The Future for Agriculture and Rural Communities

September 7, 2009

When it was established five years ago Bingara and District VISION 20/20 determined to be a representative group across the full spectrum of our rural community.

Agriculture is a key component of our community. It has been the back bone industry for Bingara and District and may well remain so for many years to come.

Its ongoing success will depend upon the ability of its participants, and those that provide services from within our community, to adapt. The following article, prepared by V2020 Vice President, Garry McDouall, outlines a view of the current situation and the preparations that will be needed for successful transition.

The future of rural communities (particularly small communities) is closely linked to the future of agriculture, and as citizens of such a community we should be vitally interested in what the future holds for the agricultural businesses that our community services.

Farmers everywhere face significant challenges.  Declining terms of trade for most rural commodities are making many farms unprofitable.   A lot of farm businesses are now being supported by strong land prices that allow them to carry increasing levels of debt.  Input costs continue to rise, and the global economic situation is by no means stabilised.

Many other changes are happening which guarantee that the farm (and the farmer) of the future will be very different from the farm of today.   Climate change, peak oil, increased world population, declining supplies of agriculture land and intense debate about carbon emissions and sequestration have all become front page news in the past five years.  

There is less and less agreement amongst farmers (and scientists) about what is ‘good’ agriculture; a drive across the district thirty years ago would have revealed broadly similar production methods throughout the shire.   Today, soil biologists are creating a new generation of ideas about soil management and composting whilst international corporations are promoting GM crops and other ‘hi-tech’ innovations. 

On a local level there is increasing interest in changing pasture management and techniques like pasture cropping.   Consumers are also asking for a share of the action, and are questioning methods of production.  Farmers themselves are increasingly confused and divided about their own future.

There will be other changes that no one has thought of yet.   We can make educated guesses about the impact of all these things, but there are only two guarantees – that change will occur, and that it will be increasingly rapid.

Many of us are hard wired to resist change. We like the status quo.   We often try to pretend to ourselves that change is not happening, or that it is only temporary and things will go back to “normal” very soon.   The businesses, farmers – and those in towns – that will be successful over the next twenty years are those that anticipate change and look for the opportunities that arise from it. 

Twenty years ago Europe was just emerging from Communism, China had not become an economic powerhouse, the Internet was still little more than a concept, climate change was unheard of and the Roxy Theatre was empty.

There is a saying that we don’t always get what we want, but we nearly always get what we anticipate. Our challenge is to change our focus, to focus on the future and to anticipate opportunities which will arise from change.

It is tempting to think that some of the challenges that face the world are so overwhelming that we cannot possibly do anything about them. Nothing could be further from the truth. As farmers we have a unique responsibility for our patch of the world, and each of us has a magnificent opportunity to participate in change.  The same applies to all aspects of our rural communities.  Rural communities can change themselves to deal with the new world, or they can bury their collective heads in the sand and hope that change will go away.

The Vision for Bingara & District contains many integrated ideas showing how our community can keep pace in a time of rapid change.  It requires commitment, passion (and they go together) and coordination.  We can still acknowledge our differences, but we cannot afford to waste time or resources by being divided.
 …and we do not have time to waste, because change is upon us now.

…as always Bingara and District Vision 20/20 welcomes comment and feedback on this article, and any of the projects that it supports.