There is much touting of the benefits of farming native species but it is quite clear that none of the proponents have bothered with a proper costing under realistic conditions. So this article will take the dreamers and the urban visionaries on a wee trip out reality way. So come along now, it’s not that far, and it won't hurt at all if you stay on the track.
The first thing you need to know is that kangaroos need a 2.4m high fence, preferably mesh. And that means a 3m post. A standard 0.9m wire fence for sheep or cattle is about $5 per metre. So if we take a typical 120ha coastal property that is 400m wide and 3km deep, it will need 6,800m of boundary fences. At $5 a metre that is $34,000 for an average boundary fence. A kangaroo fence would be at least triple that. That is, $102,000 before any division into grazing cells. Cut that up into six paddocks with five new cross fences and add another 2,000m at $15/m and this supposedly simple common sense alternative farming is loaded with $132,000 in debt before a single kangaroo is bought or sold. At 7 per cent interest that is $9,240 each year on top of all existing expenses.
Ten kangaroos eat the grass of one cow and most coastal pastures will run a cow to the hectare. So this typical property would carry a mob of 1,200 adult kangaroos which would enable the sale of 400 each year comprising young surplus males and older post breeding females. But wait, if the property is 30 per cent forested, as most are, then the carrying capacity will drop to about 900 kangaroos. Neither kangaroos nor cows eat trees, remember? So the cost of the fence will need to be covered by the revised third of the mob that is available for sale each year. This will amount to $30.80 each animal sold.
And of course, looking after 900 kangaroos is going to be even more work than looking after 90 cows. For a start, cows don't slam into fences some 2m off the ground at 60km/h like kangaroos do. So we will need at least an average full-time wage of $50,000 a year to run the farm or $167 for each kangaroo sold.
Toss in, among other things, rates, fuel and vehicle depreciation and we need another $20,000, or $67 for each kangaroo sold. Add the standard 5 per cent return on the value of the land (at $10,000 per hectare) that the rest of the community expects and we get 5 per cent of $1,200,000 or another $60,000 a year. And this adds another $200 to the cost of each kangaroo sold.
All up, each kangaroo sold will have to be worth $465 more than what the farmer paid for it, or could have received for it if he sold it as a joey the year before. The problem is, according to Michael Archer and Tim Flannery, that the young male and mature female Eastern Grey Kangaroos only weigh an average of about 31kg live weight. And this means their cost price would be $15/kg in the yard against the current beef price of about $2.00/kg. And this would mean the retail price of kangaroo meat would be 7.5 times higher than the current price of beef. And that would mean the urban consumer would need to pay $150/kg for kangaroo steak and $75/kg for mince.
And before any Australian farmer would go to the trouble of writing off all his existing fences and make the investment needed to switch to kangaroo farming, he will need an absolute cast iron guarantee from the urban public that they will:
- purchase the same amount of meat that they do now;
- pay the full $150/kg for that meat rather than buy the imported $20/kg beef that sits on the supermarket shelf beside the kangaroo meat; and
- agree to subsidise enough kangaroo meat (by $13/kg live weight) to ensure that we retain all our existing export markets.
In effect, point 2 above, would amount to a 650 per cent tariff on imported meat while point 3 would amount to a similar scale export subsidy for our even greater volume of export meat. It is a level that would make even the most recalcitrant Euro-spiv blush. And in the face of such excess, our trading partners would have great difficulty taking us seriously in any trade negotiations.
So there can be only one conclusion here. Without these undertakings no farm in Australia could survive. And even if they were forthcoming, there is no doubting that kangaroo farming is unsustainable. Worse, the myth of sustainable kangaroo farming is a dangerous delusion of the ill-informed that can be used to portray conventional farmers as lazy, ignorant folk who will not innovate to save their own skin. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the last thing they need when dealing with the environmental challenges they face is the fatuous whimsies of half-baked urban planeteers who decry the supposed unsustainable practice of existing farming operations while promoting a far less sustainable alternative.
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