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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Family history | The Farm | The River | David, Jenny and the Farm | Self-sufficiency and Aquarius | Cattle and floods | The landscape | Other on-farm agriculture | Buying and selling land | Poor economic times | Family partnership on the farm | Mill politics, harvesters and cane cutters | Changing methods | Chemicals | Market impacts and government subsidies | Generational change and succession | Impact on cane growing | Environmental issues | Politics of cane and the mill | Neighbours

Market impacts and government subsidies

We’ve heard some of the stories about being really poor. Can you remember some of the dips and highs and when you were really aware of what the market was doing, how it was impacting on you?

David: not really.

Jenny: it goes up and down just like a roller coaster, because as soon as it goes up, lots more people grow cane. And then it goes down.

David: not here so much as world-wide, it’s a – really a world-wide product. Going by the world supply – nothing to do ….

Jenny: New South Wales cane is mostly on the domestic market whereas Queensland cane is mostly exported so we’re not so affected by the volatility in the world, as the rest of Australia.

David: the other thing is that the long buying contracts, like your buyer might buy for a few years, like Coca Cola might take over a contract to buy the sugar for three or four years, so it flattens the peaks out a bit. It might mean that you don’t get the really top price but you don’t get the really bottom price either.

So has that been a real issue in your lives that you’ve really…. it sounds….

Jenny: not really, no we just sort of laughed it off a bit and said you’ve got to wear Dunlop Volleys mate cause we’re poor, and um…we just couldn’t have the things that – you know we had to have the same car for ten years.

David: and you mightn’t buy a new tractor or something …

Jenny: yeah it didn’t stress us really did it?

David: no.

And what about government policies and subsidies – isn’t part of the issue in – this is more marginal cane country am I correct in thinking that?

David: yep.

Jenny: even so it’s a big employer in the local area. It’s a big contributor to this economy in this area so it’s important to governments to keep it going. But they haven’t really helped with the actual mill business much have they? But I can think of a big difference, in the old days, if there was a huge flood and you lost all your crop or you planted and it didn’t come up or you had a big fire or something, well that was that. You just had to grin and bear it and get on with life as best you could. Now on two different occasions in the last probably six years we’ve received a government subsidy for rebuilding our bridges and tracks and drains and for replanting crops. They’ve given us, just given us, not interest free but tax free money. All we have to do is do it and hand in the receipts and the invoices and the government pays – well both times up to $15,000 and that’s a bit gobsmacking to us! We just can’t believe that you haven’t got to look after yourself. Someone else is going to. And it would be a shame to get dependent on it because it might not always be there. I was just doing the accounts yesterday and in October last year we received the rest of our $15,000 for rebuilding all our roads and bridges and drains that got washed away in the last flood.

Do you have an idea of why there’d been that shift?

Jenny: they want to keep people in the industry. It’s not just cane farmers, it’s all sorts of farmers.

David: all agriculture.

Jenny: everywhere there’s been a disaster, a flood or a fire or something, they have this system.

David: they seem to follow on from big disasters, like after the Queensland floods it sort of…they …

Jenny: our flood was before the Queensland flood.

David: yeah I know but where there’s lots of publicity and everybody can see…how down the drain the industry is and they, the government, puts up some money. Whether it’s political or economic I’m not sure.

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