What is in this article?:
- Nine thousand miles is a long haul to buy a cotton picker. Tack on another 9,000 miles to get home and you have the makings of an epic journey or a geographical accident. Throw in a couple of Australians kicking up Delta dirt in Mississippi, and the story takes on a surreal quality — a cotton odyssey.
- They don’t trust mineral companies, have no patience with the environmental ‘greens’, and believe the government is a broken machine.
- Over the last 20 years, their cotton bales-per-acre average has been in the 3.5-3.75 range.
Ian Hayllor, Dalby, Queensland, and son Jimmy, right, traveled a total of 18,000 miles to buy a cotton picker in Tunica, Miss., and transport it back to Australia.
It would be difficult to find a more articulate spokesman for agriculture than Ian Hayllor. He speaks with calm confidence and seems at equal ease discussing clogged irrigation pumps and tractors — or genetic science and the fine print of agricultural legislation. It’s no exaggeration to describe Ian as having a finger on the pulse of Australian agriculture. He serves on a host of Australian ag committees and boards: Surat Basin Engagement Group, NFF CSG Task Force, Arrow Surat Community Reference Group, Origin Technical Information Group, Healthy Head Waters Programme and is chair of the Environmental and Property Protection Assoc Inc (EPPA). But despite the lengthy resume — he’d rather talk boots-on-the-ground farming.
Throw Ian a question about farming — and expect a thorough answer. When asked about what challenges Australian farmers face, Ian pulls no punches: He doesn’t trust the mineral companies, has no patience with the environmental ‘greens’, and believes the government is a broken machine. It’s plain talk — and he backs it up with a litany of examples.
Australia is in the midst of a historic mining explosion and the repercussions have slammed against the agriculture industry. Coal mines and natural gas wells are sucking cash out of the Queensland ground. They’re also draining the Australian labor pool, paying up to $200,000 per year to anyone willing to drive a truck underground for a 12-hour shift or run a drill a mile underground. Ian said he had just lost a 21-year-old farmhand who bolted for a $120,000 start-up wage at the mines.
Such is life on the playing fields of Western capitalism. However, there is far more to the picture: the playing fields in Australia are by no means level. They are tilted toward the ‘company’ at a 90-degree angle. In Australia, anything that is underground belongs to the government and not the farmer. Period. Full-stop.
Regardless of what is below a farmer’s soil, the mineral rights belong to the suits-and-ties in government. The mineral rights are sold by the government to mining companies, and the landowners get ‘interference compensation’ at a rate of $5,000 to $10,000 per well each year. If a natural gas well (maybe in the middle of cotton field) generates $1 million annually and is projected to have a 15-year run — then the register rings at $15 million for the company/government and the landowner gets $75,000-$150,000 (minus 15 years of lost crop production).
“The government sells the companies the lease, giving them the legal right to come on your property. You can’t stop them … you can never stop them. The government is basically selling eminent domain to the gas company,” describes Ian.
The farming implications are immeasurable: “They’ll only take about 2 to 3 percent of our land, but if they put a road the wrong way across a field, it’s going to have a tremendous impact — drainage and machinery operation. They’re gas people and they don’t understand farming. Our government is broke. They cannot manage the finances of Australia, and so they rely on the energy sector — gas, coal, iron ore. Agriculture is not respected by government.”
Another of Ian’s concerns (paralleling U.S. farmers) is a shortage of water. Australian farmers are grinding it out with ‘greens’ and government over water restrictions and cuts in allocations.