Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ostrich strategy still popular in Agricultural Industry Leadership

NSW Farmers Association Board Director Louise Burge took us aside one day in 2006 when we were about to address a group of landholders at Cobar and said, "You don't know what you are dealing with." Pretty positive way to start. She meant we were ignorant of the methane and nitrous oxide issues, the dark side of the soil carbon equation. And she was right: we were. But not for long. And when we understood the size of the downside, we believed even more in the need to win the right for farmers to trade in their soil carbon. What alternative is there: face the methane and nitrous oxide liability without offsets? Louise led us to believe that if we made a fuss about soil carbon, the Government would notice us. We would draw attention to agriculture and its emissions. It is the ostrich strategy. I thought it couldn't have been that blatant, that I must have misunderstood her. But in The Land this week there she is, still pushing the ostrich solution. "Proponents of carbon credits schemes are responding to perceived opportunities, perhaps without fully considering the carbon liabilities that will apply to agriculture." The Climate Change denialists, who dominated the debates for so long in agriculture, left the way clear for the Government to do whatever they want with Agriculture because as an industry we weren't at the negotiating table. The whole industry didn't turn up. They didn't get it. And the leadership so comprehensively failed the membership that they should resign en masse with an apology. Even today, they refuse to engage with the issues: "It is hard to see how the quantities of emissions now attributed to agriculture by the Federal Government can be offset by carbon storage in soils or in trees along the edges of paddocks." It's hard to see if you don't look. If, instead of seeking to block the soil carbon message and undermine us for three years, these people got behind the campaign and we got some real science behind the rate of growth and the tonnages possible that we know are possible, they would not be reduced to the traditional 'poor bugger me' defence. That worked when agriculture was a political force. But The Nationals are reduced to the clowning self promotion of Barnaby Joyce who gets the nod from John Hewson in the Australian Financial Review last Friday. Both Barnaby and Louise have got to face facts: there will be some form of carbon trade in permits or a tax - we have to pay. Penny Wong's people have told us agriculture will be covered one way or the other. I can't see the Nationals winning Government anytime in the next 100 years and reversing history. So, given that, why not try to get a fair deal for farmers? Why do they want to leave farmers exposed by opposing soil carbon credits? What is their motivation? Who benefits? (John Hewson's article is a gem. Whoever briefed him has our gratitude. You did a good job.)

PS. Jock Laurie, President of NSW Farmers, was the first prominent leader to endorse our campaign.

No comments: