Slice food bill, avoid drought: grow vegies
Lucinda Ormonde, John Elder | 23 September 2007 | The Age
RIP out your camellias and plant carrots instead.
That's the advice of the Australian Vegetable and Potato Growers Association, which says growing your own vegetables could help combat rising food prices and a potential shortage of fresh produce because of the drought.
"We're seeing a shortage of carrots and we could potentially see a shortage in potatoes. Lots of growing areas are very short of water," said the association's chairman, Michael Badcock. "While there's a bit of product around, you might want to put some away for the future. I think Australian families should be freezing their spare vegetables, and planting some of their own in the backyard."
Mr Badcock said food companies McCain's and Simplot (which produces frozen and tinned vegetable brand Edgells) are unable to get enough supply to meet their orders. "This means they will not be able to utilise their entire factories, and this makes for a more expensive product — and retailers who have to charge more for the product," he said.
Calls to McCain's media office were not returned.
Sergio Canale, executive general manager of supply chain at Simplot, would not say outright if there was a shortage, or which products were affected. "It's not as simple as more demand than supply, but we think we can cover it for the moment. In another few months it may be a different case. If need be we will source from overseas and this can be sourced at competitive prices."
Mr Canale added the company "has other options" but wasn't prepared to divulge them. He said: "We do try to use local product as much as possible, but not all crops are available in Australia."
Ausveg has had a long-running gripe with Simplot and McCain's over wholesale prices — and the fact that so much overseas stock has, for years, been used in canned goods.
Mr Badcock describes the state of vegetable growing as "not a pretty picture". Winter rains provided hope, and there was a boost in leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower. "But there is not enough rain to sustain many of those crops and irrigation restrictions don't help, either. We won't lose total production, but we will experience a fluctuation in prices."
As for his grow-your-own advice, Mr Badcock notes that it's a good time for planting.
"Vegetables that grow above the ground such as cabbage and cauliflower will tend to get eaten by bugs. But if you plant vegetables such as potatoes, parsnip and carrots, they will absorb the moisture and continue to grow. "
As for freezing your produce, he advises: "Blanch your vegetables and then freeze them on a tray before putting them in a plastic bag. Your vegetables should last for up to 12 months."
Food shortages 'worst since World War II'
THE drought could produce some of the worst food shortages since World War II.
John Wiseman | October 01, 2007 | THE AUSTRALIAN
hairman of Australian Vegetable and Potato Growers Federation Michael Badcock does not believe rationing will be needed, but he says some products will be difficult to find if the drought continues. "It will get tighter and some products may be difficult to buy," he said yesterday.
Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran warned that Australia's food industry might have to "reprioritise" to meet domestic demand.
He agreed that Australian consumers would experience shortages and would be paying "significantly higher prices".
"Global shortages and rising world prices are also contributing to price increases," he said.
"It is difficult to predict the extent of the effects of the drought, but reduced food availability and higher prices are already emerging and will worsen as the drought continues."
Mr Badcock said it was not just the drought that was a problem, and that available food in storage around the world was the least it had been since World War II, a matter of a few weeks' supply.
With failed crops in Australia, importers were "finding it quite difficult to top up their shelves with imported product".
Mr Badcock said extreme weather was causing problems around the world.
"In Europe, they had an extremely dry spring, then rain and floods in summer, so they had a poor season for growth and then problems at harvest time."
Adding to the problem was the diversion of crops to produce biofuels.
He said there would be a lot of fluctuation, with prices for some products rising three or fourfold. Quality could also be affected in coming months, with blemished vegetables appearing on the shelves.
"It's perfectly safe … to eat and we may have to have that (lower-quality product) so we can maintain vegetables on consumers' plates."
He said many vegetable farmers would not plant a crop this summer. "Water's scarce around Bundaberg and the Lockyer Valley in Queensland. Then in the Murray-Darling there'll be nil production.
"Tasmania produces 70 per cent of Australia's processed vegetables, but there's not enough water in storage there to put a crop in," he said.
John Anderson on food shocks, oil dependency and drought
John Anderson is the former leader of the National Party, Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. He's retiring at the coming election to go back to the farm. As Deputy Prime Minister in 2004 he was one of the first significant politicians globally to acknowledge peak oil. He's now making the links between climate change, peak oil and food security, and made the following comments on ABC Radio National, Sept 26 2007:
"It's not beyond the realms of possiblity that we'll see a food shock in the next few years. We talk about oil shocks, but we go on assuming that the supermarket shelves will be loaded."
"The global situation is a serious one… We're pouring as much oil into refrigerators as we are into our cars. Now, oil and energy dependency for the production and distribution and preparation of our food is really very worrying."
Download the full interview [mp3 / 2.4MB]
Note: Anderson promotes GMOs as part of the solution — but we should be dubious about this as it puts control of solutions into multinational corporations, is inherently dangerous, and the industrial model of farming associated with GMOs is much less effective than small scale biodiverse permaculture systems with water harvesting systems. Because of the clumsyness of GMO technology, basically every cell in the body of the GMO produces proteins from the introduced gene, even in part of the plant where they are not needed, or indeed may be toxic. This is a waste of the plants' precious metabolic energy. When conditions are good, that's ok but the plant is less suited to tough conditions such as drought.