I often contemplate what it takes to be a farmer in 2017, and how that contrasts with my grandfather’s time when he was farming in Southern England, and then later as a market gardener in the outer reaches of a then much-smaller Melbourne.
I used to listen to his and my mother’s stories of what life was like back then: the horse and cart, most of the ploughing also undertaken by brute horsepower, the emphasis on fresh vegetables and getting them to Melbourne market early to get the best prices.
I even have a photo of my grandfather stacking hay on a haystack that is as tall as a two-storey building, all by horse and hand.
Many people have a romantic view of those times, but after listening to the stories – the trials and tribulations of farming then – I am not sure that those views stack up.
That said, many other things back then were easier, not harder. For a start people understood that without farmers there would be no food.
They also had a fundamental understanding of how hard it was to farm, and as a result, farmers in general were held in high regard.
The amount of regulation was far less, so farming in that context was so much easier to undertake than it is today. Sadly, production was not at today’s high levels and earning a decent income was not so simple.
Fast forward 70 or 80 years and ask how we fare now. We know that making a decent living from farming is no easier, certainly many would say so much harder.
Regulation on the sector is out of control, with nearly every aspect of a farm business regulated and controlled, often by individuals who have no understanding of farming today.
We constantly struggle with changing markets, disruptive technology, and the old adage that farmers are usually price takers not price makers remains true.
The ever-present risk that is the weather is compounded by what is now recognised as a perverse and changing climate. When we look at the CSIRO report into weather patterns for Tasmania over the next 10 or so years, we see that traditional farming areas of the state will struggle while others will flourish. Finding strategies to adapt and mitigate these risks is a near constant challenge.
The most disturbing difference, though, is the way people seem to have forgotten the importance of farmers and what they do. This is made even more so when we realise that, now more than any time in human history, the importance of food and those who produce it should be understood and acknowledged, for without them there is no tomorrow.
Finally, the one thing that has not changed is the connection that all farmers – then and now – have with the soil and the environment.
Environmentalism is not new; farmers have been doing it for millennia. Now, as in the past, we have one thing in common and that is our desire and pride in producing food.
People seem to have forgotten the importance of farmers and what they do.Peter Skillern