18 Apr

National Electricity Market In Need of an Overhaul?

In order to commit to long-term affordable, low emission, and reliable energy, the National Farmers’ Association (NFF) has said that a transformation is required within Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM).

According to the President of the NFF, the farming industry has required reliable, secure, and affordable energy for quite some time. However, the NEM is currently struggling to provide all three of these factors. With so many unjustified tariffs in the industry, farmers are struggling to survive due to overnight electricity bills increasing by two or even three times as much. For any business, this increase is nearly impossible to deal with but the effects are somewhat magnified for farmers.  

Impact

How is this affecting the industry? Not so long ago we heard about some farmers who were choosing to go ‘off the grid’ so to speak to avoid the extortionate costs. Furthermore, diesel generators are coming back into use after being abandoned for systems powered by energy. Even after this, many growers of fruit and vegetables, as well as dairy farmers are investing in whatever back-up facilities they can in case of a blackout which perhaps highlights the lack of consistency and sustainability. For farmers, a blackout of any kind can be detrimental since it shuts off the cooling systems and spoils large amounts of crops in a short time period.

Solution 

Not only is this costing farmers money, these are ‘wallpaper over the cracks’ solutions in that it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. With Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finked at the lead, the NFF has now submitted a review of the NEM. Ultimately, the review suggested that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) need to step in and create a sustainable framework to address the ongoing issues.

However, these changes aren’t just needed by farmers, because around 33% of Australian greenhouse gas emissions come from the generation of electricity. In the long-term, this just isn’t sustainable which is why action needs to be taken today. Additionally, the report suggests that favouring specific technologies isn’t the right decision when you could allow them to compete on their own merits and choose the most efficient and cost-effective solutions.

Although it would be difficult to meet the criteria of the NFF, they believe that the best answer is a market-based approach. Instead of using electricity as a bargaining tool, experts think that both sides need to move on from the past and work towards a long-term solution that benefits both parties. Currently, a ‘do-nothing’ approach is being employed but this isn’t sustainable because it will ruin many industries including farming.  

With this in mind, we clearly see the opinion of the NFF and it is surely only a matter of time before we see changes? At the very least, we can hope for open discussions between the two parties. If heads are put together, we have an opportunity to reduce the pressure on farmers and move forward, rather than going backwards with diesel-powered generators!

Source: National Farmers Federation

18 Apr

Livestock Shortage in Australia – Foreign Investment the Solution?

Ever since the problem of a shortage in livestock surfaced, many have proposed solutions but now one general manager believes foreign investment to be key. Greg Cross, at Fletcher’s International Exports, said that livestock was above 36 million when the company opened a processing facility in Narrikup nearly 20 years ago. Now, it stands a little above 13 million and Cross believes the industry is in ‘trouble’.

In a recent interview, he continued by saying that these were ‘challenging times’ since wool prices are so high, livestock numbers are so low, and the weather even seems to be betting against the processors. Normally, the facilities belonging to Fletcher’s never have stand-down days leading up to the summer but they have been forced to take five already this year.

Weather

Although Cross says there are other factors in play, the extended rains allowed a good amount of feed and water for all farmers. However, the many problems need a fast solution and the only way to do this is to encourage foreign investment. In the long term, he believes improved technology and innovation would bring more producers to the market but this isn’t something that can be introduced quickly. Therefore, investment from a foreign source is the only way to have an impact right now.

Population 

At this stage, we should also mention the increase in world population. Not only is this figure growing over time, more people are learning about the value of protein. In the Middle East, China, and India, this has been a huge focus in recent years but it is a tricky balance because the good people of Australia still need their protein too.

Employees 

Back to Cross and Fletcher’s, he said that the current state of the industry was having a huge impact on all processing employees. Suddenly, businesses are having to cover their costs which means that hard-working individuals are losing days of work. With each employee comes a mortgage, family, and various other costs and businesses are having to tell them that they have stand-down days which can be devastating.

Although the company did expect a drop in production due to the various factors we have discussed, Fletcher’s were surprised at just how much of an impact these factors had. For producers, the low amounts of livestock passing through abattoirs is very good news despite not being welcomed by most processors.

For Cross, he finished off by saying that he has been in the industry for 30 years so he has seen it all. With the good days come the bad; he says that things always flip around sooner or later from good to bad or bad to good and this is something that comes with the industry. With mixed luck for processors and producers, it will certainly be interesting to see whether the industry receives the foreign investment Cross suggests is the solution!

Source: ABC News

18 Apr

Farming Price Review for 2017

At the start of every year, farmers face unpredictable markets but we start to learn a general trend as we head into the second quarter. In 2017, this has been no different and today we have reports for the price of both lamb and milk. Without further ado, let’s take a look!

 Lamb – Firstly, this niche is certainly providing interesting viewing because everything seems to be pulling in the direction of the farmer. In recent years, the slaughter of lamb has reduced somewhat whilst demand has steadily risen. Thanks to simple supply and demand, we know that prices should increase in this situation and this has been the case.

 According to the MLA, a little under 22 million lambs will be sent to slaughter in 2017 which is a decrease from last year of around 2.7 million. In terms of mutton, this is actually at its second-lowest point since records began. As the prices of wool continues to increase, farmers are choosing to keep hold of older ewes to boost their herd sizes.

 Prices – Per kilogram of carcass weight, the average price in 2016 was 558 cents; in the first quarter of 2017 alone, this has already increased to 614 cents. In addition to the higher demand, grain prices are staying low which means that the larger flocks are easier to feed. With all of these factors in mind, it is mostly good news for farmers but they have been warned to be careful. As soon as supply evens out with demand, experts suggest that the prices could crash faster than ever before.

Milk – When it comes to milk, production has been dropping severely recently but 2017 is expected to change this. Why? Ultimately, grain is low as we mentioned with the lambs but milk prices are also set to increase. With the arrival of interest from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, the next three seasons will boost the prices of milk; in all three of these regions, incomes and populations are both improving.

 In truth, these increases in dairy prices aren’t just seen at home because they are increasing all over the world. With Russia re-opening their market and the reduced turn-off in the European Union as well as New Zealand, the pressure continues to grow for world dairy prices. For example, skim milk powder is forecast to increase by 16% whilst butter stands at 31%, whole milk powder at 37%, and cheese at 14%. Currently, global production cannot keep up with demand and experts suggest it will stay this way until 2019/20.

 So far, farmgate prices have gone up by 2% this year in Australia but the current prediction for the end of the year is 7%; however, this is dependant on a few factors including higher world prices and a depreciation in the value of the Australian dollar.

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain; it is set to be an interesting few years and one that farmers can enjoy whilst remaining vigilant of the expected crash!

Source: Farm Online, Farm Online, ABC Rural

18 Apr

Finest Ice Cream in Australia Courtesy of the Crooke Family

If you were to ask a group of people for their favourite ice cream, you would get multiple answers and this is the beauty of the product. However, ask what ice cream gives the best value and a growing amount of people would say Gundowring Ice Cream. Why? Because, despite the company running out of a former shed, they have won multiple awards and accolades in their young 13-year history. When they enter competitions, the industry has come to expect them to win something and this speaks volumes for the brand itself.

How Did it Start? 

According to Sarah Crooke, she and her husband visited Pennsylvania State University in the United States in order to attend a highly-decorated ice cream course. Although it sounds a little like a fairytale, there is such as course to explain the various processes in making ice cream from flavour powders to temperatures, food dyes to stabilisers and emulsifiers.

At one point during the course, Sarah lifted her hand into the air and said ‘what if we were to use fresh raspberries’; the rest, as they say, is history (despite the many strange looks they got during the rest of the course). Before they left to come back home, the lecturer actually pulled Sarah and Stephen to one side and shared all the knowledge they had on using fresh fruit within ice cream recipes.

Now – At Gundowring, it is the definition of a family business with the Crookes being helped by their son and daughter-in-law. After opening up a factory in a former shed on their dairy farm, they started to produce the first products with a little help from 500 Holstein Friesan cows just outside. On the farm, the cows are free to roam 1,000 acres of beautiful land on the river flats of Kiewa Valley. Furthermore, we should also note that their location in northeast Victoria is also perfect for producing high-quality chestnuts, figs, rhubarb, green tea, hazelnuts, and wine.

High-Quality Ice Cream

Despite having all the resources just outside the shed door, the Crookes still needed a plan and they decided upon quality and value as a unique selling point. Whilst other companies were using flavourings and various additives, the Crookes actually wanted a healthy ice cream with real fruit and flavours included. At first, the project would only take place in the evenings and on spare weekends. Just as they asked in the Pennsylvania ice cream course, they started with raspberries and perfected the recipe.  

Despite humble beginnings, it didn’t take long to visit the Melbourne Royal Show where they actually won the Champion Ice Cream award. Even with their growth in recent years, they promise to stick to their roots and use natural ingredients. According to the son, James, we are never going to see a Gundowring ‘Bubblegum’ flavour because they prefer to focus on value, high-quality, and natural ingredients.

Source: Australian Country

28 Feb

How To Make Your Farming Dream A Reality

If you’re anything like thousands of people across Australia you probably have squashed farm ownership dreams.
Look at the photos we have here of Tim and Tegan Hicks and their family, it’s so beautiful it makes you sick. But right now if things stay the way they are this photo of a happy family on their own farm will never be a reality. They don’t have the cash. They have the passion, vision, drive and skills, they just don’t have $5 million.
What we’ve realised is that there are actually many ways you can resurrect your farm ownership dreams and we have listed these below.

1. Hope

The first step on the pathway is to actually realise that you could own your farm. Without this hope, you won’t do the thinking or put in the effort needed to make it a reality.
We’re telling you now that you can own your farm; it just might not be that you own 100% of the farm yourself.
You could have a retiring farmer sponsor you onto their farm and set up a vendor finance deal with you – this is what happened all the time in the old days and we need to bring it back.
You could own the farm with an investor or two. There are plenty of people buying farms, but they need your expertise and passion to make it profitable. Why not partner with them?
There are organisations out there that can help you with all of this, as well which we will reveal below.

2. Farm-Ready

Now that you are pumped to have your farm dreams back you need to ensure you are farm-ready. You’ll most likely be farming with other people so you need to impress them with a myriad of skills and passion.
Write down your farm dream. Where is it? What are you farming? What methods will you use? How will you drag yourself out of bed at 4 am? This step clarifies what you’re fighting for.
Make a note also of why you are passionate about owning your farm. What is it inside you that is burning? Describe it and talk it out whenever you meet with anyone – having a burning passion you can describe to others is powerful and you never know what opportunities might come out of it.
What skills do you have and what skills do you need? Undertake an audit and if you don’t have the skills to match your dream, start learning. Jump online and find the courses available for that topic. Reach out to local farmers and ask them to be your mentor. Take a job as a farm manager and work hard to build your skills and reputation.
At the same time, become the real-estate royalty of your district. You should know when farmers are looking to leave the land before they do. At the same time, everyone should know of your passion to be a farmer. This is so that when they are thinking of moving on you, will be front and centre in their mind as the best possible person to hand the farm over to.
Be like an entrepreneur who is constantly hustling. Find as many different angles as you can to get yourself on your farm and pitch your vision and plan to anyone who will listen.

3. Farm Ownership

Now that you are farm-ready and everyone knows it, we can get you on your farm.
This doesn’t have to happen 5-10 years down the track. If you are hustling, you could find a retiring farmer who would back you onto their farm, or an investor who wants you because of your passion and tenacity.
How do you find investors? You can try to Google them or else chat with organisations who do this for a living, such as Cultivate Farms www.cultivatefarms.com.

The ball is now clearly in your court – your dream farm will reveal itself if you are looking and everyone knows you are.

Author: Sam Marwood is the co-founder of Cultivate Farms. They are a social enterprise aiming to rejuvenate regional Australia by making it possible for young people to own and operate their own farm.

24 Feb

Two Innovative Steps Forward for the Australian Farming Industry

It has been generally positive for the Australian farming industry so far this year, and we have seen this with the new export opportunities that have arisen. This is set to continue as new varieties of rice and grapes have been researched and produced. Should their respective trials go well, this will make a huge difference to sales and exports once again for the industry.

Rice

Overall, there are two different varieties of short-season rice currently being trialled in the Riverina. Depending on the results, it could be a big step forward for productivity because there is a potential to multiply the crop by two. After harvesting the winter crop as per normal, the summer rice crop can be planted immediately after so it would work efficiently for all involved. Seeing as though they are late sowing varieties, it opens the door for things that could never be done before.

Although previous and smaller tests have been completed to this point, 2017 will see the first widespread trial for the varieties that have been developed by The Australian Rice Partnership. As well as increasing production, experts have also stated that they take significantly less water to grow. Even though they are planted later than regular rice, they still produce a yield comparable to that of the long-season varieties. Considering the season is shorter and the yield is the same, water consumption can be reduced whilst the ‘tonnes per hectare’ figure moves in the opposite direction.

Grapes 

Moving away from rice, there is also good news for the fruit sector because numerous brand new grape varieties are being grown in Carnarvon, Western Australia. As the main example, we could be set to welcome the ‘Sweet Sapphire’ to the market which is a much longer variety of the fruit; in fact, most are the size of the average thumb. In the development phase of the trials, around 1,700 boxes were filled (from 1,200 vines) which is a positive yield. As a result, around three more hectares have been planted at the location with plans to increase this further.

Included in the new varieties, consumers may also soon be eating Candy Hearts (sweet, red grapes) as well as Cotton Candy (white grapes). Up until this point, there has been an air of negativity surrounding the grape season in Carnarvon after encountering issues with the white varieties. In addition to being late, the temperature also remained low for so long which caused problems in the sugar levels in white grapes. However, there is now much more positivity with the suggestion of the new varieties.

Summary 

All in all, it looks as though it will be a good year for Australian farmers. If both of these new varieties make it to market, it will improve efficiency and it may just give the country a unique selling point when it comes to both rice and grapes on the world stage.

Source: The Weekly Times & ABC

23 Feb

Many Farmers to Experience Export Boost

As we start to get comfortably into 2017, it has been mostly good news for Australian farmers after new export markets have been opened up for fruit. First, it was blueberry and raspberry growers who were ecstatic at the completion of a brand new quarantine treatment. Normally, the Queensland fruit fly and other such pests have a habit of destroying a significant amount of these fruits each and every year. However, this new treatment should remove the problems of keeping the nutritional value and tastiness of the fruit.

For many years, there have been significant barriers in the export market to New Zealand for Australians but this is just about to change after the former has allowed the new treatment. For the Australian farmers, they have a couple of companies to thank for this development – the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation as well as the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Without affecting the nutritional value of the fruit nor the quality, a low dose of the treatment will be given to blueberries and raspberries to keep the Queensland fruit fly at bay. After extensive research and development, the relevant parties have now found a solution that is safe and will open up the export market tremendously including New Zealand and even Indonesia (who has also accepted the treatment).

However, it wasn’t just raspberry and blueberry growers who were celebrating, as there was also good news for the growers of avocado. After negotiating a deal for many years, news has now been received that Japan will be auditing avocado export packers in Western Australia within the first couple of months of the year. Later in the year, towards the end of summer, Thailand will also be doing the same.

For the avocado industry within Australia, this could be huge news because they are only currently responsible for 2% of the world’s exports of the fruit. Over the last couple of years, progress has been made in both Malaysia and Singapore which is likely to be the reason for Japan’s interest. For the next season, many industry experts are confident that both Japan and Thailand will be added to the list of countries to which they have market access.

For many, the biggest question mark will be surrounding the Mediterranean fruit fly which is perhaps the main pest in Western Australia. However, research has already begun on how to resolve this problem and the findings are expected towards the end of 2017. Ultimately, this will allow the fruit to travel without the problem of pests.

These two pieces of news will undoubtedly lead to a lot of positivity within the farming industry in Australia. As long as the necessary requirements are met, it looks as though exports will be improving in the coming years, which could have a huge impact on the Australian economy.

Source: The Weekly Times

23 Feb

Harvest Numbers & Export Prices Bring Positivity

Bumper Almond Harvest

Trumping the 2015 almond harvest record of 80,000 tonnes, the yield for 2017 is expected to reach 85,000 tonnes, the largest on record. This increase correlates with nationwide almond industry expansion plans to grow Australia’s almond yield to 130,000 tonnes by 2025. Consequently, this saw trees reaching full maturity throughout several orchard plantings. However, production levels in South Australia also helped this increase.

Almond producers in South Australia make up around 19% of Australia’s total almond harvest. The bulk of the almond orchards in South Australia are in the Riverland region coming from 110 growers that had an excellent growing season in 2016. Last year brought a cooler and wetter climate translating to optimal growing conditions that helped boost total numbers to 16,000 tonnes. Not only will this increase help the nation’s economy, it is also predicted to bring $150 million to South Australia.

Export Prices Boost Citrus Industry

Due to a boost in export prices, citrus growers in Queensland are boosting the numbers of export variety crops.

Despite production levels falling by around 30% in 2016, the prices put a positive spin on the season. The demand, driven by a shortage in supply in both Thailand and China, and a high-quality final product, saw export prices increase towards the end of the year and into 2017. Just recently, a number of growers within Queensland have been working together to come up with brand new strategies for the export market. So far, the results have been largely positive with profitability improving all around.

However, there is a downside to this and this has been the slow market at home. On the domestic market, prices were low and this counterbalanced the success seen elsewhere. According to one citrus grower, the first half of the season was one of the worst on record. Although we can’t quite predict the future of citrus fruits in Australia just yet, many are expecting further decreases this year with a potential fall of 15%. Therefore, it is mixed news for citrus fruits but at least exports are keeping the sector remaining positive.

Source: ABC & Adelaide Now

16 Dec

“Marge, The Grains Are ‘ere”

The ABARES December crop report was released early this month to summarise and assess state crop yields, projections and seasonal conditions. Throughout most cropping areas in Australia the seasonal conditions this year during late winter and spring favoured high yields.

Rainfall:

Above average rainfall was seen across most regions in the eastern states during September. Whilst for most this provided ample soil moisture and ideal conditions for grain development, for others it produced waterlogged crops and a not so ideal growing environment. Across the media, one would assume Western Australia had above average rainfall due to high crop yields, but they had average rainfall. The key was it was well timed and adequate to assist in grain development. However, like the eastern states, some parts of WA were also adversely affected with harsh frosts damaging grain growth.

Rainfall Outlook: December 2016 – February 2017 is predicted to be drier and warmer than average which will assist harvest (Bureau of Meterorology)

Winter Crop Production:

The ABARES have reviewed their September Australian crop report forecasts and now predict that total winter crop production will be 14% higher than originally thought.

  • Forecast total winter crop production: 52.4 million tonnes 
  • Each state has higher production forecasts
  • Total winter crop production is set to rise 32% for the 2016-2017 period

Winter Forecast Productions:

  • Wheat – 35% rise to 32.6 million tonnes (record high)
  • Barley – 24% rise to 10.6 million tonnes (record high)
  • Canola – 22% rise to 3.6 million tonnes (third-highest on record)

Summer Crops:

A rise of 15% is predicted for the total area planted to summer crops totalling 1.4 million hectares during 2016-2017. This is due to increased sub-soil moisture and an increased supply of irrigation water.

  • Area planted to grain sorghum is set to fall 31% to 471,000 hectares in 2016-2017 (lowest in 24 years)
  • Area planted to rice predicted to quadruple to 90,000 hectares, however, this may be restricted due to a late harvest in southern NSW

Summer Crop Forecast Productions:

  • Total summer crop production predicted to increase 21% to 4.6 million tonnes in 2016-2017 period
  • Cotton – 64% rise to ~1.0 million tonnes of cotton lint & ~1.5 million tonnes of cotton seed (forecast numbers is a reflection on predicted doubling of planted area during 2016-2017)
  • Grain sorghum – 29% decrease to ~1.4 million tonnes
  • Rice – 916,000 tonne rise, triple the rise predicted of the last season

Source: ABARES

14 Dec

Tasmania Continues to Build Trading Partnerships with China

Amongst other things, Tasmania has a particular problem with gorse plants becoming a noxious weed and they can normally be seen wherever you turn along the Midland Highway. Over the years, this evergreen has caused many problems for farmers and has spread ever since it first arrived with Europeans. With just 800,000 hectares of land in Tasmania, the infestation is said to have reached 100,000 hectares this year, which is well over 10% of the available land.

As you can see, this is a major problem but two local businessmen believe that they have found the solution by harvesting the gorse and then selling it as fuel to China. Essentially, Mr Boland and Bennett think that it can eventually replace coal for the barbecue market. In China, barbecues are a popular method of cooking and the gorse plants can be harvested before then being converted into biomass fuel.

Already named ‘Gorse Power’, the two say that it is nearly smokeless when burning and are so confident that they are already building a factory at Conara. In total, 20 people will be employed to transform the gorse into ‘barbecue bricks’. As mentioned previously, the supply is almost limitless at the moment and, because it is a marketplace solution, the federal government isn’t going to have to spend millions of dollars just to have the problem solved.

After the gorse bricks have been created, they are predicted to cost less than coal and this green alternative could see interest in China as well as at home. Every year, people are choosing greener alternatives in everything they do and this could be the next step for this. If all goes to plan, the factory is set to be completed in 2018 and exports to China could even begin the same year.

Fresh Milk

For the market within Australia and the economy as a whole, this could be great news but the positives spread even further. On weekly flights, it has been announced that fresh milk will be leaving Tasmania for the Chinese market. Since Van Diemen’s Land Farms (VDL Farms) is owned by the Chinese company ‘Moon Lake Investments’, this plan will see 10 million litres of VAN Milk reach China after leaving Hobart Airport.

At first, this milk will leave once a week but, if the plan proves to be a popular move, could soon be increased to three flights per week. For VDL Farms, this could be a huge deal but it also brings excitement and opportunity to local producers of seafood, vegetables, and fruit. If there is demand for it within China, all parties involved have revealed plans to expand their milk product lines as well as introducing yoghurts and more products for China.

With these two pieces of news, it seems as though the future looks bright for Tasmania and it remains to be seen how successful each idea will be. If they go well, it could mark the beginning of a long and beneficial trading agreement between Tasmania and China.

Source: ABC & ABC