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CC On Landline - is farming bad for you? the stresses on people in the bush. We're hearing a lot of stories about health warnings. The costs of ignoring

has always come last. Up until now, health for me the Murray-Darling. And putting native fish back into parts of the aquatic ecosystem. They're probably one of the keystone

now we're filling the gaps. We knew where the gaps were, Welcome to the program. Hello. I'm Pip Courtney. for biofuels Also, we examine the growing demand could have on food supply. and the effect this new grain market But first, to the news summary. Australian farmers run the risk The Federal Government says to overseas countries of losing new markets genetically modified crops if they don't start planting

as soon as possible. South Australia and Tasmania Although Victoria, New South Wales, are reviewing their GM moratoriums, they're not moving fast enough. the Federal Agriculture Minister says to extremists The States have been beholden scientific arguments. who are peddling illogical GM opponents, however, argue for consumers. the modified foods are a turn off competitors in world markets, Why would we side with our main Canada and the USA, around the world against our customers for GM free? who are prepared to pay more

Despite recent heavy coastal rains, in Australian history the worst drought country's most productive food bowls. is continuing in some of the Murray Darling system are lower Water storage and flows in the than they've ever been. average still, The inflows are way below

and we've got a long way to go season from the Murray. in terms of getting back to a normal down the Murray What water is making its way irrigation channels and being held in domestic and stock supplies. is largely being set aside to meet in Tasmania, But it's a very different story millions of dollars worth of damage. where widespread flooding caused were washed away. Two bridges in the State's north-east

assessments of the whole area We've done some preliminary and the bridges and roads million is what we're looking at and somewhere in vicinity of $3.5 at the moment or decrease. but that could either increase fully assess the impact Councils say it will take weeks to of the floods. concern A Senate committee has expressed controversial Traveston dam about the design of Queensland's

near Gympie. of saying the dam shouldn't be built Although the committee stopped short seepage, evaporation it said the project had problems with and fault lines. of affected communities It's given a voice to members handled the dam process to date. with how the State Government has stressed, anxious and frustrated that have told us they feel

described the inquiry However, the Queensland Government as a political stunt. biggest non event since the Y2K bug. I would have to say this is the and then nothing happens. Lots of hype project The first stage of the $1.7 billion in about four years. is expected to be finished

has come to an end The world's largest grazing trial in northern Australia results could revolutionise and researchers are predicting the the outback. tropical rangelands The findings show stations in jeopardising the environment can sustain more cattle without or efficiency. stocking rate, We believe we can double the in profitability. that would mean a doubling The $6 million study was paid for by

Australia and research agencies Heytesbury Beef, Meat and Livestock around the country. for the right to log Forestry Tasmania has begun arguing east of Hobart. in the Wielangta State Forest Court ban on logging in the area. It's seeking to overturn a Federal court ruling as a key victory Environmentalists hailed last year's threatened species. in the battle to maintain and the environment. A fantastic day for this nation But Forestry Tasmania argued

the Weilangta Forest no-man's-land the ruling effectively made also tree planting, as it not only banned logging but transport operations. burning and weekend's Mount Isa rodeo And finally - organisers of last and most successful to date. have hailed the event the biggest the Queensland outback city 25,000 fans converged on largest rodeo for all the thrills and spills of the in the Southern Hemisphere. atmosphere and it's the romance. It's the excitement, it's the million into the local economy. The event injects more than $19

spotlight has been on For the past few weeks the media

the Howard Government's attempts basin to take control of the Murray-Darling

rescue plan with an ambitious $10 billion feuding governments continue, but while negotiations between along the river system grassroots communities

environmental goals. have been quietly achieving their own The so called Native Fish Strategy seeks to repopulate the waterways with rare and endangered indigenous fish which once thrived throughout the entire system.

On the mid reaches of the Murray River downstream from the Yarrawonga weir Jared Lyon and Peter Fairbrother are fishing for science. But on this fishing expedition, there are no rods or reels, nor any bait, just a thousand volts of pulsing electricity. Could be a trout cod in here, Pete. Maybe we should give this one a try. Yeah, no worries.

It's called electrofishing and is an important tool in the quest to repopulate Australia's biggest inland waterway with native fish such as the mighty Murray cod. Murray cod's probably the most iconic of our native species in the Murray-Darling basin, but through this section of the river here we've also got species like introduced cod which are an endangered species. This section of river has the last self sustaining naturally reproducing population within the basin so it's a really important population of fish. We also have silver perch which exist through here, golden perch or yellowbelly, as some people people know them as. Ad we also have a lot of smaller bodied species like smelt and gudgeons that exist right through this region as well

as sort of almost all of the basin.

Today's catch is carefully weighed and measured and then tagged - first externally so that anglers can report their catches back to the research team, then internally, with with an electronic pit tag which monitors how far the fish travel. We have been working up here for around 10 or more years probably and we've learned a lot of things.

For instance, we've tracked Murray cod that are going over 100 kilometres upstream to spawn and they'll come back to exactly the same snag within the river. Golden perch or yellowbelly, as some people might know them, will do that as well. The Murray Darling basin has about 46 native species and on the best available science populations are about 10% what they were before European settlement

of Australia. Under programs such as the Living Murray and the Native Fish Strategy, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission is spending millions of dollars to try to rebuild those populations to 60% within 50 years. And even in a year when irrigators are facing zero allocations, the commission says there's general agreement along the length of Australia's biggest river system

that action is needed urgently. People are quite attracted to the notion of looking after fish and I guess in terms of any additional water that might be required, which otherwise say might've gone to irrigators, last year we only had a small amount of what we'd describe specifically as environmental water and some of that did run through the fishways through the barrages and we saw incredible migrations and breeding of fish

that hadn't been seen for some time so that was a real plus and that seems to go down pretty well in the community. The Murray-Darling system is suffering from years of prolonged drought

and while native fish have survived that and the competing demands of irrigation and development, scientists say their importance to the overall health of the river system cannot be overestimated. They're probably one of the keystone parts of the aquatic ecosystem in that they provide a lot of ecosystem, the combination of the fish and their abundance in the river drives things like blue green algal densities, drives insect populations within the river channel, some species that alter their habitats that exist within the river channel. In addition they supply the nutrients to things like waterbirds and platypus and things further up the food chain

that have linkages with the terrestrial environment. Hi, Vanessa, how are they going? Hi, Dean, pretty good. We've had one pair that went overnight and he's busy guarding his eggs. And we've got these few here. I reckon these two here are pretty - they're showing a bit of excitement.

So I reckon they'll go pretty soon too. Dr Dean Gilligan heads the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Fresh Water Research Division which is trying to breed some of the more threatened native fish species at its Narrandera hatchery. Over the last three decades they've successfully bred millions of Murray cod and other species for recreational fishing stocks but the focus is increasingly turning to rare endangered fish such as the purple spotted gudgeon, the pygmy perch and the trout cod.

We're only in early days. For introduced cod we're just starting to see signs of recovery now. For the first 10 or 15 years of the reintroduction program

we didn't get much indication of success. But over the last few years we've really started to see our stocked fish establishing, growing to adult size.

We know they recruit or breed. The stage in that process now is to demonstrate that they're breeding sustainably so that the level of breeding is sustaining recovery of the population whereas for the other species like the purple spots we've only been seeing fish for the last couple of years and it's too early to tell. Under the Native Fish Strategy special fishways or fish ladders are being built at barrages and weirs along the river. As seen in this animation the ladders help fish move beyond the man-made barriers. In all, $45 million is being spent to provide a continuous passage from the Hume dam to the mouth of the Murray in South Australia, a distance of about 2,300 kilometres. Another key initiative under the Living Murray program is the resnagging of 180 kilometres of river between the Hume dam and Yarrawonga. In the 1970s and '80s, thousands of snags were removed from the river to improve its flow for irrigation. But scientists now realise that with those snags went much of the natural habitat of native fish species. We've mapped every log in the river between Hume dam and Lake Mulwala and that gave us a really good indication of where we needed to put fish habitat back. So we knew where the gaps with were, now we're filling the gaps and by doing that we will be achieving 100 kilometres of connected fish habitat in the Murray River channel so hopefully we'll see some great results soon.

The logs have been carefully selected from development sites and about 4,000 electronically tagged to record their location and effectiveness. These are typical logs that we're using for resnagging. We're looking nor native hardwood timber such as redgum. You can see in this shot here there is a root ball on the end of a long log which has a few branches sticking out

so this is what the fish generally like to live in and around, it gives them a good food source, and provides some shelter from the current and from predators.

How long before you think you will actually see some results? We are monitoring in this reach of the river for the next, at least three or four years, and then probably continuing on from that, so the results may not be instantaneous but we're hoping that by providing extra habitat for the fish, the numbers will gradually build up and they'll start reproducing in this reach of the river again, so we're looking at an increase in not only the big fish but also the small fish which might show that they've started breeding in this reach again. An important part of the Native Fish Strategy is the control of so called alien species, introduced fish of which there are 11 in the Murray-Darling system. By far the biggest pest is the ubiquitous carp,

now accounting for between 70% and 90% of all fish in some lakes and streams.

On the Murrumbidgee River near Narrandera they're catching carp as part of a tagging program in which 10,000 of the invaders will be released to compare the cost effectiveness of current carp control programs

and while a range of measures have had mixed success, in recent years, carp numbers have been declining more from natural causes. Tag number 205561. We've noticed over the last few years that carp populations have declined significantly,

and that's a broad pattern, it's not just localised areas, they seem to be declining in general over most of the basin. But the reason why they declined, whether we can say that was because of the drought, we don't know. It may have been, because we know that they require flood events to spawn, so because we haven't had any major floods over the last three or four or five years, carp may not have spawned effectively for quite a while. But it also could be that because the native fish

like Murray cod have recovered over the last few years and the Murray cod are now preying on carp populations that Murray cod are doing the job for us. It's a whole bunch of factors that are interacting and we can't tease out the exact cause but it's definitely happening. They may be in decline, but at Deniliquin in New South Wales, they're the basis of an enterprise turning a pest into a valuable resource. Charlie Carp is an organic fertiliser business, converting 400 tonnes of cooked carp a year into liquid fertiliser. The company supplies the home garden market, but has recently undertaken scientific studies of its product on more intensive crops.

We've done quite a bit with regards to horticulture with vegetables and that, we've done stonefruit, some with citrus, some with pastures, we've tried a whole gambit of products, and we do have some empirical data starting to come through. So how long before the product is likely to be available to broadacre farmers particularly organic farmers? It's available now. It is available now. And we do have supporting data for a range of crops. We probably have very limited capacity in the sense of broadacre cereal crops and those areas, but certainly with more niche crops and more intense cropping we certainly do have a market that I think we can supply. The company says it has capacity to massively increase production

and even with carp declining and a big push to develop a range of new biological controls, it is unconcerned about ever losing its resource. It's a difficult one to answer, because we really need to know what the outcomes will be

once we get a return to normal seasons and that. If we have a flood we don't know what the predominant species is going to be back into the river systems, and suffice to say that I would - I have no concerns about our raw material for a long time to come. While the damage caused by carp is well known, researchers admit their knowledge of even the most basic biology of native fish is limited.

Science is at the forefront of the Native Fish Strategy. In this study, blood samples are being taken from natives

to try to quantify the extent of a potentially devastating disease carried by the introduced red fin perch. We know nothing about its distribution within the basin or what impacts it's having on particular fish species, so as part of our normal monitoring programs

we collect blood samples and send them to Sydney University who's collaborating with us on the project

and they've developed or are in the process of developing tests to test whether the fish has been exposed to the virus in the past or not. And based on that information we will be able to draw a map of where the virus is within the river system and hopefully we can use that knowledge

to try and prevent the virus spreading any further. So generally speaking, how susceptible are native fish to diseases? Um...in general they're quite tough. But obviously there's some diseases that are much worse than others and within any species that can be affected to different degrees, so things like Macquarie perch and silver perch, it's almost 100% mortality if they catch the virus whereas things like Murray cod, it only kills about 20% of the carriers and they can carry it and pass it on to other fish.

So some fish are entirely susceptible to it, others are carriers and others aren't impacted at all. Some natives such as the Murray crayfish have been responding positively to restrictions introduced as a result of the scientific effort. A bit better. There's a nice one. Yeah. The Native Fish Strategy relies heavily on the support

of recreational fishers.

If we didn't have fishermen out there that had the fish in mind, we would have no fish, because nobody else is really that interested in 'em. It's a matter of fishermen are out there, they need the fish to keep going with their activities, catching 'em of course and basically taking a few home to eat, but to do that they have to keep an eye on the water, whether there's pollution in the water, whether the water flows are right,

whether we've got the right amount of irrigation flows going down. All this has become relevant over the last 10 to 15 years. Fishermen are really becoming environmentalists in a lot of ways

because they see the need to keep things happening the right way so that their fish survive. With the help of DVDs such as this one teaching anglers how to safely release their catch, surveys reveal that more than 75% of Murray cod caught by anglers are now being released and while recreational fishers have an interest in preserving fish stocks, according to the Murray Darling Association, which represents more than 100 local government authorities along the river,

there is community-wide support for the Native Fish Strategy. The Commonwealth and State governments may bicker over the politics and policy of managing the Murray Darling, but at a grassroots level the association says cooperation is king. We've found that there has always been cooperation.

I mean, natural resource management is about a partnership of people, whether it's government, local government, community, State Government, Federal Government, and I think the experience shows if we don't work together we're not gonna get the really good outcomes we need in natural resource management and the Native Fish Strategy is an excellent example where all those levels of government and the community all work together because at the end of the day, it's communities and they're represented by local government

that have to live with the consequences of the research that the scientists do, of the policies that the government make, and also the land and water strategies that the agencies implement.

In the near future, farmers could be major players in the global energy market. With dwindling oil supplies and international campaigns to cut carbon emissions, the biofuel industry is growing. But this new industry is not without controversy, with some analysts questioning whether it makes economic and environmental sense to convert food crops into fuel. The world outlook for grain is an intriguing and some would argue perplexing equation.

Basically, it comes down to this. We have to produce more grain per drop of water, we have to produce it under increasingly difficult conditions, you know, climate change and so on. And we have to produce more per square metre of land. And into this maelstrom of shrinking resources

and fears of being unable to feed a burgeoning global population comes a new factor - the biofuels market. There are projections that by 2015 at our current rate of growth, that 10% of the world's grain crop would end up as a biofuel.

Biofuels such as ethanol derived from crops

are often trumpeted as one solution to the world's reliance on diminishing oil supplies. The key drivers globally and in Australia for biofuels industry in general are fuel security and climate change, so reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and also you know, energy costs, fuel costs. There's also drivers of regional opportunities for farmers, and health in cities from reduced pollutants from biofuels. But amongst the globe's grains industries, the ethanol question is strangely divisive. Some argue that this farm-grown fuel revolution has some serious downsides. What we would think are two sides of this equation that government does not appear to have commissioned

any proper research and we think it's folly to go down this path without examining what might be quite serious impacts.

We are more concerned about what the effects will be in terms of markets, in terms of the ability of the United States to remain competitive in the food industry, and in trade, going forward, and the question of whether a government policy

is skewing that competitiveness to the favour of ethanol as opposed to having the market make those decisions. The ethanol issue took centre stage at a major grains conference held last week in Melbourne. The 400 delegates heard of new opportunities for Australia's grains industry, from the increasing demand for food from emerging economies, especially Asia, from the worldwide adoption of biotechnology and from the fledgling energy market. However, some, such as Washington DC-based trade consultant and political adviser Paul Green, questioned the economics of making biofuels from grain. If biofuels are justified by their energy output and their economic driver, because of high oil prices, that's one thing. If it's because governments make the decision, it's picking winners and losers and the loser might be the food supply and cost of food to consumers. In 2005, the US Senate enacted a mandate to increase the United States' renewable fuel supply to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012 and ultimately to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The United States has seen tremendous growth in ethanol, as you probably have read. It's corn-based ethanol and we have seen a doubling of our capacity in the last three years and there's a projected another doubling in the next two years. There are now about 120 ethanol plants and the number is growing, producing 6 billion gallons annually. Believe it or not, about 80% of the things that are on the grocery shelf in the United States have some input from corn. It's hard to imagine, but it's true. The rapid rise of the biofuels market saw corn prices more than double in the last 12 months to be currently US$175 a tonne. Clean and green gasoline has come at the expense of foods which rely on corn. Meat, pork and eggs have all risen between 6% to 14%. I guess globally, some of the emerging concerns about fuel security versus food security and in Australia that's gonna include water security, do we use our water to grow fuel or do we use it to grow food or animal feed, are critical emerging issues. Some analysts forecast rising US beef prices will make Australia's beef industry more competitive. Australia's lot feeding industry doesn't see it that way. It warns that if government policy dictates that oil companies must blend ethanol with conventional fuels, it will distort a domestic grains market and create at unofficially high feed prices.

In a drought we are in the face of a mandate would be facing a situation where X percentage has to be X tonnes of grain must be diverted into fuel production, and that's, in fact, really governments picking winners and losers, it's saying in a time of drought and shortage, fuel is a more important usage than food chain usage. Now we would think the market really should decide that as well.

Australian lot feeders has the the support

of Australia's largest cattle producers -

North Australia Pastoral Company, Australia Agricultural Company, and GP Limited. The beef industry argues that an ethanol mandate

would harm the competitiveness of Australia's $5 billion beef export trade. Australia is a very substantial exporter of beef to the world. We have a great opportunity to increase that over time, and shore up our competitive position. Anything that damages this engine room for this particular supply chain is going to harm the industry overall.

Just as ethanol is a hot political issue in America's wheatbelt, some see it looming large in the coming Australian federal election. Manildra, owned by the Honan family, dominates the Australian ethanol market. Since 2002 the Honan companies have secured $65 million in Federal Government grants for biofuels. Ethanol, made by a fermentation process

is the world's most widely used alternative fuel and can be made from a range of crops and wood-based materials but the most efficient of these is sugarcane, hence the political interest in some Queensland coastal seats. Brazil is generally seen as the world's leading ethanol producer. The Brazilians are able to manufacture ethanol

without a subsidy, and have made a dramatic conversion of their whole fuel sector. Now some people would say that's the model for everybody else, but it's unique in that they are able to grow sugarcane there, in an efficient manner and convert it and they've got automobiles

that are able to use higher levels of ethanol than ours, and their whole system has been based on it for a 10 year period. Australia doesn't have the luxury of such a massive sugar industry, nor Brazil's reliable climate. The CSIRO predicts oil seed crops could supply only 8% of Australia's diesel needs so the solution could lie in ethanol from wheat. That's at least one scientific breakthrough away for it to be an economical option to grain use for ethanol. Scientists are seeking ways to utilise the entire plant. The potential is with genetic engineering that we produce organisms that can attack things like the - the lingnans, the hemicellulose, the structural molecules in the plant. So that means that there will be a lot more of the plant available for fermentation. We're looking at being able to break down those non food components of biomass and convert those to - not just ethanol

but there's some other types of biofuels on the horizon and we're looking at the potential for industry to develop across not just the grains sector but across the biomass sector which is agricultural industry,

forestry industry and even the waste industry, using some waste residues. Some believe perennial tree crops could supply the biofuels of the future. Others advocate breeding grains with higher starch content, better suited to making ethanol. Scientist Ken Street believes the key to breeding such crops may already exist in remote corners of the globe.

In a field in Australia, all of this stuff would be the same. Exactly the same genetic background, but here, just in front of me in less than a square metre, we've got six different forms. What I do is try to collect and conserve genetic diversity of our crop plants and where we do that is where actually agriculture began in the fertile crescent, and the transCaucuses and then the secondary centres of diversity and domestic ation in the Central Asian republics. The emerging biofuels industry

has already contributed to low global grain stocks and higher prices. Whether Australia does or doesn't end up with a biofuels industry, the impact of the biofuels industry internationally is going to be big. Food will certainly increase in price. And there will be that supply and demand issue. Indeed, just recently, the head of UN agriculture came out and warned against that and that whole grain for fuel or grain for food is a global debate. And for Australian farmers, this new demand for the golden grain could spell the start of a golden future. With fresh air, good food and plenty of exercise, farming may appear to be a healthy way of life. But a recent report tells a very different story,

citing long hours, stressful conditions and limited access to medical services. Now, one rural lobby group is putting focus back onto health and is encouraging its farming members to do the same.

Godfrey and Spencer Morgan are third generation farmers on Queensland's Western Downs. Over 100 years ago, their grandfather came here to build a life and a future. Since then, the short horn stud at Condamine has grown into a sound agribusiness with family members all contributing to the property's ongoing success. My mother's still involved in it, and my brother, Spencer, and myself. We run a stud, short horn stud, and we also do a bit of cereal grain production as well. And that forms the basis of our business. With each person playing an integral part in the running of the company, the family recognised a need to incorporate health management as part of their farming operations. We run our business, we're actively involved in it, so you know our health is important to - I mean being on deck is important. Obviously everyone, you all get crook and things like that, but trying to prevent major problems is, we see, is important for the longevity of our business.

Short-term illness is probably not a major issue. Having a couple of us in the business, we're able to cover for each other. We know how the business operates. So that's the beauty of having that sort of structure. So short-term's not an issue. Long-term would be a big issue. I will be at the football. When Godfrey and Spencer Morgan's father died six years ago, those concerns took on a new urgency. In a long-term family operation like this one, it forced them to focus on the future. Dad passed away unexpectedly, and I suppose we decided - Godfrey and I sat down and mum pushed us pretty hard to go and do it, you know, get a proper check up, and then as know it was all involved with family succession as well, with the insurance policies and what not so it all sort of tied in at the same time. I mean, I was probably a bit apprehensive at first when we decide we were gonna do it in case they found something that you didn't want 'em to find, but no, look, it was...it was something that came about, we talked about it and had been talking about we should be doing it. And at 38 and 40 years old, the brothers knew they were entering the age bracket for increased health risks and they wanted an ongoing health management plan. That's a tall order in rural and remote parts of Australia.

There's a shortage of health professionals in the bush and as a result, many services are reduced or not provided. They're also often long distances away from the people who need them. It's not surprising, then, that reports show many people in country areas aren't maintaining their health and are at higher risk of chronic disease. In is one of the older planes and got the new ones coming soon. Health on the farm has now become serious business, with corporate health professionals like Dr Toby Forde being increasingly involved in the rural sector. The healthy farmers program that we're running will expand out into some of the areas that flying doctors runs their clinics. The general practitioner grew up in the bush, worked with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and now he is a director on the Queensland board. I have always had a soft spot for people who live west of the great divide, and when I was growing up, perhaps I wasn't as aware as some of the lack of services then as I am now, but I was amazed at what people ate, how much people drank, how much people probably did in terms of work and labour, and as time's gone on,

we've become less active in the bush with the automation of services, the automation of things that you might do on your property, so I've remained interested in why working family in the country are perhaps higher representatives of heart disease, where inactivity is one of the risk factors for heart disease. Hi, Scott, how are you? Nice to see you.

As a corporate service, Forde Health develops programs aimed at making employees healthier and more productive.

Toby Forde says he saw the need to make that work in a rural setting. So when we took the corporate health model, which was really for people who, yes, do work in factories and do work in law firms and do work in businesses in the built up areas of Australia, when we took the program we really stripped it down and when you strip it down, there are things like blood pressure and depression and cholesterol nd cancer and these are all the same, it doesn't matter who you are, if you're a working aged person it has application everywhere. I suppose that's a catch 22, isn't it? You need the rain to make it.

For Godfrey and Spencer Morgan, a comprehensive health program was an easy decision because to them it made good business sense.

But that's often not the case with many people putting their health on the back burner. Peter Kenny is a farmer and he's also the President of the Queensland lobby group AgForce. I guess the biggest problem we have is time. But then that goes back to an attitude as to what comes first. Is it your health that comes first, and for us, up until now, health for me has always come last, you know. You go out there and you do your job and you've got sore back, you've got - something has gone wrong, you might've had a buster on a horse the day before so you just battle on. And irrespective of your health, it's this job must be done. So you go and do the job. The blueprint for the bush launch.

He says until a year ago, he thought he had his priorities right, with work first. But he left his health too late. I felt that I was invincible. That my health was quite OK. I've never had any problems in my life. As a matter of fact I've never had a formal check up in my life and until I listened to Dr Toby Forde at one of our conferences, even then I was still suspicious of his motives, and it wasn't until my wife actually forced the issue

that I go and get a check up that my life has changed with regards to the whole health aspect of living. He went to a GP who found he had serious blood pressure and cholesterol results. And the doctor at the time, who was a local GP, put me on a scale and said that, you know, I didn't have too much longer to go, the way I was living, although I didn't smoke and I thought I didn't drink too much either, nor did I thought my diet was quite balanced. But anyway, I was wrong. Within about a week of that happening, I did have the first signs of a heart problem, which shocked me. I had a pain that I'd never had before.

He had a 95% blockage in the main artery. Heart surgery followed. I was informed that had that not happened to me, I was extremely lucky,

my heart hasn't been damaged but I wouldn't be here today. Pretty sobering? Well...it was...yeah, and now I believe that what they were saying is quite true. When I look back, the difference between how I feel now and what I felt at that time, yeah, I was on a road to, you know,

to no recovery. You wouldn't expect it to be a problem to stay healthy in the bush. As a way of life it seems to bring together all the elements of health, good food, fresh air, plenty of exercise. But that's not the reality. Nationally, rural health doesn't rate well. In country areas, over two thirds of people are overweight or obese. They're at increased risk of heart disease and less likely to use preventive measures. In short, the further you go away from metropolitan areas, the higher the mortality rate. There is some evidence around retention of rural work force. Professor John Wakerman is the chairman of the National Rural Health Alliance. There's a chronic disease epidemic in this country,

and it's worse in rural areas and a lot of the predisposing factors like smoking and obesity are worse in rural and remote areas. Injury is another problem that increases as you move from capital cities into more remote areas.

The alliance represents 27 national rural health organisations. Last week, the delegates met in Canberra to prepare a submission to government on the state of health in the bush. John Wakerman says one of the fundamental concerns is that a shortage of medical professionals and services in the bush makes access to health difficult. One of the stories that one of our representatives

from one of our member organisations told us was about a family

and they have to travel 60 km to access their primary care, and with the cost of petrol,

and with the pressures due to drought in that particular area, those people don't make that trip until they have a whole shopping list of things to do in town because of the cost of fuel. We're hearing a lot of stories about the stresses on people in the bush, the continuing effects of drought on farmers, for example. So the fact that there are these social and economic stressors, it doesn't surprise me that people are working very long hours and not taking the time to look after their own health. For a lot of people in the country,

it's really a matter of survival at the moment. Peter Kenny says after his own close call, he was determined to cut through some of the obstacles for farmers. As a result, AgForce joined forces with Forde Health and developed the Healthy Farmers Program,

which AgForce then offered to its members. I had a responsibility from where I sit to spread the message. And then as a result, you know, we got this agreement with Dr Toby Forde, and using his wisdom, we now have a process in place where our people can actually avail themselves of a very quick and easy check up, a physical check up, but this check up you don't have to go around the street for it. It's a one stop shop, basically, where in a very short time you will find out exactly how you are physically. I think one of the things that was a challenge was actually to say, "How can we take this sort of service to the bush?" Because lots of people in the bush just don't get away. The Healthy Farmers Program starts with a comprehensive health assessment at clinics set up in regional locations, requiring just one visit. The 2.5 hour consultation covers work, lifestyle, medical, physical and mental health. Each person and their GP is then given a health report and any specialist referrals needed and for the next 12 months Forde Health follows up the farmers with regular phone calls offering advice and support. A survey of the health of the first 50 farmers through the healthy farmers pilot program highlighted what the experts already know about rural health. Generally, the farmers were on the right track with physical activity and diet yet but there were several areas of concern. Over 60% worked more than 50 hours per week.

47% had back and neck pain affecting their ability to work. 43% reported high stress levels. 25% had elevated blood pressure. Most don't make time for preventive health like cancer screening. And farmers still put off going to their doctor for help. Now, other rural organisations are taking up the program as well.

We're very pleased to see this sort of activity. As I said before, there is a disease epidemic, and really that's about not only dealing with these chronic diseases now, diseases like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, renal disease, but also about preventing them. So these sorts of health promoting programs that have a focus on prevention as well as treatment of existing conditions are really important. And what we'd like to see is not just these stand alone programs working, but also what we'd like to see is an integrated health promotion strategies that runs across all of the primary health care services

across rural and remote Australia. Probably a dry one by the sound of it, anyway. The drought has taken a heavy financial toll on farming families and their businesses. So at a cost of between $795 and $995, the healthy farmers program is a substantial investment to make.

But it's one these farmers believe will pay dividends in the long run. When we propose it as a business investment, then most people will say, "Look, I've put six new tyres on a semitrailer the other day. "They're each worth $6,000 or whatever the price is "and I thought nothing of that,

"because I really had to move that stock from A to B." "And you're asking me to invest in my health "and make an upfront payment and the answer is yes."

Yes, it's the most important investment. I mean, health is number one, isn't it? And then your relationship with the people around you

is much easier because you're not as grumpy, you're not as intolerable as a result of that. I think that your whole mind set changes in that you become much more open minded, more tolerant, probably more pro active, and as a result the business itself will take a much better pathway forward. Yeah, look, I mean, at the end of the day with what we've been through in the last few years drought-wise, I mean, yeah, a load of hay is probably 10 times as expensive as going down and getting your health checked out, so you know, it is expensive, but it's probably very cheap at the end of the day.

The commodities this past week has been wheat with prices rocketing to levels never seen before. The Chicago price lifted to above $7 a bushel - it closed Wednesday at $7.50. The price came back a fraction after week's end but it wasn't so long back when $4 was considered a top price. Analysts warn this is hard trading driven by the oldest law of economics - supply and demand, not speculation.

And if the outlook in Australia gets any gloomier don't expect prices to head south anytime soon.

Alongwith the sliding Aussie dollar, this is great news for our growers if you can get the wheat in the bin at the end of the year. Now to cattle and last week I spoke to several beef producers at the Bisbane show - they are absolutely desperate for rain. They've been hand feeding for over 18 months and the market is reflecting the lack of feed

and in many cases the simple lack of water for stock.

Wool is looking OK at the moment with China being the key. The question remains when they will buy and how much they're prepared to pay.

That's the report for this week, all the prices are on our website. Some rainfall for Victoria last week and some for NSW and Queensland and some unseasonal rain in the Top End, but elsewhere a fairly normal winter pattern.

That's almost it for this week. If you'd like transcripts of any of our stories, you can go to the web site: Next week, escape from Zimbabwe. How African farmers have coped after four years in rural Australia. They've coped very well and we've adjusted pretty good. But that honeymoon is over and reality has set in.

Farming in a strange land. That's one of our stories next week. We'll leave you today with some of the entries to mark the 200-year anniversary of the wool industry. I'm Pip Courtney and it's goodbye from Landline. Closed Captions by CSI

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