Food production & and the environment; where do we strike a balance?

Went to a meeting of Pennsylvania aquaculture farmers today and was witness to the growing burden of regulation required by farmers to operate – a permit and testing cost to return water back to stream. Farmers are not against a permit or audits but the regulation imposed on them will require expensive weekly testing of ph & dissolved oxygen at a minimum costs of $5000pa. The kicker? Well it has never been suggested that this water has any significant effect on the environment (remember it was used to grow healthy fish – trout in most cases). The question is where does the balance between the long term production of food and environmental conservation lie? As one farmer put it ‘people and the government want farms but do not want us to grow anything – it seems the future of farming in America is to pay farmers $100,000 a year to do nothing and then import all our food’.

I believe we face a similar situation in Australia in all aspects of primary food production- the banning of the Margis ‘super trawler’ is an example. Our awareness and care for the environment is laudable however if Australians expect to buy and enjoy fresh fish in the future; someone has to go fishing? and the case of the aquaculture and agriculture, someone has to grow it, somewhere?

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Goodbye France, Hello Washington!

We had two full on days meeting with political Staffers, the US department of Agriculture, American Farm Bureau Federation and some speakers from Walmart and Mondelez foods (Kraft foods). We toured Capital Hill the house and the Senate and I now have a good handle on the structure of the American political system. The up-coming Election was a hot topic as well as its effect on the US Farm Bill. this Bill detailing the revised structure of US farm subsidies and crop insurance has been waiting in the wings for two years to be passed . The lame duck session following the Election (December to February ) could see it through of sent it back to the drawing board. Also did abit of sightseeing include drinks and molluscs at Hanks Oyster Bar!

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French Wrap Up

I really loved France .. The food was definitely a highlight and we also found the farmers extremely friendly and welcoming. We meet with and hung out with 6 French Nuffield farmers. Although these farmers benefit from a sophisticated french food market and government subsidies (called un-coupled payments) they also have to operate in a extremely regulated and highly bureaucratic environment – 5 levels of government? For these switched on and entrepreneurial farmers it can be extremely frustrating.. Makes be think we have it pretty good back home … But we need to keep it that way!

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Happy Chooks

Visited a free range chicken farm in France. The farmer Anthony grows under the geographical indicator of Bresse. This requires the birds to be grown free range in barns and can only be feed locally grown corn (he grows his own). It takes 5 months to get these birds to market and receives a premium almost double that of non- Bresse free range (15€/bird).

I was a very neat and tidy little set up, actually not that little as Anthony manages 22 barns producing 18000 birds by himself. About 500 birds live in a barn – this barn is situated in a paddock and the barn is moved after batch. They are not fenced in but the birds only ever seem to roam further then 50 metres from the safety of their home. They were very happy chooks!!
(Although at a 5 month grow-out you will not see these chooks use for KFC)

Oh yeah Anthony had Christmas turkeys too..

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Visit to a Medieval town

This was friggen cool just like out a Medieval movie, sitting on a hill overlooking the country side it dates back to the 1200s. Complete with cobblestone streets, gated entry’s, a watch tower and a fortified Church. I could imagine myself and my knights cantering through the gate – my horses hooves slipping on the cobblestones, sword drawn and bloodied, my horse then rearing – ‘bar the gates – man the walls, we have riders at our backs!’ kinda stuff.

Actually this fortified town at some time successfully fended off attack from some scoundrels ( apologies but all the info was written in french) and was rewarded with 20 years free of taxes from the King – the inhabitants of the town consequently became quite wealthy..nice work Lord Ewan!

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Paris and SE France

Touch down in gay Parie!! It was actually cold and raining :( we had a meeting with the Head of Agriculture for the OECD and the Agricultural advisor for New Zealand. Then headed off to se the sights – Notre Dame, the Effiel Tower plus some other things… But it wasn’t till we headed out into the country side that it became really enjoyable…

Caught the bullet train to Geneve and in true Nuffield Style dropped into the World Trade Organization for a chat.. As we know the Doha round of negotiations have been dragging on for 12 years, but they are happy that the talks keep dialogue open between 157 countries including the big emerging economies- China, India, Brazil…. Anyway we then bused back to france and through the beautiful French countryside to visit a winery oh la la! This was fun!

While we were sipping wine Eric the owner founder explained the wine appellation – a defined region that meets a set of criteria and is measured in geology, environment, history and culture and it protects the brand value of provenance ie champagne is only champagne if it is grown the Champagne area under very specific criteria.

France has appellations for a heap wines and soon to introduce it for cheeses.. This is terrific for brand protection but would be frustrating if you were an entrepreneur.

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Turkey!

Istanbul was our Nuffield pit stop. 4 days with no farms or meetings. We did some shopping, visited Gallipoli and basically hung out.

I had a Turkish bath – it involved lying on a concrete slab and being scrubbed and lathered by a hairy turkish bloke – it was quite good, like being in a car wash although I would have preferred a girl in a white T-shirt and cutoffs :) )

The Gallipoli tour was gold especially because we got a really passionate and educated Turkish guide. He gave as well rounded view from the ANZAC and turkish side plus dispelled a few myths. Like that the ANZACs actually landed in the right spot – it was consistent with there orders and gave them the best chance to succeed – unfortunately they were going to have a hard time if it anyway.

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Ukraine (where the cowboys still roam)

‘I was hungry for opportunity – despite the challenges of the Ukraine business opportunities are easier to find and implement compared to the highly competitive & tough markets of developed countries’
Johan – founder and Director of Chumark – a large swedish owned condiment company.

We traveled to Ukraine because it is renown for its fertile black-sea soils – evident kilometer after kilometer as we drive from Kiev to Odessa. Ukraine like india is a big agricultural producer with plenty of more potential to increase production. It is also a new capital economy – with a burgeoning consumer market.

However as we travel and talked to farm and business owners it became evident that poor governance and serious corruption was a serious hinderance to development. As a result there is zero access to credit for locals and a lack of land tenure for foreign investment – to succeed you have to know the right people and have deep pockets.

I was in awe of the business owners we meet who have prospered in this environment – they tended to have a good handle on the language, be hardheaded negotiators, adept politicians and like Johan they enjoyed the game.

Is there a market for oysters & oyster bars in Ukraine – absolutely! but it would not be business as we we know it. It would be an adventure for sure. Kass a Dutch farmer sums it up ‘ doing business in Ukraine is like continual chaos – it is very risky but of course there is great reward’

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Ukraine travel log: Day 3

Kiev was a pretty happening place – heaps of shopping and restaurants – plus a Oyster Bar – first for the trip. I chatted to the owner Julie – she had a badass set up! We tried two types of French Oysters and they were very good – very fresh. Julie was definitely enjoying being a bar owner – wearing aviators at 930 at night??

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Chernobyl (2)

Similarly the abandoned city of Chernobyl was like a scene from an apocalyptic /zombie movie. Abandoned in hours – crumbling and nature taking it back.

We were given dosimeters (like a geiger counter) to measure radiation – they would click rapidly and eventually beep in alarm whenever we approached items of high radiation – for example a hydraulic claw used in the clean up around the reactor and a site outside a school were someone had washed down a contaminated truck – still set the alarm off after 26 years..

But don’t worry we were assured by Sergio that our 8 hour trip to chernobyl only had the radiation exposure equivalent to a 20 hour trip in an Airplane. However (near the end of the tour) he then admitted that he PERSONALLY didn’t believe in any effects of short term radiation exposure. so even if we had been exposured to higher levels then expected it was ‘no problem’ great!

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