The watch list:
What we are reading, listening to and watching 

In this chaotic year of changed routines, many of us have found ourselves with more time than usual to catch up on those books, long-form articles, podcasts and documentaries which we’d earmarked to watch ‘one day’. In this edition we’re starting a new feature in which we recommend some of the gems which have caught our eye, sparked the imagination or challenged our thinking. 

Feel free to share your interesting finds with us via info@farminstitute.org.au and we’ll start a list of recommendations on our new website in the coming months.  


Katie’s picks:

Post-truth explained in pictures 

The Oatmeal: Believe 

This engaging and very clever cartoon strip neatly illustrates the issues we face when belief and emotion cloud the rational acceptance of facts. If you’ve already read the Winter 2020 Farm Policy Journal you’ll be familiar with the argument, and also aware that this is not an “other people” problem but a trap we all fall into. If you haven’t yet read the edition, it’s a great primer for the issues. Compulsory reading! (Warning: this may be a cartoon but there’s some strong language employed – not for kids.) 


Image credit: Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal 

 

The slippery truth about eels and knowledge 

The New Yorker: Where do eels come from? 

Following on the post-truth theme, this article looks at knowledge and assumptions through the lens of a surprisingly modern scientific mystery: the origin of European eels, Anguilla anguilla. While eels were widely consumed across Europe for centuries, their reproductive cycle was – despite the best investigative efforts – a mystery until just 100 years ago. To put that in context, we had invented cars, traffic lights, instant cameras, TV and jukeboxes before we understood how a basic food source was able to reproduce. And although we now know where European elvers come from (spoiler alert: the Sargasso Sea), there is still much that is not understood about their life cycle. A sobering lesson in not assuming that “we know everything already”. 


Food systems and land use transitions

ClimateWorks: 10 food and land use transitions 

The Food and Land Use Coalition has identified 10 global transitions to create more sustainable, resilient food and land use systems, and ClimateWorks Australia is publishing a series of short papers on the current state of play in Australia for each transition. There are some good short reads on scaling productive and regenerative agriculture, strengthening rural and regional livelihoods, and ecosystems rehabilitation to be found here. 


Richard’s picks: 

Freakishly unintended outcomes 

Freakonomics: How the supermarket helped America win the cold war

The Freakonomics podcast series is a fascinating exploration of just about everything! While it explores diverse and entertaining topics the core theme of the series is about how economic principles and theories can explain so much of our modern society. This episode, a favourite of mine, delves into how the agricultural policies put in place post-Second World War by the United States – which were initially intended to dominate the USSR – have had the effect of shaping much of the global food system that we know today.

Barley barely bearing up 

The Interpreter: Getting back to harvest

Tariffs imposed on Australian agricultural products entering China have been constantly in the news cycle in recent times. The Lowy Institute has produced an excellent summary of the technical aspects of how barley tariffs progressed through the various trade agreements in place. While there are obvious political overtones in the dispute, there is still a process that has been gone through to apply the tariffs. The Lowy article highlights how important good data is in defending claims of dumping and how – in this case – a lack of industry data was not helpful in resolving the dispute. 


Sally’s pick: 

Farmers diversifying into infotainment

New York Times: In a wistful age, farmers find a new angle

This New York Times article on “chore TV” reports on US farmers who have taken their social media presence from marketing their primary products to becoming the product. It tells of Morgan Gold whose duck farm makes US$2,500-4,000 per month in advertising from YouTube – which is about eight times what he makes from selling poultry and eggs. Farmer Justin Rhodes has more than 2,000 YouTube fans who pay fees of up to US$249 for membership and private instruction. Other farmers earn money from product endorsement deals. This development not only provides an extra income stream for smallholder “farmer-influencers” but also offers a haven from stress for the usually urban content subscribers, particularly in lockdown. 


Teresa’s pick: 

Bennett’s law meets COVID-19 

AEGIC blog: An old truth, rediscovered

This three-part blog series by Professor Ross Kingwell, chair of the AFI Research Advisory Committee and chief economist at AEGIC, applies Bennett’s law to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. This economic principle, introduced in 1941, states that as people’s incomes rise their diets transition from calorie-dense towards nutrient-dense foods; that is, more fresh produce, fish, meat and dairy rather than grains and staple products. Professor Kingwell uses this economic principle to discuss whether Australian grains will be a winner or loser in COVID-related global dietary changes. Read the first blog of the series here, and make sure you seek out the rest.