An Open Letter to Australian Farmers

19 August, 2012

Dear Australian Farmers,

My name is Kim Downs. I am one of the administrators of The Greenbank Mozzie, along with my wife, Liz Hall-Downs.   Weary of being misrepresented in the press as ‘anti-farm’ and one who would seek to ‘attack’ farmers, I would like to state categorically at the outset that anyone who misrepresents me like this is spreading malicious gossip.

My grandfather on my father’s side was a farmer in Texas and Oklahoma during the terrible years of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  That was my father’s childhood. My mother’s father was also a farmer, as were several of their sons – my uncles.  I, myself, have never farmed on a commercial scale, though I have worked on several farms  in my youth in California.  In my nearly sixty years, I have had occasion to meet scores of farmers in Australia, America, and even France.  I can say – with my hand on my heart – that I have liked and admired 99 per cent of farmers that I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  That is why I take great offence at being cast as ‘anti-farmer’.

I understand that it is difficult to get a clear picture of the cut of a man’s jib simply be reading a letter.  This is not the place for a potted biography, so I will press ahead to more urgent matters.  But I will say this.  I have always admired Ghandi for his forthright and dogged pursuit of the truth.  Pursuit of the truth as a lifelong mission and a sort of ‘religious calling’ is a rare bird indeed.

Now I’m going to cut to the chase. Liz and I moved to Greenbank in 2000.  We bought a beautiful 9.3 acre patch of dry schlerophyll forest that no one had ever occupied previous to us.  As an owner-builder, I have built our house from scratch.  Initially, we noticed the various farms already established in the area.  We were happy to see the little open-field farms on 5-10 acre blocks as they were the sort of amenity we like to have nearby.  We were less impressed with the igloo-style hydroponic farms as we felt they were visually ugly and not in keeping with the surrounds.  Nevertheless, we blithely accepted that they had already been legally established and were – at that point – prepared to accept the status quo.

Over the last twelve years I have undergone a steep learning curve with respect to ‘farming’ in this area, and my views have changed considerably.

Before I began to educate myself about the sundry government bodies and regulations surrounding the farming industry, I really had no idea about such issues as ‘buffer zones’, spray drift affecting non-targeted species,  droplet size, and so on.  Even an average urbanite who has never seen a cow would understand that a buffer zone of some description is needed between crops being sprayed and nearby residents.  I had never pondered this matter in depth until it became a personal issue.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority is the Federal Government body responsible for drafting regulations and overseeing the handling of all farming chemicals.  Anyone can visit their site and read for themselves the APVMA’s extremely precise and detailed analysis of – for example – the optimum procedures for using all approved pesticides.  These procedures include exact details of which nozzles must be employed to produce the correct droplet size, wind conditions that must be considered, atmospheric conditions such as humidity to be taken into account, time of day, and so on.  All commercial farmers are expected to be conversant with these complicated computations in order to know how, when, and when not to spray.

I will admit here, as a university-educated voracious reader, that the nous needed to understand and safely implement best farming practice as defined by these scientifically ascertained rules, is a delicate and complex affair.  Dummies and incompetents need not apply.

I continue to be intrigued by the scientific nexus between farming in Australia and established regulations.  This is not the place to discuss this.  Look for an upcoming blog about my journey towards educating myself about State and Federal legislation as it applies to buffer zones in Greenbank.

I hope by this point the honest reader can see that I admire and support farmers.  I am aghast at the Coal Seam Gas push by the aggressive and abusive international conglomerates.  How the Queensland Government – and for that matter, the Federal Government – can allow this rape of prime farming land and the Great Artesian Basin is beyond my comprehension. As the slogan says, ‘You can’t eat Coal and you can’t drink Gas’.  Personally, I feel that the Australian farming industry is mostly well-regulated, if somewhat lacking in oversight, but is certainly in dire need of protection from the mining and drilling behemoths, and we support farmers in this struggle.

After twelve years here in Greenbank, I still wake up every morning to the currawongs, kookaburras, magpies, friarbirds, and count myself lucky that I’m so blessed to live in such an Eden.  I’m not naïve enough to think things won’t change, but I do believe the ruthless pursuit of the truth is a useful torch to illuminate the way forward.

Respectfully yours,

Kim Downs

Hello

Liz here. I would also like to comment.

It is true that some of the intensive agriculture farms in question in Greenbank erected greenhouses without development approval. One, in Begley Road, (see the page on Crewes Creek being filled in for more on their activities), was forced to take down their greenhouses for this very reason.  Why they were not prosecuted to the full extent of the law for their environmental vandalism is beyond me.

It’s difficult to ascertain which farms had development approval and which didn’t, as we’ve been through council amalgamations.  Requests to Logan City Council to find out what approvals were given to farms in this area by the former council (Beaudesert, now Scenic Rim) have been met with claims that all the paperwork is in boxes at Council’s Chambers and need to be sorted through, obviously a massive task for a council that has now swelled to three times its previous size.

But what we do know is that, Development Approval or not,  the placement on these farms so close to our homes contravenes the Qld State Government Guidelines regarding buffer zones.  As Logan Council has failed to produce any guidelines of their own, we have called on them to implement and enforce the State guidelines, so far to no avail.  We suspect the reason for this is that existing farms would have to be shut down as they clearly do not comply.

I would suggest that farms that built greenhouses without a proper DA should be forced to pull them down. And that those that were given approval in contravention of the State Government guidelines have a case against the former Beaudesert Shire Council and/or Logan City Council.  In this latter case, I believe Councils needs to look at buying back these farms and properly compensating the farm operators for the significant costs they have incurred in setting up their operations in inappropriate locations, due to wrongful approval.

Another alternative is to buy the residents out, and make this whole area into one big industrialised protected horticulture area.  This would, of course, be a travesty, given the biodiversity of the area, and I note particularly the critically endangered koala and the almost-extinct spotted quoll.

There is, of course, a third way. Go Organic!  Organic produce attracts a much higher price than conventionally-grown vegetables, and investment in an organic operation would produce less volume but attract premium prices.  This cannot be done on the existing farms, however, as Organic certification cannot be given to properties with a past history of extensive chemical use until the soil can be proven to be chemical-free.   But it is certainly something to consider. I can guarantee locals would be lining up at the farm gate to buy organic produce from local farms, and would have few problems with farming practices occurring next door to our homes, if we had proper buffer zones and could be certain pesticides were not being used.

Liz Hall-Downs, Aug. 22, 2012

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One response to “An Open Letter to Australian Farmers

  1. The Growcom CEO responded to this on 23/8/12 – in fact posted the same response in several different places. As we try not to repeat posts, preferring to properly index them, you can see his response, and ours, under the Category, ‘Growcom Correspondence’.

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