You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs and you can’t grow food without water – and lots of it. That’s reality. But fashion dictates that farmers pretend otherwise.
Consider the ‘Rice and the Environment’ page at the Ricegrower’s Association of Australia website. It says that the rice industry was “the first to initiate a project to return water to the environment through the Living Murray initiative, delivering more than 12,000 megalitres to the river system.”
Why is an industry that is so totally dependent on the availability of water boasting that its given water back to the environment?
Imagine if West Australian mining giant Ghina Rhinehart, said she was giving back Iron Ore to mother earth? We don’t expert Ms Rhinehard to give back Iron Ore, we expert her to mine it and sell it to China. So, why do we expect farmers to give back water and to a river system that is either in chronic drought or flood?
Unlike Iron Ore, water is a renewable resource that literally falls from the sky. Furthermore its not as though food is a luxury item, it’s a necessity of life.
Instead of Australian farmers boasting about how much food they produce from so little water under either drought or flood conditions, much of their publicity seems an apology for using any water at all.
Rice growers have given back much more than 12 gigalitres over the years. We could argue over the figures. But in reality, in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide, few would know (or even care) if there was a difference between 1000 megalitres and one gigalitre. And at issues is not how much water is given back, but that farmers take any at all.
Rather than pretending farming is an environmentally friendly activity I reckon farm associations should try some reverse psychology and be less hypocritical.
For example, what about the following slogan:
“The more water a farmer is allocated the more food she will grow. Sorry.”
The sentiment could be extended beyond water issues to, “Wheat doesn’t grow in forests. Sorry.”
I like, “Farming is a dirty business. Sorry.”
Just because it’s currently unfashionable to be a farmer doesn’t mean it has to be. Fashion is subversive. Dirty could be the new black.
This is the unedited version of a column first published in The Land on October 27, 2011, page 12 with the title ‘Time to Stop Apologising’.