Water Week

EWN Publishing

Changing climate allows less agriculture, altering patterns of agricultural investment says Adelaide professor

Posted by waterweek on 11 October 2007

According to renowned expert on water and farming, Mike Young of the University of Adelaide, it looked as if Australia had shifted to a drier climate, similar to that experienced in the 1920s to the early 1940s, wrote rural writer Asa Wahlquist in The Australian (6/10/2007, p. 23).

Much less agriculture: Young said: “If we are in that sort of regime, then we can have much less agricul­ture and somehow we have to work out which parts of the agricultural system are going to have to go through adjustment. To impede that can cause a lot of harm and a lot of hardship.”

Changing pattern of agricultural investment: Young, a member of the Went­worth Group of Concerned Scientists and professor of water economics and management at Adelaide, said the best assessment of whether land was marginal was made by the marketplace, and he argued the pattern of agricul­tural investment had changed. He said the sort of farm he grew up on, with mum cooking, dad farming, jackaroos being employed when wool prices and the seasons were good, and the shearing being done when the boys were home during school holidays, no longer existed. The farm sector had split three ways: the profitable family farms at the top, the small lifestyle farms supported by an off-farm income at the bottom, and what Young called “the disappearing middle in Aus­tralian agriculture – the old traditional family farm”. It was those family farmers who were turning to drought support.

Three ways for drought support to work: Young said drought support could work in three ways. There were payments that impeded change, payments that facilitated it and payments that expedited it. All the research since the 1940s had come to the same conclusion: that where there was a need for change, denying it cost communities, cost the land and cost the economy.

Distinction between welfare payments and business assistance: Young said it was important to distin­guish between necessary welfare payments and supplying business assistance. “The trick is to supply welfare assistance in a way that doesn’t disadvantage other businesses.” Young said the exit payments “fall into the category of helping people to adjust faster”.

The Australian, 6/10/2007, p. 23

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