• Richard Avery

Getting better

Roger Bilney is a lifelong farmer. His family began farming in Western Australia in the late 19th Century. There are now six generations of Bilney’s to be involved in the land they cultivate crops and sheep on today. This generational length is rare in Western Australia. Most farms are run by 2nd or 3rd generation farmers. Increasingly, 1st generation farmers are influencing the industry due to greater availability of capital.

Reverse engineering the Bilney families longevity is difficult to do accurately, due to survivorship bias. That being, how can we compare what they have done vs the rest, when the rest aren’t here to compare them too?

But we can generalise by saying that what has kept the Bilneys in farming is they get better. When new technology is presented, trialled, and proven, they adopt it. The way Roger and his sons farm now is nothing like why his grandfather did. Good farmers (measured by longterm survival), adapt to their environment and get better.

This is critical when considering farming as an industry.

Technological advances mean that the rate of improvement is increasing. Farmers around the world are now producing more food per hectare than ever before. Therefore, if you don’t improve, you don’t survive. You’ll probably go get a job in banking or grain brokering, or something similar.

It is critical to consider because what exactly is “better”? Or maybe, who is it better for?

I’m sure if you asked the average microbiome in the world today if our food system is better or worse, it would laugh. There is a plethora of data showing nutrition induced illness, increasing every year. Our bodies have a different definition of better than what our producers of food do.

Consider a gardener. They are doing more or less the same practices and growing the same crops as 1,000 years ago. Maybe add in a better spade and some gloves to protect dirt from getting under their fingernails. But the practices are fundamentally the same.

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