Image for Farmers falling behind

The grain harvest is coming to a close here in Tasmania ...

Watching local farmers and contractors hard at work has got me thinking. When I left school (1966) and started working on our farm we were growing over 100 tonnes of barley per year. The price then was around $240 per tonne. 

Today farmers are still getting around $240 per tonne.

As new grain varieties, irrigations, sprays, etc came along, we were promised that we would be better off. We were – for the first one or two years. Then everyone else caught up and we were no better off.

In those days 10 tonnes of barley would (and did) buy me a new car. Today I would need around 125 tonnes to get a new car. In 1967 the way we produced was not greatly different from today. We had good tractors, self propelled harvesters and fertilizer.  Over the years yields have certainly increased – but so have costs. These two factors about equalled each other out.

Of course modern day farmers are more efficient, but not that much more. Costs have risen exponentially as well. Inflation over that period has been 1,146 per cent.

I have used barley for this comparison because it is the one that I am most familiar with, but most other commodities would be in a similar situation. For example when I left school the price for one lamb was roughly equivalent to a man’s weekly wage. Now you would need seven or eight lambs to pay a labourer for a week.

Who has benefited from this real drop in the value of commodities? I will leave you to work that one out for yourself ...


*Steven French, above,  is a retired photo/journalist/magazine editor. He is still editor of Australian Sheep Magazine but the rest of the time he potters around and fiddles with being self sufficient on a farm at Whitemore in Northern Tasmania where his family has lived since 1865. He has served a couple of terms as the Tasmanian Chairman of the Stud Sheep Breeders Association of Tasmania. Steven’s 2010 book, Hand Made in Tasmania, was on the state’s best seller list for several weeks and his short story, Arthur, won the people choice award at the 2012 Tasmanian Living Writers Week.  Steven’s photos have been published around the world including several solo exhibitions and group exhibitions on the mainland. He has also been general manager of a peak tourism body, worked as a community and economic development officer with local government and was a city centre marketing manager.