The Duckman: Are You There Minister? It’s GOD

Are You There Minister? It’s GOD

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Dan Tehan MP is the Federal Member for Wannon, our Port Campbell farm’s electorate, and the agriculture committee chair. As such, Mr Tehan helps sow the current Government’s agricultural policy agenda. This is an open letter to him:

Dear Mr Tehan,

Congratulations on the agricultural initiatives you have recently been promoting. Some say the Government’s plans, should they be realised, may amount to some $2 billion of investment in agriculture and help return farming to where it should be: one of the key sectors of the Australian economy.

Mr Tehan, during the launch of the Federal Government’s Agriculture White Paper earlier this year you spoke at length about the importance of investing in northern Australia. This is understandable given the proximity to Asia, but I write not to fertilise your political paddock.

My good wife Jodi started a business selling paddock-reared, real free-range ducks direct to chefs six years ago. Jodi controls most aspects of the operation, from hatching eggs to organising the deliveries of fresh duck direct to the restaurants.

Our ducks are with some of the country’s finest chefs within 24 hours of leaving the farm. Jodi’s attention to detail is such she is holding a pitchfork to my head as I write.

Mr Tehan, my good wife hopes the Government will consider small farmers in future agricultural policies. We’re doing all right, you know. Australian chefs covet the produce we small guys nurture and while you no doubt have your mind on prized export markets, so do many of us.

My wife – “ouch, take it easy with that pitchfork,” – that’s good wife, would like you to know our business, Great Ocean Ducks, or GOD for short, has recently had enquiries from chefs in Hong Kong and the Maldives hoping to buy our ducks.

Now here is the catch, Mr Tehan. The small(ish), but quickly growing, Melbourne abattoir where our ducks are processed is a family-run business, too. While poultry abattoirs that process the birds grown on small farms are more rare than steak tartare, such an abattoir with an export license may not even exist in Australia. The set-up and annual fees are crazily expensive.

What if the Government also considered investing in operations – whatever they might be – that advance the markets of the thousands of small farmers who grow what increasing numbers of well-to-do Asian consumers want? Namely, clean, green and safe produce with exclusivity and cachet.

Shed-loads of small farmers, even those without pitchforks, are producing this sort of food, and some of us dream of helping fill the stomachs of our northern neighbours.

Farm and export investments are prohibitive to many of us small operators. Personally, I like doing things on our own, operating independently and far removed from the millions of dollars in subsidies that seem often awarded to big business.

I would gladly dig up the tins of money buried in my yard to pay for the abattoir’s export licence myself, but I’ve buried so many, I don’t know where they all are.

Mr Tehan, given my failing memory, is there anything in your Government’s plans that will specifically advance the export capabilities of small farmers?

While an answer deserves far more consideration than the flippancy I’m guilty of on this page, I feel compelled to return to the matter of that export licence: surely it wouldn’t cost much more than a few of a certain Mrs Bishop’s helicopter rides.

Sincerely, Greg

Greg Clarke and his wife, Jodi, farm ducks at Port Campbell. To read the original tales of the Clarkes’ venture, visit theweeklytimes.com.au