Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, June 04, 2007

Climate Change and Agriculture in arid-zone Australia

Today's Age reports:
"PROMOTING a biofuel industry makes little economic or environmental sense unless agriculture expands in the tropical north, a farming think-tank says."
"The latest issue of the Australian Farm Institute's Farm Policy Journal says governments should invest in technology that can make biofuel from cellulose in the leaves and stalks of crops, otherwise crops will have to be planted for fuel or food. Not enough is produced for both.

Institute executive director Mick Keogh said that "global biofuel experiences show that crop-based biofuels are generally only viable with high levels of government support, and have at best a limited capacity to meet future energy needs".
If all of Australia's wheat and sugar output was diverted to produce ethanol, it would supply only about 20 per cent of the fuel needed for transport. The belief that biofuel helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions was also questionable, Mr Keogh said.

However, Sydney University's Inakwu Odeh and Daniel Tan, from the faculty of agriculture, say Australia could boost its biofuel capacity by using 20 million to 30 million hectares of marginal land to grow exotic crops.
Source: The Age 4 June 2007

These are just a few "hares" which John Howard's lack of understanding of the environment has set "running". No sensible Government would contemplate feeding people like these, if it had a clear understanding of the impact on the true natural environment of Australia. But Howard has a close friend in Bill Heffernan, and it is his inspiration which is at work here. Turnbull is off saving the Humpback Whales (NOT), and saving his own political skin, as we speak. The last thing he wants to do is hose down these crazies, who are working to bring alive Farmer Bill's dream.

Regular readers may have seen links to Miss Eagle's blog. She has written about Senator Heffernan's pipe dreams of "opening up the North". I suggest you have a look, as Miss Eagle knows of what she speaks (the North, that is). Check out the hot link above.

For myself, I note only that the alarm bells in my ears ring when I see academics talking about using "marginal land". I am of the old school which thinks that marginal land is just that - marginal, and that it is not suited to permanent farming. My comments here relate to arid and semi-arid zones, not the tropical north, but while the problems might be different, the lessons not yet learnt are the same, I believe.

In fact, if pressed I would argue that the arid zones ought be closed to all hard-hoofed animal husbandry - sheep and cattle. Goats, Donkeys and Camels have shown that they can survive un-managed "out there", but have become pests of a huge proportion. So, we know we have been grazing the wrong animals, but it seems we don't now what to do about it.

We did at least realise that we had stuffed up, with the Water Buffalo. Hopefully, in time to save the "top end" wetlands. But then again, there is always the "cane toad" - which we brought in for another "exotic crop" - sugar. It will do as much to destroy Kakadu as the Buffalo ever did, I predict.
Different animal, similar result.
Same problem - ignorance, greed and short-sightedness.

Remember Goyder's Line? He proposed a ban on agriculture in the arid zones of South Australia. We need a modern day Goyder.

If pressed further, I would say, we ought graze our native animals - Kangaroos. At least they are adapted to the climate, and the lack of water, and have learnt to control their fertility to the climate, etc. All we need to do is learn to eat them, without thinking of Skippy!

Wool? Well, from what I hear, wool is a luxury which this country cannot afford any more. It is hardly being used in clothing any more. Let the New Zealanders grow coarse wooled sheep, for carpets. Forget it out beyond the middle of NSW.
Many the animals we think of as growing wool, end up on slaughter-boats going to the Middle East anyway, in a trade which is totally reprehensible, by "humane" standards. At least, remove the sheep from the arid and semi-arid zones. When you are down to one sheep per 30 acres, or less, it is a nonsense.

We are frightened about what the politicians and bureaucrats would call "rural reconstruction". That is code for sending thousands of farmers off their land, and in so doing, risking closing down hundreds of small rural towns.

But the thought of "opening up" entire new industries, based upon a dream of farming "marginal land" with "exotic crops" is madness. Are Miss Eagle and myself the only people out there who have heard of the Ord River Scheme, and Humptydoo, before that?

Untested crops, with little or no knowledge of their weed potential, their susceptibility to insect predation, let alone analysing their impact on water resources is just idiocy of the worst case.

It is as if people had never hear of the problems of farming cotton in arid Australia, and the devastation that is causing. Cotton is not viable, or even sustainable, in most of the areas where it is grown. It is only worthwhile growing when we place little or no value on the land, and allow huge farming enterprises to open new lands every 10 years, and to abandon the lands they have ruined (usually with salinity). And these enterprises are often subsidised by huge tax losses, and indirect grants from Government.

Rice is another case in point. Both are unsuitable. Both should be closed down, at least in the arid and semi-arid areas. The Murray-Darling basin is the centre of both these industries. Turnbull's "Murray-Darling" $10 billion pipe dream is not about saving the Murray-Darling, but about privatising its water supply. He is the last of the free market idealogues, who has the freedom to speculate, because he has no responsibility for its outcome. If and when it goes wrong it will be someone else's fault. Probably Macquarie Bank, or KKR, or some other group of nameless, faceless international financiers. Australia - the people and the environment will pay the cost.

Wake up Australia. Stop the madness - and it is starting from the very top.

1 comment:

Miss Eagle said...

Well, Denis, what can I say except "Spot on!" There is no political leadership on these issues in this country. Certainly, there will never be while there is that rural rump, i.e. the National Party, insinuating itself into government. Do you remember those ads when Howard used to stand in front of a camera showing how much of Australia (and how dreadful!) was in the hands of Aboriginal people? While the NT has land rights legislation which helps, one of the main reasons why a lot of land has gone into Aboriginal hands in the NT is that the whitefella has walked off land in the arid zone because a viable whitefella lifestyle can no longer be sustained there. Three things need to form the foundation of a push for change: 1. Australians must get in touch with the bush once more and understand where their food and clothing comes from.
2. Australians need to think more about the goods that come into their lives from overseas - particularly China which refuses to do a darn thing about polluting emissions - and how those goods are produced i.e. by near enough to slave labour, unsafe working conditions, corruption, pollution.
3. Australians need to get off their backsides and see Australia away from the urban fringes AND the tourist routes. Let's try to put to one side the mythology of the Outback and see the reality of the land and the people who live there.

Denis, your blog is a great nature and environmental vehicle for mobilising people. I hope those that read your blog (and hopefully this comment) will consider how they can come to grips in their own understanding with these issues which affect us all and our very lives and how they can get off the fence and their backsides and do something about it. To-day is World Environment Day. Let's make it the start of concern for the future.