The town of Perenjori, four hours drive north-east of Perth in the heart of the WA wheat belt, recently held a conference on the future of grain farming.
About 15-20 per cent of farmers are doing well. Grain for Asia’s huge noodle market receives a premium price in the markets. But the vast majority of farmers are struggling.
NCC National Vice-President, Patrick Byrne, and former Deputy Secretary for the Department of Trade, Colin Teese, were invited to address the conference.
They explained that the average price of wheat on the world market in the 1990s was only 20 per cent higher than it was in the 1980s.
Australia’s main wheat competitors were being heavily subsidised. Wheat farmers in the European Union obtained 58 per cent of their net income from subsidies. In the USA it was 46 per cent, and across the developed OECD nations it averaged 48 per cent. Australian farmers receive only 11 per cent of their net income in the form of subsidies.
The opening up of the Australian market for cheap imports has not only undercut Australian farmers but also Australian food and fibre manufacturers.
Other speakers at the conference described the crisis being faced by rising water tables and salinity in the wheat belt, and the social consequences of the loss of population from the region.
Following the Conference, representatives of the Perenjori shire, regional development officials and farmers agreed that urgent action was needed to confront the region’s problems.
It was agreed that:
* local finance had to be put in to research agricultural and environmental issues, a step which could attract further backing from State and Federal governments.
* with the corporatisation of the Australian Wheat Board and the Federal Government’s decision to maintain the single selling desk for only another three years, an urgent plan was needed to maintain the selling and bargaining power that the AWB has had when selling wheat onto the cut-throat world market.
* a new Commonwealth-style bank, owned and backed by the Federal Government was needed to provide banking services, and to lend to family farmers, small businesses and home buyers at attractive rates.
* the Federal Government had to give high priority to rebuilding the anti-dumping authority and to maintaining a strong quarantine regime in order to stop Australian farmers and manufacturers from being undermined by dumped imports and exotic diseases.