We often hear about how different agriculture is in other parts of the world and as Australian farmers, it’s important to keep an eye on the bigger global picture as we plan for our businesses into the future.
While spending five weeks travelling throughout Europe, I took the opportunity to get my boots dirty and learn about some of the different technologies and practices in place. Here are some general observations and reflections.
Australia isn’t the only world leader in creating and adopting new technologies to produce sustainable and economically viable agricultural products.
Flower businesses in the Netherlands are using the reliable warmth of glasshouses during the crisp northern winters to grow plants year-round in a closed-loop system.
Water is heated on site with gas burners to ensure a constant temperature and the resultant carbon dioxide is then fed back into the greenhouse to produce a more efficient and sustainable flower.
Natural crop protection agents are then used for an exclusively green product of high quality and yield. The scale was also impressive, with one grower producing 42 million chrysanthemum stems annually and another 16 million flowering pot roses.
If supply and demand is any indication of the success of an industry, a visit to the Royal FloraHolland auction house was telling. With millions of flowers and plants covering 36 hectares, it’s the largest marketplace in the world. It has an annual turnover of more than €4.6 billion ($7.5 billion) per year and sells more than 12.5 billion bunches annually – more than half of the world’s cut flowers. And it has been doing this for over 100 years.
Unlike Australian farmers, who are among the least subsidised in the world, the European Union provides direct support, and funds market measures and rural development. However, with this comes government intervention. For example, pig farmers must have expensive high-tech air filters built into their piggeries to eliminate odours and dairy farmers must have a €10,000 ($16,300) permit for every cow which acts as a methane tax and while herds are housed. The government also stipulates they must be free to go out to grass and it likes to see 70 per cent lying down, as that equates to happy cows!
Glyphosate was recently cleared for use in the EU for another five years, but its use is regulated by how much farmers can use per hectare annually. Fertilisers are also restricted, with farmers only able to buy a certain amount for each hectare of land used. With higher population and lower land area, leasing land costs between €800 and €3000 ($1300 - $4900) per hectare depending on the soil quality, with land itself costing €100,000 ($163,000) per hectare or more.
While European farmers are highly subsidised – as high as over 50pc in Norway – subsidies allow governments to have unreasonable influence on farmers and their businesses. So much so that millions of hectares are set aside to produce alternative crops with governments subsidising the process.
In short, we live in a great country with minimal government interference. To keep it that way we need to keep improving how we produce food, fibre and foliage, and increasingly fuel. Farmers are true environmental stewards and we need to be increasingly passionate about keeping our land and businesses sustainable for the future generations.