Australian beef and how far ahead do you want to worry?

It has to be said that people do seem to enjoy a bit of good old fashioned gloom and despondency. Every silver lining has a cloud. As Noel Coward sang, “There are bad times just around the corner.”

‘They’re mad at Market Harborough

And livid at Leigh-on-Sea,

In Tunbridge Wells

You can hear the yells

Of woe-begone bourgeoisie.

We all get bitched about, lads,

Whoever our vote elects,

We know we’re up the spout, lads.

And that’s what England expects.

Hurray, hurray, hurray!

Trouble is on the way.

There are bad times just around the corner,

The horizon’s gloomy as can be,

There are black birds over

The grayish cliffs of Dover

And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC

We’re an unhappy breed

And very bored indeed

When reminded of something that Nelson said.

While the press and the politicians nag nag nag

We’ll wait until we drop down dead.’

It has to be admitted that the last five years have really pushed forward the frontiers of doomsaying. If I had a pound for every time somebody told me that this country would collapse to third world status, I’d probably have the cash to put in an offer and buy it.

The problem seems to be one of mental attitude. People are so delighted to find another thing to point the finger at and claim, ‘we’re all doomed’ that they don’t bother looking at the small print.

So I want to look at the ‘big picture’ by squinting closely at some of the detail. The current cry of woe is that thanks to leaving the EU and signing a deal with the Australians, our beef industry is doomed and the British public will have to eat beef produced using artificial hormones.

The pundits are starting to think this will be unlikely. “Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickard predicted that not much would change in the next two years, but significant change would be felt in 10-15 years’ time.”

Indeed, according to AHDB, since the start of 2020, Australian beef has been more expensive than UK produced beef. If we’d had a free trade deal with the Australians they might have been buying our beef, not the other way around. If anything, at the moment our beef price is held down by Irish imports from the EU. We’ve lived with cheaper Irish imports for well over a century.

Now obviously the Australian situation might be a blip. But Australia has seen a few bad bushfire years. Even without arguing whether climate change is man-made, (because that isn’t an argument for this blog post) it’s evident when looking at the past, climates do change. This is obvious, at the very least because we have had ice ages.   If we work on the principle that climate change is going to continue for at least another decade, (even if it’s cyclical and might start dropping in another century) by 2030 the Australians might even be net importers of beef.

Then what about dear old Blighty? In 2030/35 are we going to be enthusiastic importers of Australian beef? After all, it’s probably three general elections off, so gods alone know what sort of government we’ve got or what sort of regulation we have in place.
But according to current plans, by 2030, if you want a new car in the UK, it will have to be electric. If you buy it new house it almost certainly won’t have gas central heating, indeed by then, if your gas boiler fails, you will probably have to replace it with something else because nobody makes gas boilers any more. Now these new technologies might be cheaper, more efficient, and leave you with a larger disposable income, or they might not. I’ll let you decide for yourself how much gloom and doom you want to wallow in on this front.

Indeed, all sorts of things seem to be coming down the track. We appear to be getting more rain, and when it comes, it comes in larger quantities over a smaller period. So we will see more flooding. You remember all these houses that local authorities cheerfully allowed to be built on the flood plain? At what point is it going to be the sensible thing to just demolish them, return the flood plain to being a flood plain, and insist people have grass in their gardens rather than concreting them over to park cars on. That way water doesn’t run off as fast. And if they can no longer afford cars, then they might as well have grass to sit on, because they’re not going anywhere soon anyway. After all who will take a tourist flight when you’re accused of wanting to watch the world burn?

It’s remarkably easy to build an atmosphere of alarm and despondency. In fact the last year or so has shown us that a fair proportion of the population are perfectly happy to be frightened and made to stay in the house, provided they keep full salary and can ‘work from home’.

But looking fifteen years ahead is about as meaningful as asking to see the weather forecast that far ahead for one particular day and one particular place.

After all, in fifteen years will there be a UK? Will the UK, if it exists, be part of the EU again, or will the EU have split as well? Indeed looking at China, where the communist party has just celebrated a centenary, a hundred years is good going for a Chinese Dynasty.

Looking at agriculture, at the very least they’ll still need an agriculture. Even if they’re feeding the proles on kibble bars, they’ll still need somebody to grow the stuff. But when and how will the food be grown?
If we have heavier rainfall, even without rising sea levels some land might no longer be ploughable. Indeed there’s a strong argument for going back to farming water meadows properly. That will increase the need for grazing livestock, but on the other hand, if we lose lowland arable due to a sharp rise in the water table, we might be looking at ploughing further up the hill. I remember talking to one agronomist who commented that the finest crop of barley he’d ever seen was grown at over a thousand feet in North Cumbria.

So frankly beating your breast and bewailing the end of days because of a trade deal with the Australians that could have serious implications in ten to fifteen years’ time is frankly unprofessional. A competent doomsayer can find a score of better reasons for wailing and gnashing their teeth.


There again, what do I know. 

Available from Amazon in paperback or kindle.
Available from everywhere else as an ebook from here

As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”

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24 thoughts on “Australian beef and how far ahead do you want to worry?

  1. rootsandroutes2012 July 30, 2021 at 4:24 am Reply

    Well Jim, you haven’t achieved Google-whack immortality with ‘kibble bars’ but these days 38 occurrences is a pretty good attempt. Oh, hold on – the top hit is from a Country Life magazine article written by one Jim Webster. Perhaps the world does really hold only a two digit number of people who know what a kibble bar is 🙂

    • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 4:38 am Reply

      I think you ought to look up kibble, where you get “kibbled wheat, a type of coarsely milled flour” or “Dry compound feed, especially when used as dog food or cat food”
      In Devon it’s also chalk and flint rubble but that I suspect is derivative 🙂
      So I make no claim to inventing kibble, I’m just the person who popularised putting into blocks for ease of distribution 🙂

      • rootsandroutes2012 July 30, 2021 at 4:44 am

        Trust me Jim, I did look up kibble… and found that (a) kibble bars weren’t a terribly appetising prospect, and (b) Tesco have been selling something very like them for years.

      • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 5:35 am

        Don’t worry, the nice people in charge will ensure they’re only issued to undesirables as part of their daily ration 🙂

      • rootsandroutes2012 July 30, 2021 at 6:33 am

        As regards the Country Squire (sic) article to which the kibble bar search led me – Aldous Huxley eat your heart out!

      • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 6:41 am

        yes, I suspect the concept of Kibble as a ration for the ‘less worthy’ may be an old one in science fiction

  2. robbiesinspiration July 30, 2021 at 4:51 am Reply

    Ah, wouldn’t it be lovely to have such first world problems to complain about instead of failed African coups, a corrupt government that literally takes the bread out of peoples mouths, millions of starving unemployed people, and superstitious people who sleep with their beds raised on bricks and won’t have the vaccine because their various tribal leaders tell them the government will be able to control them if they do. Of course, we should immigrate to the UK but them we’d have to go through descending into a third world country all over again [wink] and who will care for our elderly family members.

    • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 5:36 am Reply

      There is an awful lot of worrying about first world problems. Frankly at times it gets embarrassing

  3. Eddy Winko July 30, 2021 at 6:46 am Reply

    You forgot the impending decline in meat consumption, in fact it may already have started–global-meat-production-decline-in-2019-and-2020
    Maybe the real threat is Beyond Meat or Impossible Burgers, not Australia 🙂

    • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 7:15 am Reply

      Kibble bars for the proles.
      In the UK there may hopefully be a realisation, at least among sensible people, that meat production from grass sequesters carbon which ploughing immediately liberates.

      • Eddy Winko July 30, 2021 at 8:53 am

        Let the grass grow, we won’t need all that land 🙂 Build a tunnel, grow mushrooms, save the world!

      • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 8:55 am

        Yep, there’s no shortage of bullsh*t to fertilise the mushrooms 😉

  4. Books & Bonsai July 30, 2021 at 7:18 am Reply

    Not sure where this old world will end up, but someone has been ordering an awful lot of handcarts…

    • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 8:26 am Reply

      If they’re wooden and you store them carefully, think of it as a way to sequestrate carbon 🙂

      • rootsandroutes2012 July 30, 2021 at 8:29 am

        If I’ve understood Books & Bonsai correctly, won’t all that carbon be released as soon as they get to their destination 🙂

      • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 8:36 am

        It depends whether hell shares the same atmosphere. If it doesn’t it might be a policy worth examining 🙂

  5. Dan Holdsworth July 30, 2021 at 10:04 am Reply

    To my mind the Aussies are missing a trick with their beef exports. Cattle are creatures of temperate climes where there is plenty of water. Australia by contrast is mostly old, infertile, dry desert and it just so happens that there are animals adapted to these sorts of conditions.

    Kangaroos are the native version of deer, and do incredibly well on Australian soil, though being evidently as thick as two short planks they would do much less well anywhere else where predators are a bit smarter.

    Australia also has huge populations of wild camels left over from those used during the most recent colonisation. These are a pest species and the aussies want rid of them; might it not be a good idea to try and market camel as a specialist gourmet meat and see if the world can eat them into oblivion? Implying that camels are good for male virility would be a good start in such marketing.

    Longer term, why go to all the trouble farming cattle when you can start trying to domesticate and farm kangaroos, which are already thoroughly adapted to the Aussie environment, breed like crazy when times are right, and most important of all to us, do not really compete directly with our local beef market?

    • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 10:28 am Reply

      It makes a lot of sense, I suspect that there is both an element to tradition and invested capital, but also the fact that it’s probably only comparatively recently that the market would exist.
      The world might well be ready for the Australian microwaveable camel and rabbit ragout 🙂

    • rootsandroutes2012 July 30, 2021 at 10:37 am Reply

      ‘Implying that camels are good for male virility would be a good start…’ Of course – there has to be an etymological link between Bactrian and Bacchanalian.

      • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 10:39 am

        Alas they’re apparently dromedaries, but still, I’m sure something along the Arabian Nights line could well work 🙂

  6. Cathy Cade July 30, 2021 at 11:43 am Reply

    Climates do change… it’s probably the first time I’ve seen someone else pointing that out. Might it be sensible to plan some for coping with the changes rather than putting every planning egg in the basket of trying to reverse them?

    It’s like insurance. If our descendants are really lucky, after billions have been poured into flood/fire/subsidence/heatstroke prevention schemes, they may have the opportunity to enjoy complaining about the billions spent on something that was never used.

  7. Doug Jacquier July 30, 2021 at 12:59 pm Reply

    As always, Jim, I’ve done a bit of research before shooting off my mouth. Re the claims by the RSPCA in the UK about Australian farming practices, a charitable view would be that they are misleading and a less charitable view would that they are deliberately misleading. However the bottom line is that consumer preference is driving major retailers into only sourcing products that do not inflict unnecessary pain on animals, add hormones etc and our supermarkets overflow with products that suggest the producers have been very nice to the animals before they killed them.
    Re eating kangaroos, camels, emu, and crocodiles, I have eaten them all and recommend them as great eating when cooked properly. The major problems seem to be consumer resistance and the economics simply not adding up. (In fact we make more money from camels from breeding them to sell them back to the countries from whence they came.) This is not helped by campaigns in the US not to import any kangaroo products to make athletic boots.
    And of course the ultimate irony is that rampant veganism will kill the planet far more quickly than a balanced diet that includes animal protein and will lead to mass starvation in many countries. Never mind, at least they’ll die pure in spirit,

    • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 1:16 pm Reply

      One of our major problems is people who value ideological purity over reality 😦

    • jwebster2 July 30, 2021 at 1:17 pm Reply

      I suspect the other problem is that Australia is a long way away, so is easy to exaggerate stuff, and it’s more easily believed because Australians have never been the darlings of the left over here

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