I sometimes feel like a tape set on auto-replay. (Some of you will remember tapes; those of you that don’t should just move right along.)
When all about us may be predicting doom and gloom or preoccupying themselves with anything but the real issues facing the state, you can rely on the resilience of Tasmanian farmers to shine a light to the future.
I still believe that, despite having just read the latest rather depressing survey of the level of confidence among Tasmanian farmers that was conducted by Rabobank.
Its opening remarks included “Tasmanian rural confidence has continued its downward slide…record low levels…lowest net confidence reading since the survey began…”
Many of our farmers are facing very difficult market conditions, aggravated by the practices of the supermarket duopoly and the perennial problem we have with the high cost of freighting goods to and from the island. The dollar is against us, farm gate prices are under huge pressures, processor contracts have been cut, power prices are going through the roof, we’re hanging out for good rain, every day there seem to be more and more reasons for not employing people, and every day the dead weight of regulation wears them down.
Sadly, we are not alone in this pessimistic view of the future. On the back of the Rabobank report, the National Farmers Federation this week also pointed to the pressures on farmers nationally: the high Australian dollar, increasing input costs, falling property prices, softening commodity prices, and a return to dry conditions across many states (including parts of Tasmania).
I know that our farmers constantly worry about these issues – they are at the pointy end where these things impact on their lives and livelihoods every day. However, I can’t help but wonder how much the Rabobank survey actually reflects the perception of farmers of the state of the state rather than the state of their own businesses.
As the Rabobank report pointed out, many Tasmanian farms are diversified. They spread their risk across a number of enterprises. There have been positive returns for irrigated crops such as poppies; and global supply fundamentals are pointing to a six to 10 per cent increase in milk prices next year.
My impression is that people generally are much more concerned about the overall weakness of the Tasmanian economy as a whole, the perpetual paralysis we seem to suffer in our ability to attract enterprise and innovation, and the propensity of politicians to want to concentrate on everything but these critical economic issues.
We keep getting blindsided by first world concerns and social issues and white noise from the media that distract from the real things that make us all nervous.
I believe that, in many cases, these are the things influencing the views farmers are reflecting through the Rabobank survey. This may be supported by the fact that, while farmers’ expectations of their own business performance fell, they remained more positive about the performance of their own business than that of the wider agricultural economy.
We live in one of the best places in the world: we have ample water; more useable hours of sunlight than most places; a fabulous climate; soils so good in some places you could eat them; smart researchers; and very innovative farmers. If the planets align, and we can manage the imposts from over-regulation and other business interferences, agriculture will indeed be one of the great white hopes of the Tasmanian economy.
Our farmers are committed to Tasmania and, perhaps surprisingly, the survey shows that they are still keen to invest. Times are tough, and their numbers may be down, but they are still ready to put their money where their mouths are.
But, gee, we make it hard for them.
As the NFF noted, all farmers need – and deserve – certainty from governments. Tasmanian farmers also deserve encouragement and acknowledgement from all Tasmanians if they are to keep doing the heavy lifting in a future economic recovery.