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Analysis and Comment (35)

GM crops are grown without fuss around the world, just not the UK and Europe. GM crops are grown without fuss around the world, just not the UK and Europe. EPA/Shepherd Zhou

GM crops: time to counter the scare stories and relax barriers

Many people, including me, are pretty fed up with the continuing fuss about GM food and crops. Are they too dangerous to eat? Are they a hazard to the environment? Despite a “debate” stretching back to…
Australian farmland is changing hands more often, but data on who is buying and selling is inadequate. Australian farmland is changing hands more often, but data on who is buying and selling is inadequate. Erin Smith

Lost in the paddock: Australia flying blind on farm ownership

The debate about who owns Australia’s farmland is often expressed in crude and narrow ways, and not just on talkback radio. Take last year’s leaders debate at Rooty Hill during the final week of the election…
Patient investors are needed for Australia’s farm sector. Patient investors are needed for Australia’s farm sector. taylr/Flickr

Who will be the next round of investors in Australian farming?

The Victorian Government has a goal of doubling the state’s agricultural production over 20 years. Achieving that will require substantial new investment. A recent report, for example, estimates that Australian…
Tony Abbott may say his government is giving farmers a ‘hand-up’ - as opposed to welfare ‘hand-outs’ - but all publicly funded assistance must be equitable. Tony Abbott may say his government is giving farmers a ‘hand-up’ - as opposed to welfare ‘hand-outs’ - but all publicly funded assistance must be equitable. AAP/Andrew Meares

Farm poverty: an area of policy aid built on sands of ignorance

The drought package announced by prime minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday included “more generous criteria for accessing income support” by drought-affected farmers. Income support is to be paid through…
Even if the farmhouse stays dry, the crops are underwater. Even if the farmhouse stays dry, the crops are underwater. Steve Parsons/PA

Farmers, small businesses and the full cost of the wettest winter

With towns in the south and southwest flooded out, the government has offered £5,000 payments to help homeowners add flood protection to their homes, while small firms will enjoy a cut of a £10m fund to…
What lies beneath this watery landscape? What lies beneath this watery landscape? Steve Parsons/PA

Floods leave farms underwater, and farmers under pressure

I’ve been talking to farmers all this week, many of whom have had their fields underwater for a month or more. It is quite soul destroying to see the natural assets of your business, on which you depend…
GM canola: in the spotlight again. GM canola: in the spotlight again. AAP

WA’s canola case shows GM crops are still being demonised

Once again, genetically modified crops are in the news for all the wrong reasons. In Western Australia’s Supreme Court, organic farmer Steve Marsh is suing his neighbour and fellow farmer Michael Baxter…
Often called “Australia’s most valuable farm”, Cubbie Station in southwest Queensland is now majority foreign-owned. Often called “Australia’s most valuable farm”, Cubbie Station in southwest Queensland is now majority foreign-owned. AAP/Cubbie Group

Old MacDonald sold the farm: so what’s the future for agriculture?

When most Australians think about farmers, one image still springs to mind: a family in Akubras and Blundstones, battling the elements with a Blue Heeler by their side. That’s still the image invoked by…
A far-from-mellow yellow. A far-from-mellow yellow. Owen Humphreys/PA

Revealed: the chemical blitz bees face in fields

Perhaps I was naive, but when I discovered the extent of the chemical soup applied to typical fields I was astonished. As part of our ongoing investigations into the impact of pesticides on bees, we looked…
Keep looking - there’s a new way of farming in there somewhere. Keep looking - there’s a new way of farming in there somewhere. Geoff Caddick/PA

Break agriculture’s chemical monopolies to free our food

Current farming methods rely too much on expensive chemicals such as fertiliser and pesticides; agroecology combines the best of ecological science and farmers’ knowledge to develop more sustainable food…
Insect predators such as this ladybird can control pests just as well as pesticides. Insect predators such as this ladybird can control pests just as well as pesticides. Nancy Schellhorn

The real cost of pesticides in Australia’s food boom

More than A$17 billion worth of crops grown in Australia annually is attributed to agricultural pesticides. That’s a staggering 68% of the A$26 billion industry, according to a recent Deloitte report commissioned…
Profits drive the industry, not sustainability. Profits drive the industry, not sustainability. naturalengland

Pitting profits and food supply against the natural world

The arguments for increasing food demand are well publicised and well understood. By the middle of this century, the planet’s population will top nine billion, presenting a third more mouths to feed. Much…
Has Charles good points to make about the countryside, or is he just stirring it up? Has Charles good points to make about the countryside, or is he just stirring it up? Ben Birchall/PA

Charles: the future king with retro-vision

In this week’s Country Life HRH Prince of Wales writes of the social and economic importance of farming. It is, he says: the bedrock of our rural communities, making post offices, pubs, public transport…
The battle for Warrnambool Cheese and Butter is a vote of confidence in the Australian dairy industry. The battle for Warrnambool Cheese and Butter is a vote of confidence in the Australian dairy industry. Johnsyweb/Flickr

WCB battle and farmer ownership: dairy at a crossroads

The share price of Victorian dairy processor Warrnambool Cheese and Butter (WCB) has more than doubled over recent weeks in response to a takeover tussle between Australian publicly listed company Bega…
When disturbed, badgers' social groups scatter and spread TB more widely. When disturbed, badgers' social groups scatter and spread TB more widely. Ben Birchall/PA

Tuberculosis, tracking devices, and the social lives of badgers

Badgers in the UK are an important wildlife reservoir for bovine tuberculosis, a disease that leads to the slaughter of thousands of cattle each year at a significant cost to the tax payer. But the badger…
Women comprise 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Women comprise 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. CGIAR Climate

Feeding the world: addressing gender divides could help reduce malnutrition

Our modern food system is a double-edged sword: delivering chronic under-nutrition due to shortages of nutritious food, and chronic obesity due to overconsumption. In Australia, we’re living among 60…
Seamus Heaney up close with the local environment. Seamus Heaney up close with the local environment. Burns Library, Boston College

Seamus Heaney - the death of a naturalist

The sudden death on Friday of the Irish Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney has focused international minds and media on the power of poetry to affect our lives. This is especially true from an environmental…
Badgers: they’re not possums. Badgers: they’re not possums. Ben Birchall/PA

Putting farmers in charge may be our best hope to control TB

The precise locations and date of the imminent badger cull are secret, but the aim is clear: to see if marksmen can shoot and kill badgers humanely and efficiently. If so, a wider cull will follow. For…
Plants that breathe nitrogen. Plants that breathe nitrogen. University of Nottingham

Making fertiliser out of thin air will revolutionise agriculture

Each year more than 1 million tonnes of mineral nitrogen fertiliser is applied to arable and grass crops in the UK. This pollutes waterways through nitrate run-off and the atmosphere from the release of…
You don’t need to be Glastonbury’s Michael Eavis to be happy about renweables. You don’t need to be Glastonbury’s Michael Eavis to be happy about renweables. Ben Birchall/PA

Farmers could use land to create power as well as food

One of Britain’s largest independent cheese producers, Wyke Farms in Somerset, picked up a commendation in the BusinessGreen Leaders awards this month for its efforts to become completely energy self-sufficient…
Big farmers win big under agricultural policy, but change is in the air. Big farmers win big under agricultural policy, but change is in the air. Chris Ison/PA

After 50 years, Eurocrats still aren’t sure what the CAP is for

Reforming the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy has never been easy, and that’s hardly surprising. It’s well established that when interests are concentrated together, such as those of farmers…
Diminishing returns. Diminishing returns. Andrew Matthews/PA

Grafting timeless farming skills on to modern techniques

The Green Revolution that began in the 1940s brought modern methods to farming through selective breeding, machinery, and agrochemicals. But 60 years on a new, more sustainable approach is required. Published…
Britain’s best loved mammal, but no friend to cattle farmers. Britain’s best loved mammal, but no friend to cattle farmers. Ben Birchall/PA

Swapping science for shooting won’t save cattle or badgers

What do the pilot badger culls due to start this weekend in Gloucester and West Somerset hope to achieve? The official line is a 16% reduction of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle herds over the next…
New research suggests that seeds could now be formed without the biological process of fertilisation. New research suggests that seeds could now be formed without the biological process of fertilisation. CIMMYT

Seeds without sex – some racy findings on the cloning of plants

Sex without seed. Seed without sex. It’s been said that the greatest gift of science to humankind would be achieving those two goals. Effective contraceptives such as the pill have pretty much nailed the…
Christmas is a time of plenty - but to ensure we keep eating well in the future, it’s time to rethink the way we buy and produce food. Christmas is a time of plenty - but to ensure we keep eating well in the future, it’s time to rethink the way we buy and produce food. Barbeque image from www.shutterstock.com

Eat, think, and be merry

As we gather to share a meal with friends and family this festive season, it is the ideal time to reflect on our relationship with food, including our dependence on those who grow it for us. Australians…
It would be smarter to use perennial native grasses for cereal grains instead of relying on a handful of farming-intensive annual crops. Shown here is Curly Mitchell grass (Astrebla lappacea), common in northern Australia. It would be smarter to use perennial native grasses for cereal grains instead of relying on a handful of farming-intensive annual crops. Shown here is Curly Mitchell grass (Astrebla lappacea), common in northern Australia. Ian Chivers

Splendour in the grass: new approaches to cereal production

Any investment manager will tell an investor to spread risks, to have a diverse portfolio, to engage with many sectors of the local economy, to invest in other parts of the globe, to hedge your bets, a…
How do farmers cope with the cycle of floods and droughts? How do farmers cope with the cycle of floods and droughts? recoverling/Flickr

Drought, flood and a whole lot else: the lived experience of farm households

It has been a summer of flooding for farmers in northeast Victoria and NSW. Reporters talk about the effect on crops, pastures and yields. But what about the effect on farming households? How do they cope…
Indigenous Australians systematically burnt grasslands to reduce fuel and stop fires raging out of control. Indigenous Australians systematically burnt grasslands to reduce fuel and stop fires raging out of control. Flickr/pietroizzo

The biggest estate on earth: how Aborigines made Australia

Aboriginal people worked hard to make plants and animals abundant, convenient and predictable. By distributing plants and associating them in mosaics, then using these to lure and locate animals, Aborigines…
Understandably, farmers get worried when they think their water is under threat. Understandably, farmers get worried when they think their water is under threat. Phil Schubert

CSG conflict – we know what we don’t know, let’s do something about it

There are many good reasons why the general public, and in particular farmers, are concerned about coal seam gas (CSG) extraction. There are major gaps in our knowledge about the future impacts of CSG…
Seventeen Australians have died this year from quad bike accidents, also known as all terrain vehicles or ATVs. Seventeen Australians have died this year from quad bike accidents, also known as all terrain vehicles or ATVs. Flickr/sharkbait

It’s time for quad bike manufacturers to rollover on safety

The tragic quad-biking death of an 11-year-old boy from northwest Victoria on Monday takes the 2011 death toll from all terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents to 17. The boy reportedly died after his ATV overturned…
Smaller farmers face increasing competition and struggle to break into institutional markets. Smaller farmers face increasing competition and struggle to break into institutional markets. AAP

These are dark days for smallholder farmers

Agriculture in Australia is at the crossroads. Not only must smallholder farmers contend with the adverse impacts of global climate change, a strong Australian dollar and greater deregulation in the market…
Livestock may also face mistreatment without leaving Australian shores. Livestock may also face mistreatment without leaving Australian shores. AAP

Live animal export problems begin in our own paddock

Throughout the heated debate around live animal exports over the past week, there has been an implicit assumption that the mistreatment of Australian cattle only ever begins after the animals have left…

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