THERE are many graziers and farmers across the nation who would argue that drought and debt are the biggest problems facing the bush.
Many would equally argue that sufficient rain and debt restructuring will solve these primary concerns.
There is no doubt some farmers and their communities are being crippled by certain contract agreements with banks and their associated, and oftentimes, unreasonable penalty clauses.
The desperate need for decent rain is also destroying confidence among some, especially those in our northern beef industry.
But a long-term, fundamental problem, which underpins the entire sector that we must never lose sight of is profitability; or more to the point, the lack of profitability.
Applying sound business principles - productivity, profitability and an enterprises’ debt load - are all intrinsically linked.
If any of these core elements fail, the business will suffer.
To put it more bluntly, for a business to reach its maximum performance potential, all of these things need to be present and accounted for. Especially profitability.
Failing to deliver profits to a business can only lead to one result.
And I believe our sector is missing the rigorous debate essential to addressing this profitability problem.
When I speak about debate, I am referring to how primary producers, their communities, peak industry bodies and governments - at all levels - work towards generating wealth and prosperity for their regions, and our nation.
A distant observer with no knowledge of agriculture would argue that rural producers should be able to form an intimidating lobby group with great influence on government – as is the case in many other developed economies.
However, it is not always possible to say this is the case in Australian agriculture.
Among the major issues is that many peak bodies simply don’t represent the majority of their industry constituents.
The reasons for this are many and varied and there is insufficient space in this opinion piece to canvass all of the relevant matters - but much of the problem has to do with their resource capacity.
A very big job is often left to a minority of honorary providers.
Similarly, thousands of primary producers do not engage or participate with their peak bodies - thereby leaving a vacuum of influence.
There is no doubt that the relationship is symbiotic in essence, but not in practice. There is also a lack of representation in government. There needs to be more co-ordination between rural politicians and peak industry bodies to actively campaign for public policy that will positively impact on farm gate profitability.
Failure to communicate hinders the public policy decision making process and further stifles debate for a sector where there are only ever a small handful of politicians that show any interest in rural affairs.
Unless we begin to address these problems with debate and communication in our rural sector, I am concerned that Australia will simply not be prepared to capitalise on the spoils of the Asian Century.
Our geographical proximity to these Asian markets should not be translated to mean these nations will always trade with us.
If our agriculture sector is ever going to be able to service the economic promises we are making in these free trade agreements, we need peak industry bodies that can truly speak on behalf of their sector and can also better coordinate with rural politicians so that we will collectively roll out a swag at the door of any relevant minister’s office and refuse to leave until we have achieved the results we need.
We should all be in furious agreement that things cannot go on in their current form.
There are genuine efforts in motion to re-lay these foundations; however, perhaps the greatest tragedy is that it takes a crisis in debt and drought to begin this important conversation.
As we work through the urgent drought and debt issues confronting the bush, we must also iron out the long term structural and communication creases that will, if we are not careful, jeopardise what I think will be the most promising opportunities to confront primary producers in the last three decades.
It will take participation from every corner of the sector to address the profitability problem.
The stakes are too high for us to not take action.