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TAS Country : January 6th 2011
20 Tasmanian Country Friday, January 7, 2011 Opinion RICHARD BAILEY'S MARKET TALK --- PAGE 14 The mushy story of peas in our time OVER the FENCE John Rich THE United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation records that green peas produced in the world in 2008 totalled 8.7 million tonnes. It will come as no surprise to Tasmanian farmers that China is the largest producer, with 2.5 million tonnes. India is next with 2.3 million tonnes, followed by the USA 1 million, France 0.35 million and Egypt with 0.3 million tonnes. Australia is recorded as producing 40,000 tonnes or 0.5 per cent of the world production. These peas are grown for frozen processing and dried and for stock foods. Peas have been grown and consumed for thousands of years and are thought to be one of the first plants cultivated by humans. Peas are a member of the legume family, Fabaceae, along with beans and peanuts. Other species include chickpea, cowpea and black-eyed pea. Pea is the plant Pisum sativum. The exact location of the discovery of the first wild pea crop is obscure, although there is reason to believe that this may have been in western Asia and North Africa because wild peas can still be found in Afghanistan, Iran and Ethiopia. Or the country of origin may also have been in the cooler northern climates of India, Burma or Thailand. Wherever the origin, peas appear to have been cultivated 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. Pea cultivation spread through Europe about 4000 years ago, to China by the 1st century and to the New World around the end of the 1400s. Take-away foods may have begun with peas. Apparently around 500BC, vendors in the streets of Athens were selling hot pea soup. It is also recorded that Ancient Roman recipes included peas as an important component of meals. Initially, the fact that pea seeds could be dried and stored for extensive periods, particularly throughout the winter months, was the major attraction and allowed this product to be included in diets as well as providing a good source of feedstuff for animals. Dried peas were a staple and inexpensive food of the European peasants during the Middle Ages. In France and England, during the 1600s and 1700s, it became fashionable to eat peas as fresh food right after they were picked. The English also developed new varieties known as ''garden peas'', a term still used today. The popularity of green peas spread to North America. The advent of canned vegetables provided a new method of preserving peas. The Campbell Soup Company began canning peas in the United States in 1870. I believe canning peas in Tasmania began at Devonport in the early 1940s. Some of our older farmers still refer to the Simplot factory at Devonport as ''The Cannery'' and the pea crop they are growing as ''canning peas''. It is interesting to note that the heat of the canning process destroys the chlorophyll that gives peas their bright green colour, leaving the product a dull olive colour. The development of freezing capabilities in the 1920s and '30s was a boost for peas, allowing the product to be picked and frozen within hours of harvest, maintaining the fresh sweet flavour. More than 1000 varieties of pea are reported to be in existence today. The development of peas known as snow peas and snap peas, very popular additives to stir-fry cooking, were developed in China, probably in the 7th century. The entire pod and seeds are consumed. Peas are very often grown as a summer-harvest, rotation crop. They have a beneficial advantage for the soil because through a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, they play a role in the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can use. This replenishes soils depleted of nitrogen due to the planting on non-leguminous crops. For humans, peas are a good source of carbohydrates and protein as well as iron, and vitamins B and C. Tasmanian Country readers from the United Kingdom will be familiar with the term ''mushy peas''. These were popular, originally in the North of England, as an accompaniment to fish and chips and meat pies. The ''pie floater'' was created in South Australia and is now listed as a Heritage Icon in that state. The pie floater consists of the traditional Australian meat pie usually inverted, in a plate of thick green pea soup or mushy peas. It is typically covered with tomato sauce. The pie floater is mostly purchased in the street from pie- carts as a late evening meal and eaten standing up. A well known version of the pie floater in Australia comes from Harry's Cafe de Wheels pie cart situated in Woolloomooloo, in Sydney. Harry's Cafe de Wheels is listed on the National Trust Register as an historic icon. Brand is selling Tasmania short Here we are in 2011, so let's have a look at agriculture in this state and what we may be able to achieve in the new year. CHEWS theFAT David Byard Tasmania's Primary Industry is at a critical stage of its evolution and if we don't make the right decisions now in 2011 then we may see the demise of our traditional farms and more farmers forced to exit the industry.' WITH a population of 500,000 on a small island, agriculture is of more importance than in states with a high reliance on the minerals boom. In fact, 34 per cent of Tasmanian families rely on welfare income, another 33 per cent rely on federal, state or local government for their income, and the remaining 33 per cent derive their income from private enterprise. Between 8 and 10 per cent of the total income comes from exports. The Premier's vision is to make Tasmania the food bowl of Australia. This vision has stimulated people to discuss ways of value-adding agriculture. We have people talking about getting farmers into collectives so they can sell their goods locally. This may work for a few but certainly not the majority. Although well intentioned, the fact is that the potato farmer and a lot of other vegie growers have contracts with processing plants. If the processors decide overseas potatoes are cheaper because they are subsidised with cheap labour or by government, they simply close down their factories here. A producer with a contract for, say, 1000 tonnes has no hope of ever selling these at the front gate. If potato processors leave Tasmania, we will have 300,000 tonnes of potatoes to sell. And what are we going to do with the 5000 hectares of irrigated cropping ground. (Some farmers may have taken contracts to buy water.) The potato industry brings in $300 million to the state in exports. How would farmers cope with losing a big percentage of their income? It is easy and simplistic to suggest that farmers will diversify and may even grow other crops like poppies, however they need rotation and if everybody goes to grow poppies, cherries, pink elephants, they will flood the market in that commodity. While the government talks big about a food bowl it lets government departments source meat and eggs from interstate, which puts the pressure on employment and wealth creation, and demonstrates the wrong commitment from government. In the case of meat, we have banned HGPs in our cattle over the past decade and our state government knowingly contracts for meat that may have been grown using HGPs and fed a diet of antibiotics. More than one wholesaler who has been in contact suggested that although they expressed interest in tendering they were never sent any tender documents. Every box of meat coming into this state --- and there is tonnes of it --- reduces the competition for local cattle. In fact two processors process 90 per cent of Tasmania's cattle killed. One processor actively imports meat into Tasmania from the mainland, and this leads to the situation whereas Tasmanian cattle bring in most cases less than their mainland counterparts. The meat from these cattle brings a premium. This duopoly has led to the saleyards almost falling off the radar and being used as little more than a dumping ground for stock. The processors and supermarkets rarely attend the saleyards, prefering instead to buy stock over the hooks whereas penalties can be metered out for the slighest transgression. Red meat is an industry that creates wealth --- $360 million --- and employs 4920 people. If the government is going to get serious then it may consider making sure that any government contract insists that the meat, eggs, vegies actually comes from Tasmania if this is possible. As it stands now, a local Tasmanian company winning a state government contract could bring all of its products from interstate or overseas. Perhaps the time has come for the Tasmanian Government to get serious about Brand Tasmania and other local initiatives like the vegie task force and make sure that everybody is working together under one banner. How many people recognise McDonald's golden arches and how many people recognise the Brand Tasmania logo? How much would it cost to put signs on major highways --- ''Brand Tasmania, taste is in our nature, our jobs our future''. Tasmania's Primary Industry is at a critical stage of its evolution and if we don't make the right decisions now in 2011 then we may see the demise of our traditional farms and more farmers forced to exit the industry. People can't remain in an industry where the costs are greater than the returns. The only way we may compete on a quality basis is to develop a trusted Tasmanian brand which will identify Tasmanian grown and processed food and beverage. Consumers are the key and if they adopt a Tasmanian brand and seek out those brands then retailers will follow. Research suggests that most consumers like to buy Tasmanian products. A label or brand that ensures integrity in our produce may go a long way to ease farmers' woes. There are many examples around the world of states and islands that have made a success of this sort of marketing, like King Island. Tasmania sends trade delegations overseas at regular intervals and are they successful? What we do know is that the Australian dollar is very high and our production costs are very high. We are a small island state so we may be better off exporting our products as a prime quality product --- meat, vegies, cheese, honey etc. With a reputation for quality with a recognised brand, that underscores individual brands, we may in fact become the food bowl of the nation.
December 23rd 2010
January 13th 2011