Agricultural mining

Paul Sheehan (SMH): The collapse of the wide, brown land:

What amazes Diamond, one of the world’s leading scientist-historians, is Australia’s determination to cling to the myth that much of the hinterland is critical to the nation’s economic health. He sees this as one of the world’s great lost causes:

“While 60 per cent of Australia’s land area and 80 per cent of its human water use are dedicated to agriculture, the value of agriculture relative to other sectors of the Australian economy has been shrinking to the point where it now contributes less than 3 per cent of the gross national product. That’s a huge allocation of land and scarce water to an enterprise of such low value. Furthermore, it is astonishing to realise that over 99 per cent of the agricultural land makes little or no positive contribution to Australia’s economy. It turns out that about 80 per cent of Australia’s agricultural profits are derived from less than 0.8 per cent of its agricultural land …

“Most of Australia’s remaining agriculture is in effect a mining operation that does not add to Australia’s wealth but merely converts environmental capital of soil and native vegetation irreversibly into cash, with the help of indirect government subsidies …”

I’d long suspected as much – it’s interesting to see the exact figures…