A Perfect Storm
No doubt many of you have seen the 2000 feature film Perfect Storm A twitter friend @coreyblacksell said to me when I explained our now situation, “you have a perfect storm happening Ann” Wikipedia tells us all about it and gives a definition –
A “perfect storm” is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.
We who live in marginal country plan for dry years. We know that many things can happen that will frustrate the smooth running of our property. All farmers know that and they plan accordingly and they have contingency plans in place for most of the things that can come out of left field and make your life miserable. At the end of 2011, going into 2012, we had plenty of standing dry feed for our cattle. If we start receiving early storms in November it means a great start to the wet season. To be a farmer you need to be an optimist and so we were asking ourselves ‘would it be too much to ask for a fourth good season in a row?’ It seemed highly unlikely, but we had our fingers and toes crossed.
The rain never came.
Instead of rain we got heat, extreme heat, weeks of 45C and above on the thermometer, a few days it actually hit 48C in the shade – that’s about 118F in the old scale. To put that into perspective, our body temperatures are 37C and when we run a hot bath it is usually at 40C, so yes indeed, we were feeling the heat! With this heat came the hot winds and being outside in the wind was like being in a furnace. Our wonderful dry feed was not only having the goodness sapped out of it with heat, it was being dried to a crisp by the wind and then blown away. It was then that we realised we were now in the middle of a so called “perfect storm”, with a set of circumstances that would wreak havoc, not only with us and the running of Goodwood, but across great swathes of rural Australia.
This “perfect storm” was whipped up on the 30th May 2011 and its formation had nothing to do with the weather. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (our ABC) program Four Corners aired A Bloody Business which was an expose of animal cruelty in an Indonesian abattoir. There is absolutely no denying that the footage on Four Corners showed absolute cruelty. I have never heard anyone say any different. Anyone who treated livestock that way would not last in our industry – they would be sacked and mocked and probably charged too. Rick and I were totally distressed watching it.
However, something then happened that no-one could have predicted. On 7th June, the then Agricultural Minister of Australia Joe Ludwig, against strong departmental advice and with absolutely no consultation with any Agricultural Industries, placed a ban on all live exports. It will go down in history as one of the most obvious and probably the worst knee jerk decisions ever made by an Australian Federal government. The Federal government reacted to a television program, supported by very noisy and vocal animal rights groups and so stopped an important trade between Australia and Indonesia. The fallout from this ban has been incredible.
The ban was only in place for a month, but the damage was done. If you drew a line from Perth to Townsville, all livestock producers above it were either directly or indirectly affected by the ban. Since then, as other factors have come into play, making this a perfect storm, Australia’s entire livestock sector has been affected. Considering this area mentioned has many small towns the connections between towns and properties is strong re not only source of services but employment as well. So the flow on affect didn’t restrict itself to producers, but a domino effect to all connected to the cattle industry: truck drivers, helicopter pilots, vets, tyre supplies, mechanics, schools, grocery stores, petrol stations. (in other words whole communities)
At the moment when Ludwig put the ban in place, there were cattle in station yards all over the NT and WA, ready to be trucked to ports for export and there were cattle in port yards ready to be loaded onto ships for export. The timing of the airing by Four Corners of the animal cruelty footage and the subsequent ban on live exports could not have come at a worst time. For those fortunate enough to have had one, the wet season was over and the country had dried enough to allow a start to mustering, with cattle at just the right weight for export. The ban threw out the carefully constructed diclofenac generic for what management plans on station properties across the top of Australia. The cattle designated for export, but now banned from leaving Australia, would not only be forced to compete for feed and water with other cattle, but they would gain weight, making them, due to regulations, too heavy to export.
At Goodwood, we have only ever exported one truckload of cattle, we don’t rely on the live export trade, but a large percentage of the NT and WA and the top end/coastal fringe of Qld does. These innocent people, who had done nothing wrong, but built up sustainable businesses out of some of the most arid country in the world, who provided protein, who supported local communities and who also provided work opportunities to our closest neighbour, Indonesia, had their whole world pulled out from under them overnight. Not just cattle producers but sheep/goat/buffalo producers as well were victims of the export ban.
Thousands of cattle that couldn’t be exported started coming into Qld from dry and overstocked properties further north and from the Northern Territory, saturating our saleyards. Record numbers of cattle were being sold in auctions weekly across Queensland in an oversupplied buyer’s market, driving prices lower and lower. I know of farmers who knew they wouldn’t get enough money from the sale of their cattle to cover costs of the sale, but they preferred to do that than have to shoot them.
I don’t suppose it would have ever occurred to those in power, in Canberra, that the increased road activity that resulted from the live export ban would put enormous pressure onto local councils to maintain roads to a safe standard under the weight of massive road trains going through various shires. It did and it strained the resources of already cash strapped shire governments.
Queensland didn’t get a wet season in 2012/13. North Queensland experienced massive bushfires that added to the financial and emotional distress of graziers and one North Queensland Shire put out a call for emergency assistance. It was all part of this “perfect storm” that we are still living through today.
Straight after the airing of “A Bloody Business” my need to contact and help my fellow cattle industry people saw me turn to social media, starting with Facebook. My pent up anger, frustration, my own sense of helplessness and hopelessness, my want to protect my colleagues’ while they tried to keep their heads above water, added up to hours of debating with ill-informed animal rights activists, on pages dedicated to the Live Export issue. These activists are the ones Agriculture Minister Jo Ludwig listened to above the voice of our industry and the damage that resulted has been quite extraordinary, measured financially, socially and emotionally. It has taken a heavy toll on so many people.
I have found, via social media that most hard core animal rights activists will never change their minds, they are vegans, who don’t believe anyone should eat meat, and their true agenda is to shut down animal farming. They are intolerant and vociferous and sometimes very vicious. There were a few times on social media when I would meet a genuine person who truly wanted to hear the farmers’ side of the issue. They may not have agreed totally, but they were polite enough to listen and had a better understanding of the whole Live Export issue in the end. I also learnt just how much emotional propaganda is being pushed into the homes of people who are so far removed from my farm gate and the way their food is produced. The innocence and total lack of understanding about farming is played on by animal activists who very professionally use PR and media campaigns to peddle their agenda. The result has been a very misinformed 5-6 generation gap in Australia that is lacking knowledge of farming.
Thanks to social media I have not only learnt so much about the Live Export industry, but I have become good friends with people involved in the industry and who have been badly hurt. One whom I have come to know very well and whom I admire greatly is Jo Bloomfield, who lives on a cattle station in the Roper River region of the Northern Territory. Her wisdom is obvious in her blogs, which are alive with facts and figures about her industry. How she manages to research so much while striving to keep her business alive is quite amazing. May I suggest you visit her blog and read her very good analysis on the Effect of Live animal export on the Australian National herd Like me, Jo has been surprised at the “…misinformation and lack of understanding of agricultural activities that the general population have…” in regards to Australia’s north. It is something we, as an industry, have to address.