of automated agriculture, farmers can increase labour productivity. On a broader scale, better analysis of climatic trends using satellite data could help long-term planning in agriculture, leading to improved global food security.

Fundamentally, engineering is about using human ingenuity but working within the scope of the environment to solve problems. When applied to global food security, humanitarian engineering specialises in promoting agriculture in third world countries. In such cases the scale, level of technology, and environmental challenges are significantly different to those faced when improving existing agriculture. Humanitarian engineers work with minimal capital to provide simple yet effective systems to promote global food security; providing projects such as Engineers Without Borders Australia’s partnership with ATEC biodigesters[4] which provide a source of fertiliser as well as cooking gas from biowaste.

Overall, engineering will continue to facilitate and modernise agriculture, leading to increases in productivity and sustainability, helping farmers to feed the world.

References

1. University of Sydney (2017). Australian Centre for Field Robotics. https://sydney.edu.au/engineering/our-research/robotics-and-intelligentsystems/australian-centre-for-field-robotics.html. Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

2. West, J. and Gill, W. (2016). Genome Editing in Large Animals. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 41, pp.1-6.

3. Roberts, D. (2018). This company wants to build a giant indoor farm next to every major city in the world. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/energy-andenvironment/2017/11/8/16611710/vertical-farms [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

4. ATEC biodigesters. (2018). https://www.atecbio.com/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

 

Author: Steven Liu

2018 AgriEducate Essay Competition: Winners Announced

It is with great pleasure that we get to announce the winners of the inaugural AgriEducate essay competition in this post. The competition aimed to promote the application of diverse knowledge bases and fields of study to food security and agriculture in general. The team at AgriEducate had a great time reading through all the responses and were very excited by how well received the competition was.

We received submissions from 14 different universities around Australia (out of 43 in Australia) from a diverse range of degrees covering everything from law, medicine and international trade to construction, anthropology and engineering! The competition itself reached over 50,000 people on social media too. So a massive congratulations to everyone that entered the competition and for applying your knowledge in an agricultural setting. The essays were all of very high quality and the judges did have a tough time deciding the final winners.

So what was at stake? Well there were three cash prizes across the five categories:

  1. $500
  2. $150
  3. $50

Importantly, representatives from each sponsor of each category (including AgriEducate as the Social Science/Arts sponsor) have offered to personally contact the winner and develop that connection within their respective field. We’d just like to thank the following sponsors for their fantastic support of the competition too.

The Results

So without further ado, here are the winners of the AgriEducate Essay Competition. The Essay Compilation includes all winning applications in an easy to read format so you can be inspired by the talented young minds around Australia. We’ll be releasing each of these essays as an article each and every week, and including them in our monthly newsletter as well, so please make sure you sign up so you don’t miss out!

Law

First Place: Jordan Soresi

Second Place: Jocelyn Bosse

Third Place: Katrina Nash

Engineering/IT

First Place: Steven Liu

Second Place: David Goudie

Highly Commended: Ashleigh Johnston

Science

First Place: Stephanie MacKillop

Second Place: Bailey van der Zanden

Third Place (tied): Amy Moss

Third Place (tied): Katie O’Connor

Social Science/Arts

First Place: Abby Georgeson

Highly Commended: Tayla Robinson

Business/Commerce/Economics

First Place: Benjamin Malcolm

Second Place: Frederick Litchfield

Third Place: Élodie Lussier-Piché

 

Note:

The views presented in these essays do not necessarily reflect the views of AgriEducate, and are the views of the original author.

Some formatting changes and title additions have been made for the essay compilation for improved readability.

Should Australians take on the responsibility of live export, and are we ready to?

The live export debate is a tricky topic with very serious ramifications on both sides. Ban the export of live sheep and remove a US$1.4 billion industry with significant consequences for farmers around the country. And if we continue at the status quo we risk sanctioning and engaging in terrible animal cruelty. Given this is clearly against Australian standards and values people understandably want it stopped.

But what if the answer wasn’t so straight forward? And if we did decide to continue the trade, are we legitimately ready (not just a political readiness) to take on the responsibility of welfare for hundreds of thousands of animals?

The Debate

So we know why people want it stopped, but what about the farmers?

There’s the argument that this was a bad apple (increasingly difficult to sell given the repeated nature of the incidents), that farmers’ livelihoods (particularly in WA where around 95% of sheep are exported) are in jeopardy if the industry was banned or even stymied, that live export is regulated and will be regulated more heavily to prevent this happening again.These arguments are typically presented by live export supporters to validate the continuation of the trade.

But to a large number of people, these economic and social consequences are necessary sacrifices or an insufficient remedy (in the case of regulation) that are needed to counter the site of dead and dying sheep.

What these arguments fail to consider is the market demand for live sheep (the real ‘steakholders’) and is the key point of Amy’s post below (the inspiration for this article). I would never buy frozen meat at the shops so why should we expect people in other countries to? In fact a meat processing facility in the NT run by Australia  Agricultural Co. (AACo.) is expected to shut its doors citing poor performance, even in times of significant rises in meat prices.

In 2015-16 1.9 million head of sheep were exported live to marketplaces around the world. While this is a 1.1 million head drop from 2009-2010, saying consumers should ‘suck it up’ or change their ways is unrealistic, as they’ll simply begin importing animals from other markets to fill the 1.9 million head gap.

This leads to the key argument supporting live export: if we cease all live exports immediately, the market demand will simply shift to a different country and we export our responsibility offshore.

The Burden of Responsibility

The debate then distills down to the argument surrounding our burden of responsibility. We are either responsible for the welfare of sheep (in good times and in bad) or we move this responsibility offshore and accept the standards of third party countries to continue a trade dominated by Australia.

If we do accept this responsibility everyone needs to be in the game. Political responses to simply appease generalised conservative and rural voters by the Nationals and Liberals, or urban and greens voters by Labor and the Greens won’t fix this problem. So if we do take on this responsibility, there needs to be political maturity in deciding on a bipartisan approach, with concessions of both sides of the debate. This political maturity is arguably not there, and needs to develop quickly.

It can’t continue to be “greenies” vs. “hard working farmers” or “animal rights activists” vs “cruel farmers”, both sides need engaging about accepting responsibility for the welfare of the sheep and improving the regulation of the entire supply chain. Continuing as adversaries propagates political immaturity for cheap votes, and fails the welfare of sheep, the livelihoods of farmers and ourselves as Australians.

So, irrespective of your political views and the level of political readiness take the first step and ask yourself this “am I comfortable shifting our welfare responsibility offshore, or am I comfortable taking on the responsibility of welfare here in Australia”?

There’s no right answer, and no intended underhand comment designed to influence your thought, but it is a tricky question and it must sit with our individual values before this issue will be resolved.

 

Budget 2018: What’s in it for regional and agricultural Australia?

Follow below over the course of tonight and the coming days as we continue to update you on budget measures relevant to rural, regional and agricultural Australia. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources budget statements can be viewed here.

Overview

The 2018 Budget is the final budget before the next election, delivering tax cuts to lower and middle income earners as one of the larger selling points. If you earn less than $90,000 (between $37,000 – $125,000 scaled) a year, you could save up to $530 or $10.19 a week in tax. Yet you’ll only receive this money back after the 2018/19 financial year.

Bracket creep (inflation slowly pushing people into higher brackets) has been addressed with raises to tax brackets, and a seven year plan being pushed to remove the 37c tax bracket altogether. But as Jeremy Thorpe the Chief Economist at PwC suggests:

This budget is the slurpee budget. We are going to get a sugar high – an initial hit as windfall spending flows through the economy.
Hopefully we won’t get a brain freeze. Maybe in the long run it would be better if we didn’t have that sugar hit at all.

In that light, it’s important to recognise the politically motivated budget measures shining through. These put Labor in a tough position in the short (selling their own budget before the election) and long term irrespective of election outcomes.

Finally, before the nitty gritty and to keep values in context, the total budget is $488.58 billion. For example, that means the additional $10.1 million for the APVMA doesn’t even make it into the decimal places. Overall there is a $14.5 billion deficit heading into 2018/19 financial year.

For rural Australia, the focus is quite clearly on infrastructure (improved roads and railways) and health with biosecurity, trade and market access and GPS technology the other major recipients of funding windfall.

Infrastructure

An additional $24.5 billion has been added to the infrastructure spending pool (now reaching $75 billion), with promises to improve regional roads, bridges and rail lines.

$24 million has been allocated to improve access and safety at regional airstrips as well.

Regional, Rural and Remote Health

Rural and remote mental health has received significant investment across the board.

$146 million has been allocated to improve aged health care in regional areas. Doctor training has also received larger incentives, with $86 million set aside for the Stronger Rural Health Strategy.

There is an additional $95.4 million set aside to improve regional medical schools with new facilities and improved teach. Universities with campuses in rural areas will work together to support medical teaching in regional locations as part of this program. The universities and locations include:

  • UNSW – Wagga Wagga
  • University of Sydney – Dubbo
  • Charles Sturt University – Orange
  • Western Sydney University – Orange
  • Monash University – Bendigo/Mildura
  • University of Melbourne and La Trobe – Bendigo/Wodonga/Shepparton

$105 million has been set aside for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for improved access to culturally appropriate services, acknowledging the importance of remaining close to country.

Biosecurity and Trade

An additional $121.6 million for biosecurity measures behind increased market access and trade growth.

Trade and market access has received $51.3 million over the next four years to support exports to key international markets.

There’s a new levy on twenty foot equivalent containers too, with $10.02 extra charged for every container that arrives and $1 per tonne on bulk goods to help screen for exotic pests and diseases.

Agricultural Research and Development

A $224.9 million investment in the development of improved GPS technology around Australia. This measure will ensure there is 3-5 cm accuracy in regional areas with mobile phone coverage and 10cm accuracy in metropolitan areas.

A further $6.6 million has been allocated for the Established Pest Animals and Weeds Management Pipeline, an extension of the agricultural white paper.

Keeping these investments in context, R and D tax incentives for businesses have been cut, providing $2.4 billion in savings, although this is not necessarily impacting solely on regional areas.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) will receive $4.7 million to fund an analysis of seasonal labour requirements.

 

Asset Write-Off

The instant asset write-off scheme will continue for businesses earning up to $10 million, meaning farm equipment will continue to be eligible for the scheme.

Foreign Aid Expenditure

Foreign aid spending has been frozen for another four years at $4 billion (until 2022/23). However the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has indicated they have been allocated $107.5 million to “contribute to poverty reduction and improved livelihoods, through more productive and sustainable agriculture emerging from collaborative international research”. More on their budget here.

 

Forestry

The Australian National Forestry Industry Plan has received $20 million over the next four years.

APVMA

An additional $10.1 million for the APVMA to back a digital transformation, seeking to improve response and registration times.

 

Regional, Rural and Remote Education

The recommendations of the independent review into regional, rural and remote education will be supported in the budget. There will be additional support for regional students accessing tertiary education through changes to the youth allowance.

Some quirky changes

After the end of the 2018/19 financial year, all cash transactions of $10,000 will become illegal, as the government looks to crack down on undeclared income.


So that’s it (so far) for Budget 2018! We’ll continue to update the page in the days to come, as more budget details come to light. And if you can’t wait for then, you can always head on over to the budget papers themselves.

The Global Report on Food Crises 2018: a quick guide

Unfortunately for this 2018 report, following decades of declining levels of food insecurity (i.e. improving food security), recent conflicts and climate disasters have sent global hunger statistics back on the rise.

The focus of this year’s Global Report on Food Crises by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, is on the impacts of conflict on agriculture and food systems.

In 2017, there were 124 million people in acute food insecurity, across 51 countries.  The highest levels of food insecurity were seen in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and North-East Nigeria.

Of these 124 million people, 74 million people (60%) were living in conflict affected countries (18 countries).

In many of these countries devastated by conflict, large proportions of the population are dependent on agriculture for income and livelihoods. Conflict has devastating effects on food systems, both the livelihoods and incomes of producers, and also the food supply of consumers.

Farmers can lose access to inputs (seeds, fertilisers, etc) and also to markets to sell their produce. This forces much of the agricultural workforce to migrate.

However, agriculture can also play a key role in restoring and stabilising economies and livelihoods following conflict.

In relation to the current conflict in Syria, FAO Deputy Director-General for Programmes Daniel Gustafson, has stated:

“Despite significant setbacks, agriculture continues to sustain almost half of the food supply in Syria, serving as a lifeline for millions vulnerable Syrians. This is a powerful testimony of the resilience of the people of Syria and of the agriculture sector”.

In fact, agriculture has been described as possibly “the engine of Syria’s stabilisation”.

Prior to the current conflict, half the Syrian population maintained a livelihood in agriculture, producing a quarter of the country’s GDP. Yet, the Syrian agricultural sector has been devastated by the conflict, which has been concentrated in the countries prime agricultural areas. According to estimates by the UNFAO, the agricultural sector has lost $16 billion since the conflict began. This has led to a third of the Syrian population who remain in Syria (or 6.5 million people) facing acute food insecurity, as food supply diminishes and food prices reach record highs.

There is some good news coming from the country – the wheat sector has shown incredible resilience, producing 2 million metric tons in 2017! These levels match pre-conflict levels when Syria was regarded as the regions bread basket.

This just goes to show the tremendous power of agriculture, well above putting food on the table (which is pretty incredible itself). Agriculture has a huge role in regrowing and stabilising countries, economies and livelihoods following devastating conflict.

 

Interested to know more about Syrian agriculture? Stay tuned, as the AgriEducate team are preparing to bring you an in-depth look at Syrian agriculture before the current conflict, during the conflict, and what hope there may be for the sector post conflict.

 

Integrating agriculture into STEM subjects in schools: Inumerable flow on benefits possible.

We recently published the article “Why does agriculture deserve the attention in doesn’t have?” and had some great comments we couldn’t help but share with you from one of the community – Glenn (@Glenn_soilagro on Twitter).

The comments cover the topic of using agriculture as the basis for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in schools. It would effectively integrate agricultural experiences into mainstream education without changing learning outcomes, except to improve the awareness of the agricultural industry.

As an example, our article on using ag technology in education touches on similar points, whereby Salah Sukkarieh from the University of Sydney uses ag robotics to teach computer science and programming to high school students.

Encouragingly, Rabobank recently launched the TeacherFX programme, connecting teachers with farmers for a two-day professional development course, potentially delivering benefits suggested in this article.

The background for the insightful contributions by Glenn stem from an ongoing consideration of incorporating agriculture into everyday courses.

I first started thinking about this topic about 8 years ago when an acquaintance from the city had a year out of the classroom with a new baby and they were tasked to rewrite the mathematics curriculum for years 11 & 12. He wanted to use some “real world” examples so i started talking about some of the agronomic research i was doing at the time. After talking through some examples he wanted to know more and grabbed some paper to write notes. I was amazed that his knowledge of how maths could be used was so narrow. But at least he wanted to know more.”

So the age old question asked in the industry is that “given members of the general public no longer have a connection with farming enterprises through relatives or friends, the question is how can farm industries provide accurate and reliable information to the wider community and demonstrate to the community, policy makers and politicians the value of farming and food production?”

So how do we actually accomplish that?

Glenn suggests that “one answer is through embedding curriculum content about agriculture into all subjects at all levels of schooling from K-12. This doesn’t mean a complete take over of the whole curriculum with agricultural content. But simply a period of maybe four to six weeks, or even a whole term, where all subjects concurrently focus on agricultural themes. You may well ask, how can agricultural content be applied for all year grades and subjects? Well it is very easy if you think about it.

Glenn explains further, “for kindy kids this could simply be having a few chickens eating school scraps and laying eggs, or wetting some beans and watching them sprout. At the school where my children go, the year 4-6s grew their own wheat and used it to make bread in the classroom. these and older classes are able to use the same wheat crop to experiment with fertiliser additions and can measure crop traits such as the rates of crop growth.”

The best part about this concept and suggestion is that it is relatively simple to apply as a retrofit to the current education system. While recent discussions between the Prime Minister and David Gonski and developed into a Federal level push for significant education reform, these sorts of changes described don’t necessarily need that sort of change.

For example “I recently had a chat while hiking with a mathematics teacher and was discussing this topic and how a wheat grower uses extensive mathematical calculations for every decision they make when growing and selling their wheat. While many growers may not realise it themselves this includes calculus (eg calculating economical rates of fertiliser on a yield response curve), geometry (eg paddock mapping), probabilities (eg risk management) and algebra (eg in fertiliser or seed calculations and estimating yields). This high school mathematics teacher was stunned at the complexity and depth of mathematical calculations that most growers think is normal. The teacher’s response was “Wow! I could write a complete exam on these examples and that is only for one crop!”.

As we mention over and over here at AgriEducate HQ agriculture covers so much more than just farming and relatively complex mathematics. Glenn explains that there’s “no need to stop at mathematics. Chemistry, physics, biology, economics, geography… they are the easy ones to for which to develop curriculum content. What about English studies? For general English just looking at the debate around GMOs or livestock ethics would keep a class going for weeks. English Literature? There are numerous examples of modern and classical fiction, non-fiction and poetry that have agricultural settings and agricultural themes. The juxtaposition of urban versus rural would also apply to English and other subjects.”

And that is exactly how we have approached our essay competition. Every subject (albeit for our inaugural competition at a tertiary level) is important and can contribute to agriculture. He explains that why stop with STEM. “Media studies? Art? Music? Also not that hard and for what are creative areas of learning, a bit of creativity in the curriculum could bring agriculture into these areas.”

Furthermore, improving the connection with food and fibre isn’t the only outcome of these learning opportunities. An improved connection generates desire to reduce waste, tackle contentious issues with those growing the food in mind, and the connection helps maintain the relationship of agriculture with these kids when they grow up to be leaders around the world.

Once again this is captured “BUT, getting agriculture into the curriculum and increasing the breadth of experiences for students isn’t the only outcome. These students will then have a greater appreciation of where food and fibre comes from without any special excursions or extra effort. These students will have agriculturally related homework that will be discussed with their parent, who will themselves be better informed in the process. These students will grow up to become the business leaders, tradies, engineers and even the politicians of the future. A solid grounding in agriculture accumulated from more than 12 years exposure to agricultural content in the curriculum will result in more considered decision making across the community.”

So in conclusion where does that leave us?
Surely it is not that hard to replace;
“If a person is walking at 4 km/hour how long will it take them to walk 52km?”
with;
“If a farmer shears the wool from 25 sheep/hour how long will it take them to shear 500 sheep?”
We couldn’t agree more Glenn, we couldn’t agree more.

Why does agriculture deserve the attention it doesn’t have?

Since beginning AgriEducate almost two years ago now, I continually ponder why agriculture deserves ‘agvocates’ and why it needs greater attention. After all, surveys suggest people check their phone up to a hundred times a day and we only eat a handful of times. It’s also well established that in an emergency situation shelter is most important. So this article is an attempt at me breaking apart that need for attention for my own benefit and hopefully yours!

‘Imagine you’re on a plane to Perth from Brisbane and suddenly it crash lands in the middle of the desert in February. Strangely, you have three untouched items in front of you: a set of canvas sheets and poles for shelter, 12kg of Riverina rice and Narrabri beans, and a briefcase with a computer and phone without any signal. Which one would you take? Well the standard survival guidebook would suggest the shelter, food and ‘other’ general hierarchy. Food is important but only if you don’t die of exposure first. After all you can generally survive a few weeks without food, whereas exposure to heat can quickly result in heat stroke and death. As for the computer and phone, perhaps you’ll be even better without them for a while (except for the whole letting people know where you are side of things, but I digress).

From a more realistic perspective, on a typical day we all use (actively or passively) certain items such as a toothbrush, perhaps a car and most likely an apartment, house or computer or phone. In a fortunate country such as Australia, the value of these items are rarely given the attention they might well deserve. Without a toothbrush and all the manufacturing behind it, we end up with gum disease and poor health. Quality construction of a house or apartment lets us weather out storms and severe weather, without so much as a few creaks and groans. And it’s hard to fathom how the efficiency required in current jobs would ever be possible without our computers and communication efficiency of our phones. Surely the inherent value there should drive better understanding of how computers work, saving on computer repair and maintenance costs. In fact, there is a real issue with machine learning and artificial intelligence whereby as the algorithms develop autonomously, we lose understanding of exactly how they work with significant consequences for control.

Moving away from Terminator and on the nutrition front instead, we all try and eat as healthily as possible – consuming three meals along with a few snacks and drinks in between. Perhaps not paying our dues to the farmers that produced the food, nor the toothbrush manufacturers saving us from an early and smelly breath death.

So while we have the good fortune in Australia that each of these critical parts of our lives bear an almost equal importance, why then should agriculture deserve our attention and why should we strive to actively change our ways to appreciate it more? After all, a breakdown of the nearest phone tower makes significant waves of impact across an area, as does the delay in bus services to the Commonwealth Games. Ever had the pleasure of a flat tyre, car breakdown or dead battery on a hot day? Well that surely rings more true than a poor selection of fruit and vegetables at the local supermarket, or protein content fluctuations in milk and flour.

Furthermore, significant agricultural changes such as the application of a tariff on chickpeas and lentils bound for India, or the presence of the Russian Wheat Aphid, while important, slip under the radar of consumers, destined for the hidden Rural News tab of ABC or rural newspapers such as the Land (certainly not discrediting the journalistic quality, merely the accessibility). It makes me wonder then, is understanding and valuing agriculture and food that much more important over construction, electronics, our vehicle and perhaps even shelter, when the consequences of failure in the latter impact us more significantly? And is it right to demand more attention, perhaps at the cost of attention in other areas, from people already burdened with modern day living and the complexities therein?

Reflecting on these multitude of questions above, it seems to distil down to three key factors, which I think sway the argument in the favour of attention-seeking agriculture:

  1. Integrated nature of agriculture
  2. Scale of impact
  3. Potential for good

I’ll explain my reasoning a little further for each of these three areas below.

Integrated nature of agriculture

At all levels agriculture is highly integrated with societies, nutrition, economies and the environment. Developing countries rely on agriculture to support GDP growth and to maintain stable communities. Disruptions in food supply, for whatever cause, lead to unrest and famine.

Dr Lindiwe Sibanda spoke of the integrated nature of agriculture at the Crawford Fund 2017 Annual Conference. Dr Sibanda highlighted that while there had been a push towards growing bulk commodities like maize for economic benefit (and consequently buying more food) away from growing everything you needed, the unintended outcome was malnutrition. Kids and adults alike were stuck with maize three times a day when the income from selling the grain was not sufficient to buy meats, fruits and vegetables at the local market. The environmental and community health suffered with intense monocultures and heavy, unrestricted use of pesticides. One policy decision and direction by intergovernmental bodies resulted in poor economic, health, community and environmental outcomes.

Conversely, one policy decision could generate incredible wealth, health, environmental benefits and societal cohesion too. The opportunities are there to be taken.

We see similar occurrences in Australia and other developed countries too, although perhaps not with the same human consequences, but particularly environmental and community consequences. Take, for example, the drive to implement no-till farming. The result was improved soil retention (reduced wind and water erosion), organic matter content (generally speaking) and initially higher yields. Yet without tillage options available to farmers, there is and was a strong reliance on herbicides, resulting in herbicide resistance, potentially negative environmental outcomes and a loss of social licence in some cases.

On the positive side, the push to allow GMO cotton resulted in a 95% reduction in pesticide use and significant improvements in environmental, societal and economic outcomes for those areas.

Agriculture is so intertwined with environment, society and health that changes to one all impact on the other as illustrated by this diagram:

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.01.25 PM

In other industries such as construction or manufacturing, policy mechanisms and technology changes may benefit the bottom line of a company, the income and health of workers and potentially reduced environmental impact, but the changes are retained within the small circle of influence. And that brings me to the second point of scale.

Scale of impact

Imagine being able to adjust the practices of one person and improve both the productivity and sustainability of 100 million square metres (10,000 ha; 170,000 average sized housing blocks), which is slightly larger than normal farm size in Western Australia.

Whole corridors of animal movement and vegetation can be improved with consent of just a large handful of farm managers. Nevertheless, the consequences of poor management decisions can be disastrous for productivity and the environment (the two go hand in hand) but if you’re a change maker or an aspiring one, why not go where the largest net change is possible on such vast scales? Furthermore, one family can manage more area (albeit with low intensity) than all of the construction areas combined! To illustrate this point, the largest station in Australia, Anna Creek in SA covers 2.37 million hectares, or 33.8 million averaged-sized housing blocks in Australia.

The scope of change from policy mechanisms and new technologies is absolutely massive. If the Queensland Government banned all clearing today (just a hypothetical here), then tomorrow we retain the many thousands of hectares of trees that would have otherwise been lost. Likewise, a total ban on live export in 2011 completely disrupted the industry and resulted in many thousands of animals starving to death on over populated stations and properties. These are just some extreme examples of the scale of impact and the serious potential for good.

Potential for good

Ever heard the saying killing two birds with one stone? Well with agriculture, rather than killing, you can benefit so many people, environments, regional communities, developing countries, food insecure nations and poverty stricken regions with single swipes of good policy, research and new technology. Take for example the good work of ACIAR in countries like Cambodia, Laos or Pakistan, taking Australian agricultural knowledge and implementing it in an appropriate way to improve food security in those regions.

Understanding agriculture, appreciating the intricacies, and processes encourages all of us to minimise waste, improve environmental outcomes, benefit farmers and perhaps lend our own expertise into solving some global food supply, environmental and nutritional problems.


So why does agriculture deserve the attention it doesn’t have?

And thus is the importance of understanding and appreciating agriculture, not only for the possible inherent career opportunities but for the its integration with society, environment and health, its vast scale and consequently potential for good and massive change.

 

Time to get a wriggle on? Consuming bugs for human food security.

Christine Freak is the resident Development Agriculture expert here at AgriEducate, and a lover of insect puns. If you have a development agriculture story you’d like covered get in touch with Christine at agrieducate@gmail.com.

It all stated yesterday – I was walking through the University of Sydney campus, and The Economist were giving away Bug Ice-cream! Yep – and bug ice-cream is exactly what it sounds like – a delicious berry gelato with the sweet crunch of berry seeds, ground up ants, and whole crickets! Delicious…. Right?

Whilst the idea may initially seem repulsive, insect consumption as a food source is becoming a “buzz” word of 2018 food security talk.

The new buzz word has flown in for good reason too – bugs have a very high nutritional value, are a very sustainable form of protein to cultivate, and can generate great socio-economic benefits to many poor regions.

Farming and consuming insects isn’t a new idea either. Thailand has more than 20,000 insect farmers alone, compared to the 85,000 in Australia. Globally, over 2 billion people are already consuming insects as part of their usual diets. In many countries, some insects are even considered a delicacy!

Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division, identifies that “insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed.”

Across the world there are over 2000 different insect species consumed. Beetles and caterpillars are the most common species, followed by bees, wasps, ants, cicadas, locusts, crickets, dragonflies, and flies.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, caterpillars are a regular protein source at local markets year round. The average household in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa consumes 300g of caterpillars per week, which adds up to 96 tonnes consumed annually in the city.

Fun fact #1the practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy.

Why is it crunch time?

Insects have a very high nutritional value – they are high in protein (65%), contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, and high levels of iron, calcium and zinc.

Insects are a sustainable protein source –  Insects emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases than most other protein sources (livestock), do not require land clearing, and are very efficient at converting feed into protein.

“The bigger the beast, the more food, land and water is needed to produce the final edible product, resulting in higher greenhouse-gas emissions. A cow takes 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef, but only 40% of the cow can be eaten. Crickets require just 1.7 kg of food to produce 1 kg of meat, and 80% is considered edible”.
The Economist

Insects bring great socio-economic benefits – Insect harvesting and processing is relatively low-capital intensive and uses unsophisticated machinery. This means the industry has huge potential for many poor people in rural areas of the developing world, giving access to employment and income.

Fun Fact #2 – Insects contain up to 65% protein!

Should we be so quick to critter-cise?

According to Eva Muller, the Director of FAO’s Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division, “Insects are not harmful to eat, quite the contrary. They are nutritious, they have a lot of protein and are considered a delicacy in many countries”.

But to get insects onto the plates of more people around the world, will require upscaling of the industry to larger automated facilities (most production currently occurs through small-scale production).

Muller continues, “Most [insects] are just collected and there’s very little experience in insect farming, for example, which is something that could be explored in view of a growing population.”

But before bugs will make their way onto our common dinner plates, there is another big hurdle – consumer preferences! As good as bugs are, it is fair to say that many western consumers feel rather uncomfortable consuming creepy crawlies (this is dubbed the disgust factor).  Although, diets are well documented as been able to quickly change, so who knows when/if bugs will be welcomed crawling into our pantries sometime soon!

 

 

So even if you’re not hopping/crawling/marching off to stock up on bugs, it’s important we recognize the huge potential these critters may have for global food security, and the importance of innovation and challenging current norms to overcome some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

For more information check out:

The Economist: https://learnmore.economist.com/story/58ff11c009e97e5a29f0b2ec

FAO: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e00.htm

References:

Christine Freak is the resident Development Agriculture expert here at AgriEducate, and a lover of insect puns. If you have a development agriculture story you’d like covered get in touch with Christine at agrieducate@gmail.com.