Jan 30, 2016

Behind the corporate takeover of Australian agricultural land and farms

As the demand for Australian farm products skyrockets in Asia, corporate Australia is buying up drought-crippled but viable rural properties at bargain prices.
Conservative federal MP Bob Katter proposed legislation late last year that would force banks to allow farmers two years to sell foreclosed properties instead of forcing 6-week fire sales. Katter cited sources in the agricultural industry on forced bank sales, saying that with only two months to sell, a farmer would be lucky to get 40% of market value for their property, but with two years to sell a farmer could expect to obtain 80% of market value.
The legislation would also stop banks imposing confidentiality agreements that allow them to bully their victims with a range of dirty tricks, now being investigated by a Senate banking inquiry.
Action is being mounted in the Federal Court alleging that ANZ forced farmers into “engineered defaults” and entrapped them into signing changed loan contracts when it bought out the loan book of the Landmark group in 2009.
This corporate bullying has a terrible social cost. Lifeline figures show that when a severe drought hits a rural community and financial and emotional stress levels climb, suicide rates increase sixfold.
A new Rural Bank
A record 86% of Queensland is now drought-declared, following three failed wet seasons. Many farmers are without the funds to re-stock their properties when the drought breaks. It is in this context that the banks are forcing foreclosures of properties that have not defaulted on mortgage payments and selling them at only 40% of market value.
There is a dire need for a government with vision to re-establish a Rural Bank to offer long-term loans at 2% interest and cheap farm insurance to viable, sustainable rural businesses, so that farmers and their communities can continue to produce clean affordable food, manage the Australian landscape to minimise bushfires and keep our water catchments clean.

Jan 23, 2016

Sustainable Australian agriculture under corporate attack from mining, banks and agribusinesses

A new wave of land grabbing is turning farmland into industrial monocultures.
In the past few years, private investors backed by corporate interests such as global banks, financial firms, hedge funds and food giants have bought a huge amount of farmland across the global South.
Oxfam's 2012 Our Land, Our Lives report on land grabbing said foreign investors had bought enough land in the past decade to feed 1 billion people. Oxfam singled out the World Bank, which has boosted its finance of intensive, large-scale agriculture in the global South from $2.5 billion a year in 2008 to $9.5 billion in November 2012.
The World Bank refused Oxfam's call to put a freeze on its loans to land grabbers, saying its investments were not adding to the food crisis, but providing “major new investment in agriculture to improve the productivity of large and small farmers while protecting the environment”.
However these investments are being used by corporations to buy up prime food-producing land, just as free trade treaties come into play that will allow them to sue governments that affect their profits by attempting to regulate their use of that land.
As at least two-thirds of the land grabbers intend to “export everything they produce”, Oxfam said these business plans “will come into direct conflict with the need for more land to feed a growing global population”. Most firms that take the World Bank's money use the land to produce biofuels to feed cars, or commodities to sell on overseas markets.
Researchers Shepard Daniel and Anuradha Mittall said in a 2009 study: “Not only does land grabbing mean that farmers will lose their land, but these lands will be transformed from smallholdings or communal lands into large industrial estates connected to far-off markets.”
The new wave of land grabbing is also turning the farmland into industrial monocultures, which rely heavily on chemical inputs and produce huge greenhouse gas emissions.

Jan 16, 2016

Ruminants and methane: Not the fault of the animals

Cattle and sheep are blamed for contributing to greenhouse gases, belching out methane, and farmers in the future are likely to be taxed because of it.
The recent Green Left Weekly climate change liftout [issue #1078] calls for a drastic reduction in sheep and cattle numbers. There is a TV advertisement, urging people to “go vego to save the planet”. This is a gross misunderstanding of the ruminant carbon cycle.
Ruminants have always emitted methane; it is not something new. Huge herds of wild buffalo, cattle, goats, sheep, deer, cameloids and wildebeest have grazed the grasslands of the world for millions of years. The American prairies once supported greater numbers of bison than they now do cattle, despite the intensive corn and soy production that feeds them.
Methane emissions from wild ruminants was never a problem because nature does not permit waste — the methane was used as food for methanotrophic bacteria in the soil and neutralised. It was never a problem until agricultural practices started destroying these methanotrophic bacteria, which are very sensitive to chemical fertilisers and herbicides. These bacteria reactivate in biologically managed soil.
However, methane is not the whole picture. When the contribution of livestock to soil carbon sequestration is taken into account it is easy to see that ruminants do not increase greenhouse gases if they are managed well.
Grassland soils are the greatest sequesters of carbon — greater than forests. In the top one metre of soils in temperate grasslands there is an average of 236 tonnes of carbon, compared to 96 in temperate forest soils and 80 in cropland.