This will be my last regular column in this space.
I've decided it's time I left the commentating to others, and channelled my energies into periodic feature articles about people or places of interest.
It's been quite a ride, since my first Peppercorn column appeared in these pages in August 1990.
The idea of such a column was suggested by my then boss, Paul Myers, not long after I had stepped down from my first term as editor.
Myers thought it would give me an alternative outlet for my fevered thoughts, since I would no longer be writing the weekly editorials.
This suited me fine, and we decided to name the column Peppercorn at the suggestion of the then chief sub-editor, Mark Dennis, drawing on the warm response that a recent series of articles and reader contributions about this ubiquitous exotic tree had evoked.
All was well until a few years later I found myself back in the editor's chair and therefore tasked again with writing the paper's weekly editorial, which meant I then had to come up with two opinion pieces each week, and I have to confess now that my own view on some issues and the "paper's view" (as expressed in my editorials) didn't always exactly coincide.
Sometimes my agrarian socialist notions were at odds with the "party line"!
As time went on, the column found itself sharing space with others, which meant that instead of being a weekly offering, it became fortnightly, and then (as now) part of a three-weekly rotation.
Events since the column began in 1990 have provided plenty of scope for commentary, from the wool market crash of that year to the OJD saga that followed, the SEPP 46 clearing bans of Bob Carr's, the unravelling of the Australian Wheat Board, water rows in the Murray-Darling Basin and now climate change and the energy crisis.
I've been saddened by many of the changes that have occurred during that time: the ploughing-up of Mitchell grass rangelands for annual cropping, the divorcing of irrigation entitlements from the land, the displacement of family farms in the Riverina by corporate horticultural plantations, the wanton white-anting of our rail network, the displacement of dairying by lifestyle farms along the well-watered coast, and I could go on.
My views have often been coloured by the fact that I see agriculture - or farming - as being not just about food and fibre production, export dollars or economic efficiency.
It's also about populating and managing the landscape and preserving viable rural communities.
On the latter score, however, I am at least glad to be bowing out at a time when the farm sector is buoyant after a run of good seasons and strong markets, and when a generation of young people can again see a future in "coming home to the farm".
I just hope they have the fortitude to weather the inevitable setbacks ahead.
And that's it from me - for now, anyway. Thanks for listening!
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