27 October, 2016

Murray Darling Basin Plan-Big 2016 Wet-Reminder

The big winter wet of this year (2016) is a timely reminder of the flaws in the MDB Plan. I have long been fascinated by inland water flows in this very flat land, with highly variable rainfall, which is the predominant feature of Australia. Dorothea Mackellar got it so right with her classic line "Droughts and Flooding Rains". She might well have added "And not much in the middle".

My interest in the subject became even greater when I found myself Chairman and CEO of an agricultural company whose interests included an irrigation business growing cotton on the Darling River upstream and downstream of Bourke.

My first impressions as I familiarised myself with this business were:-

  1. The human characteristic of always seeking to blame somebody for water shortages and the reluctance to attribute these shortages to natural factors.
  2. The meaningless of average statistics when the spreads around the average are enormous.
  3. The failure of water authorities to appreciate the massive magnitude of the big events, and their frequency, albeit irregularity.
  4. The persistence of these authorities to maintain an attitude of "we must determine how much water for this or that" when "we" have very little control. Man fiddles at the edges. Nature dominates.
For the MDB Authority to ask CSIRO to come up with single Annual Volumetric Limits (AVL's) for each of the significant rivers in the basin is a stupid question from people who clearly do not appreciate the above facts. Limits should be based on percentages of actual flows. Note that from the big events , a very small percentage can amount to a huge amount of water. This massive variability cries out for more dams to spread the benefits.

The 2016 'big wet' winter, following an extremely dry period with no flow in the Darling River below the Menindee Lakes, is a wonderful demonstration of the key characteristic with which we live in this fascinating country. The volume of water that has flowed past Bourke in the last fortnight now exceeds the volume attributed to Sydney Harbour-500,000 megalitres or 500 gigalitres.

David Boyd

17 October, 2016

Profound MDB Comment

Letter to the Editor of the Australian

In its penultimate paragraph your article “Up to their eyes in it but entitlement denied”-The Australian 17 October; reads”....nature has remained the true determinant of the health of the Murray Darling”. This is a profoundly accurate truism. The failure of our scientists and water bureaucrats to recognise this, is at the heart of the totally flawed Murray Darling Basin Plan.
In the depths of the Millennium Drought we mistakenly blamed the natural impact of low river flows on “mismanagement and over allocations”. We then developed highly impractical mechanisms to remedy the situation at great cost to production and socio-economic health.
Recent flooding has dramatically demonstrated the highly variable nature of our river flows and the limited power of man to intervene. The Plan should be rescinded and practical knowledgeable people involved in its re-writing.

David Boyd

16 September, 2016

More Homework

Nearing 80
I have always believed that age is a state of mind. It is sobering to recall that in my youth I viewed people of my age as ancient.Last Sunday I heard a preacher say that those of my age will be 100 in 2041.That sounds a long way off and I’m not sure I will want to be there!

In 1963 I bought a life assurance policy which required a noting of my retirement year of 2006. This induced spontaneous laughter, it seemed such a distant date.

Monitoring fashionable words and expressions has been a lifetime hobby. I once attended an in-house company conference at which the senior executives spoke. As I noted the most used words, it became apparent they all used the same terms. This is much the same in the wider community. How much is true knowledge and how much pretence?

Think about today’s fashionable words-”sustainable”, “political correctness”, ”digital disruption”, “transition” ”identity politics”, ”innovation”, “data”, ”google”. I wonder what the buzz words will be 2041? Will we be using battery powered driverless cars, centrally owned? What will we do with all the space freed up by the need for many fewer individually owned vehicles? Or does that not follow?

Finding new ways of doing things and predicting the unintended consequences, can be tremendously exciting and those who forecast and position themselves correctly, can gain great economic benefits. I am mindful of the African message -”Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. So it doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

But, the mind may or may not be willing, and the body will almost certainly be weak!
David Boyd

More Homework For My Writing Course

There Should Have Been …..

I took a week off work and headed bush. I wanted to show my English soldier cousin Michael, on his first visit to Australia, the real thing. He was looking for a cup of coffee before we were over the Blue Mountains! This could be a long trip. The season was good and the country looked great, but I don’t think the Lieutenant Colonel had much appreciation.

We were headed for Walgett-a long drive. We made small talk. I was conscious of my early lessons in stock and station agency-if you had a difficult client take him for a drive to a sheep or cattle sale and get to know him. Years later I added to my collection of maxims; “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him”. We were to stay a night at our mutual cousin’s Walgett station homestead on the banks of the Barwon. We were greeted warmly enough and eventually invited in. Michael seemed uncomfortable and next morning was anxious to get moving.

We were asked to give a neighbour a lift to Tamworth as we headed for the high country at Walcha. The neighbour was a garrulous, extrovert “bushie”, with none of my inhibitions, who had clearly decided that he was going to find out how this “pommy bugger” ticked.

What evolved was quite the most entertaining, interesting drive I have ever experienced. With sustained questioning from our passenger, the Colonel regaled us with a fascinating account of his  war-time experiences. His exploits in North Africa, (for which I subsequently discovered he earned an M.C), his presence at the signing of both the German surrender in Europe and the Japanese surrender, his role in the capture of the German SS Commander General Himmler and the discovery and liberation of the horrific Belsen concentration camp.

There should have been a recording.

David Boyd


31 August, 2016

My Feet

My Feet
What an extraordinary topic for our writing teacher to set for homework. My unimaginative mind goes immediately to the literal-ingrown toenails, dry heels, unattractive, functional. But, perhaps it is intended to provoke the mind towards a metaphor?

Our set reading directs us to George Orwell’s views on motives for writing.Orwell suggests sheer egoism, I have plenty of that. Aesthetic enthusiasm, is always present. Historical impulse, certainly.Political impulse, for sure.

Why do I write my blog, venture occasionally into Facebook and sometimes Tweet? Because I like writing and getting my passions expressed and public. Getting it ‘off the chest’. I am attracted by Australian born UK based psychologist Dorothy Rowe’s  thesis, that our psychological make up depends on “how we see the world and how we see our place in that world”.

At heart I am an emotionally driven optimist. We live in a wonderful country in extraordinary technological times. None of this is our doing, we were just lucky to be born where we were and when. (Even with writing, technology impacts. The ease of corrections and rewrites should result in ever better expression and presentation.)

Notwithstanding, (I love that word) all of the world’s horrific trouble spots, we need to remember how free markets and free enterprise has lifted millions out of poverty and disease and the process continues. With that progress comes the ability to correct our environmental misdemeanours and stem population growth. On the other hand,it’s a great pity that we have not learnt to live more peacefully with each other.

If we are to encourage this ongoing social progress and the search for peace, we need to spell out the principles involved (as we see them), as we attempt to influence public opinion by good writing.

We need to make our footprint.

David Boyd

28 August, 2016

Dairy Crisis

I have followed the dairy industry crisis with horror and sympathy for the farmer's who are being asked to refund monies they have been paid, because the processors got it wrong and apparently their contracts allow the processors to recover retrospectively. In other words the farmers carry the price risks for the processors.
One can understand how such a situation arose, given the fact that the processors were (mostly) originally farmer owned co-operatives. I have long been sceptical of the co-operative model where it has so often seemed that there is conflict between how farmer shareholders should be rewarded-by way of dividends or through the commodity price. I have long been attracted to farm gate competition. I also had experience in chairing a flood relief fund for the cotton industry where a major seed supplier was prepared to make a relieving gesture to cotton growers by way of a payment to a representative grower body rather than direct to cotton growers. With the co-operation of growers we developed a formula to distribute the funds, this proved highly successful in rewarding those most affected by floods without criticism from those who missed out.

I developed an idea that as farmers seem to have the sympathy of consumers and the processors and retailers (supermarkets) are seen as villains, there may be a way by which all parties can benefit in public relations terms and economic terms. Furthermore, it would not require any Government involvement. I put the proposal to a number of parties all of whom responded with a significant lack of enthusiasm! The most recent (17th August) advocacy was to Barnaby Joyce the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water, in the following terms-

Dear Barnaby,
The Four Corners programme on Monday night for once got it pretty right. I wrote the following back in May. I still believe that something along these lines could be done. It would cost the Government nothing. With the supermarkets and processors under so much pressure I believe they would be responsive.
"Dairy Crisis
I have followed the Murray Goulburn/ Fonterra milk issue closely. How extraordinary that the processors would actually pay farmers a price more than they were recovering, with a price volatile commodity and have the ability to recover from the farmers. The processors have effectively left the full price risk with the farmers.

I acknowledge  the significance of the dominant exports. However, I do believe that there is an opportunity for the much criticised Australian supermarkets and the milk processors, to win some really valuable goodwill by offering a brand with a 25c per litre (50c per 2 litre bottle) loading, widely publicised. The loading would be directly payable on some clever formula basis, to dairy farmers. Some years ago a similar thing was done following a flood in the cotton industry with the bulk payments made to a farmer representative industry body who distributed in full to those most impacted, on an agreed formula.

The scheme would be entirely voluntary, with no Government involvement. It is no fault of most farmers, other than the Co-op Directors, that they have been caught in this squeeze. As I assess it, they currently have the sympathy of Australian consumers. But they need to act quickly whilst the issue is topical.

Branded milk products are selling strongly, clearly demonstrating the sympathy factor. The purchase of branded milk helps, but it seems to me that more could be done. "

For what it's worth I pass it on.

The email did not elicit a reply, however I read in The Weekend Australian yesterday that Coles are now to introduce just such a scheme. If this proves to be correct, and it proves successful, then Woolworths and IPA would surely follow.

I seek no attribution, but would be delighted if such assistance is well supported by consumers. I only see it as a short term palliative and longer term, farmers need to have stronger competitive contracts with processors with the co-operative relationship ethos consigned to the dustbin.