STORIES FROM THE BUSH

Lynn Takayama
Retired

The grass is green, and there’s plenty of it. The flora (including the weeds, sigh!) are healthy and growing apace. In the month of December we had 170ml of rain — that’s as much as we’d had altogether in the previous six months.

The transformation of the countryside was startling. Within a couple of weeks our place went from a harsh, dry, dead-grassed place to a lush, verdant valley dressed in its Sunday best. The river is running again, the dams are full and there’s an aura of hope and optimism in the air.

The optimism can be felt in the whole community, which seems to have a spring in its step. This is the flow-on effect — good times for farmers equals good times for the rest of the community.

Suddenly, the price of beef cattle has soared and those of us who were able to hold on to stock have been able to reap the benefit.

For the uninitiated — of whom I was one until three years ago — during drought graziers often have to sell stock because of lack of feed, therefore because the market is flooded and the supply/demand principle kicks in, the price of stock goes down and the vendor suffers.

Then, once the weather breaks and the feed reserves (grasses) bulk up again, the price of stock rises and the vendor benefits. The price of stock now is better (from the vendor’s perspective) than it has been for quite some time.

By the by, here’s a bit of anthropomorphic sexism for all those feminists out there: steers (castrated male calves) consistently sell for significantly more per kilo than heifer (female) calves. The buyers (butchers, feed-lotters, etc.) say that steers have more usable meat, although butchers and others in The Know say that heifer meat is tastier.

I think most people buy meat without the slightest consideration of whether it’s from a male or female animal and there’s no differentiation in the cost at retail outlets and that this crude sexism is imposed for some fundamental misogynist reason. I have no evidence for this so if anyone feels like using energy to get in high dudgeon about my proposition, well, good for you.

In the meantime, I’m currently harvesting tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, beans, cucumbers and the odd zucchini or two. To say nothing of the five different chilli varieties that are fruiting and the herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, as well as basil, dill, chervil. I don’t want to bore you so I won’t go on. Suffice to say, summer’s well and truly here and it’s productive.

Speaking of agriculture and its vulnerability to weather, at the end of last year I wrote a submission to the Federal Government’s Green Paper on Agricultural Competitiveness.

If one wanted evidence that this government’s policies are squarely rooted in the mid-20th century that Green Paper is one to read. This is a Paper of more than 160 pages that does not once mention climate change. Can you believe it? A forerunner to federal agricultural policy concerning an industry in the frontline of the effects of climate change, and not one mention of it.

“Climate variability” is mentioned a couple of occasions but we know this to be conservative code for “there’s no such thing as ‘climate change’ because the climate has always changed and the concept that human activity has anything to do with it is a left-wing conspiracy put out there to frighten the ignorant”.

So, aside from its disgraceful education policy whereby the rich rob from the poor, this government’s intended agriculture policy ignores climate science and instead harangues farmers into, among other things, risk-managing for “climate variability”.

One risk management strategy suggestion is to take out insurance! The insurance conglomerates probably lobbied hard to have that bit put into the Paper.

I could say heaps about insurance but I’ll limit myself to just one thing: in the last year our insurance premium would have increased by more than 100 per cent, if we had chosen to take out flood insurance — insurance being, as I said, a risk management strategy expounded by this government in its Agriculture Green Paper.

We have a very small grazing operation here and we pay around $6,000 per year for our farm insurance package. The cost to add flood insurance to that package was over $13,000. That’s a monumental amount for anyone to manage.

It seemed a mind-boggling slap in the face to have a government propounding insurance as a protection against the effects of climate change (more severe and more regular floods, droughts, bushfires, cyclones etc.) when its own policy of inaction has to be held accountable for the continuing danger posed by the changes.

The government should be expected to bear at least some of the cost of mitigation rather than proposing that individuals pay exorbitant insurance premiums.

Fortunately, in this life rich with experiences of nature at its best and worst and the contentment of a simple daily routine and comfortable, quiet relationships between us and with our animals, such aggravations of stupid government policy fail to disturb our equilibrium.

In the meantime, this year we have a goodly number of very good-looking calves on the ground. It’s a better-looking mob than last year’s because, the Cowboy tells me, the mothers are physically more mature and more experienced in the fine art of motherhood.

And we are getting better at managing our herd and the other many and varied aspects of life in this far-from-the-madding-crowd lifestyle of ours.