20 May 2007

Rantings of a Farmer's Son

There’s a lot a debate about water use in Australia at the moment. Should we drink recycled water? Should we build a desalinization plant? To those questions I’d answer yes and no respectively, but ask a better question: Why don’t we save water by largely abandoning agriculture?
But what will we eat, Scott?
Well, at present we use 60% of our land, and a massive 80% of our water on agriculture. What does this get us? Not much. All that expenditure of scarce resources contributes less than 3% of GNP.
Even more shockingly 99% of that farmed land is running at a loss. 80% of all Australia’s agricultural profits are derived from about 0.8% of the land under cultivation – land in south-western Western Australia, around Adelaide, in south-east Victoria, and in eastern Queensland. Land in these areas has the benefits of fertile soil due to volcanism or glacial uplift, and/or reliable rain. The rest of our agricultural enterprise is carried out on exhausted soils whose few nutrients are held in the layer of vegetation covering them. We pretty much clear the vegetation (nutrients), plant some crops, exhaust the soil, top it up with massive doses of fertiliser, run sheep and cattle on it, till it either blows away, becomes irretrievably saline, or becomes too expensive to grow plants on. The government subsidises this uneconomic business in the form of below-cost water, tax concessions, and subsidised infrastructure.
“Abandoning the Bush” is not the best headline for governments to generate though, so it looks as if we’ll continue with the status quo, at least until more serious problems crop up, e.g. we run out of oil and start starving to death.

10 May 2007

The Front

In 1914 a mysterious group tracing its origins back to the Ancient East managed to create a creature, or perhaps summon a daemon, which they named The Front. At first it was a mewling, vicious, bloody thing, constantly hungry. Realising that The Front required sustenance the group engaged their sister organisation, the Black Hand, to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a task accomplished 2 months later by a young novice, Gavrilo Princip.
As planned the assassination sparked the First World War, allowing The Front to feed and grow on the lives sacrificed in its name as the war escalated throughout the European theatre.
At its most powerful The Front could be heard many miles away as a constant thunder. Closer, it was deafening.
It could churn and throw earth around at will, uproot trees, and turn vast tract of land into a stinking, sucking mud. It employed rats, typhus and cholera as its agents, and strung barbed wire across its shoulders in celebration. It killed with any metal that it touched, or sometimes with burning gas. Its chief weapon was sheer terror, with which it could paralyze.
The Front was most powerful when stationary, or moving slowly. When forced to move quickly, although fluid, it lost many of its powers.
Although, once summoned, The Front could never be totally destroyed, it has never been as powerful as those first four years of its infancy, a period that ended when Private George Lawrence Price was shot through the heart at two minutes to eleven on Armistice Day, 1918.