Welcome to The Land team's Year in Reviews. For the past few years, these have become a regular fixture where our journalists get the opportunity to write about what they want.
It is also an opportunity for you to get a glimpse of the person behind the byline, because for the other 51 weeks of the year, the team is busy reporting the news and stories of rural NSW.
This year has been a roller coaster of cancelled events (too many to mention), massive promise for harvest which for many was snatched away at the finish, and some monster records for the bull and ram sale season amid growing nervousness as everybody watched the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator reach unfathomable highs while also wondering "has it peaked yet?".
It hadn't. It defied gravity to finish the year at 1169.25c/kg.
Along with COVID, which you've heard plenty about from elsewhere, the year was shaped by its weather. Record rain in many areas and significant floods - along the Mid North Coast and Hawkesbury in autumn, inland along most river systems through late spring, and then along parts of the South Coast.
Meanwhile, in the The Land's newsroom, we've had a few changes.
Those farewelled included Olivia Calver, Wagga Wagga, Daniel Pedersen, Orange, our livestock editor, Lucy Kinbacher, Tamworth (who stepped up to be editor at Queensland Country Life), and the longest serving of them all, Mark Griggs, who vacated the Dubbo office to start an independent newspaper in Wellington.
Meanwhile, Hannah Powe, our former livestock writer, took the reins as livestock editor. It has been great to see somebody who has learnt the game from the ground-up in this newsroom not only want to step up to take on more responsibility, but take to it like a duck to water.
We also welcomed some new faces, including Edwina Watson (rural reporter) and Kate Loudon (livestock writer), who are both settling in to life at our Dubbo office. And we've had change on the property front, too, with the ACM Agriculture's (publisher of The Land) national team appointing two national property writers, Marian McDonald and Chris McLennan.
This has meant long-time property writer, Peter Austin, took a step back, but has continued with his tri-weekly Peppercorn column contributions. His input of his extensive knowledge of properties across NSW throughout his 20-odd years in the rural property seat, and the background of the various owners of those many farms of which he's written, has been well-recognised and valued among our readers - a byline that many kept an eye out for as they've thumbed through The Land's pages.
Also, we've been extraordinarily lucky to have had a Sydney Royal Show this year. For our own relatively small team, located from Wagga Wagga to Evans Head, and due to the COVID lockdowns, Sydney Royal was the first chance to meet a number of their colleagues face-to-face.
The other thing (besides COVID) that's dominated discussion this year more than ever is climate change.
I've had few people mention to me how it has become standard to throw in climate change to a report or conversation, seemingly for good measure. And I must say I have to agree.
For instance, in a recent news story I heard about a Eurasian hobby (a type of migratory bird of prey) that also happened to be the first recorded in eastern Australia, the interviewee explained how migratory birds tended to be more likely to appear in unusual locations during a La Nina season, "and probably also climate change".
What? You can't just tack that on the end without explaining climate change's contribution. La Nina is already a strong weather phenomenon and it is logical how a large weather system could carry birds off course. On the farm upon which I grew up, we would occasionally see a random bird or two appear that were certainly hundreds of kilometres out of the their normal range (we would try and identify them), if not further. In fact, that sort of thing seems to occur quite normally.
I'm not saying the climate isn't changing, or that it's not having an influence on these events. I'm just calling out that during 2021, too many people threw "and because of climate change" on the end of a sentence without an explanation of how it interacted with on-the-ground factors.
In short, blaming stuff on climate change has become a throw-away line and it needs to stop in instances where the link can't be explained. A migratory bird flying off course is hardly the same as a several thousand-hectare sized sink occuring in boreal forest due to permafrost thaw.
One company that climate change has definitely made life harder for in 2021 was the Chinese-owned Shenhua. Its Watermark mine proposal near Gunnedah got knocked on the head (with a $100 million handshake, courtesy of the tax payer), much to the relief of the local farmers.
This added to a list of coal projects in the past few years that have not got approval and is part of a bigger trend that includes a shift in where the money is going. At the top, there's been lots of maneuvering, some of which saw an unknown environmental activist hedge fund gain at least two director seats with one of the world's largest oil and gas traders, ExxonMobil.
The tiny firm, Engine No.1, which apparently had only a 0.02 per cent stake in ExxonMobil, had the backing of some of the world's largest asset managers, in Blackrock, Vanguard and State Street, who collectively voted for three of Engine No.1's nominations. Somebody will make a movie out of that someday.
Back home, the big guns are also getting in on the action, with Twiggy Forrest having announced a plan for green hydrogen, and green steel, by 2030. He points out that his iron ore company, Fortescue, generates just over two million tonnes of greenhouse gas every year, which is more than some small countries, although he did use Bhutan as an example and it is already supposedly carbon negative.
Come on Twiggy!
Something else you may have seen in the news this year is mining magnate Gina Rinehart tipping cash into a Vulcan Energy Resources Ltd project (Vulcan is aiming to decarbonise lithium production) to extract lithium from deposits under the edge of Germany's Black Forest in anticipation of a boom in electric vehicles.
This is apparently part of a larger goal that Europe becomes the first carbon neutral continent. The mining process is yet untested and considered risky, but low emission, and would reduce reliance on supplies from distant countries like Australia - currently the world's largest supplier.
With all that in mind, you can't help but want to bat for Twiggy's team. We could have hydrogen powered tractors built from his green steel (John Deere should surely get in on that action) and then head up the paddock in our RM boots (Twiggy having bought RM Williams last year).
More seriously though, the big dollars are all headed in that direction, one way or another. It really does therefore make you wonder why the federal government isn't doing more to support agriculture (and other Australian industries) to lift their batting average in the emissions stakes, irrespective of whether they're signed up to a net zero target.
And if Twiggy does pull off his green hydrogen and steel project, it could help establish a whole new steel manufacturing industry in Australia. Imagine that!
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