Education equals innovation

Nuffield’s contribution to Australian agriculture is substantial.

LAST week I had the honour of addressing the Nuffield family at their National Conference - a key breeding ground for Australia’s agriculture and agribusiness leaders.

I have noted before that our food and fibre sectors have enormous opportunities on offer. But the challenges are just as significant; the work of Nuffield and its scholars will be crucial to addressing them both.

Nuffield’s contribution to Australian agriculture is substantial. It lays in part, in the quality of its scholars and the adoption and commercialisation of their ideas.

The very existence of Nuffield reflects a long-standing appreciation that neither our geography nor our natural endowments guarantee us the total fulfilment of our aspirations in agriculture.

That would be a lazy and complacent view of the world; one which would lead us to ordinariness at best.

Australia’s food and fibre sectors are too important to our economy, too important to our communities, and too important to our food security and adequacy, to be left to an ordinary effort.

The theme of the Nuffield conference was: Making Change Happen – Educate, Innovate, Exceed.

It was Nelson Mandela who said – “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.

In addition to our own and on-going self-education, all of us – politicians and industry leaders alike – must embrace the responsibility to be the educators. To challenge people to a conversation absent of political spin and games.

I believe there are three areas which more than any other, call upon the agriculture sector to embark upon a mission to create a better informed Australia.

The first is foreign investment which has been the subject of previous columns.

The second issue is climate change and sustainability.

Surely there is no greater challenge to our food and fibre aspirations than our changing climate and resource depletion.

Our future in agriculture lays more in chasing value rather than volume. But volume will be important and the question becomes; how will we grow more with less.

Our growers and producers know our climate is changing and it’s having an impact on agriculture. While climate change is causing the land available to grow wheat here in Australia to contract, in Canada – one of our key competitors – it is expanding.

Unfortunately, over recent years our progress in dealing with the challenges of a drier continent and more erratic weather patterns has been hampered by the politicisation of the public debate.

An enormous effort is required to ensure we lift the productivity of our water and soil resources and it will only come with initiatives in a range of policy areas including carbon mitigation, adaptation, and market-based approaches to resource allocation.

The third issue is farm structure.

While significant consolidation has occurred in recent years, our farm sector remains fragmented and performance is mixed. Around 80 per cent of Australia's output by value is generated by just 30 per cent of farm businesses.

Meanwhile, the smallest 50 per cent of farms generate less than 10 per cent of our product.

Even more extraordinary, according to the Productivity Commission, the bottom 25 per cent of broadacre farms did not make a profit in any of the ten years to 2007.

Given the importance of resource allocation to productivity growth, we need to ask ourselves whether we can afford not to have a rational conversation about the implications of these facts for agriculture's future.

I’m aware there are those who hold concerns about the demise of the family farm.

But further rationalisation of our farm structure need not lead to a diminution of the role of the family farm. Our family farms are most often the drivers of innovation. In an environment with a focus on niche, high value products, the family farm is likely to thrive in an environment in which our financial, human and natural resources are allocated most efficiently.

There are many reasons I’ve fallen in love with the agriculture portfolio. It is complex, diverse, and of growing importance to our economy. It’s also full of great people.

But what really has me hooked is the scope for reform – the opportunity to change things.

Not change for the sake of change, but positive reforms which allow us to make the very most of the huge opportunities before us.

But to secure reform we’ll need to speak in an informed way and with one voice.

One well informed, educated voice.

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Joel Fitzgibbon

Joel Fitzgibbon

is Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry & Rural Affairs and the MP for Hunter
Date: Newest first | Oldest first

READER COMMENTS

angry australian
22/09/2015 3:32:33 PM

More dross from the wannabe Minister. Joel there is a huge difference between schooling and education. Both parties, but yours has been by far the worst, have kept people at school, and then after a while at uni or college because you had no idea how to employ them and didn't want to pay them unemployment benefits. Now we have a nation of overschooled but uneducated knuckleheads. Joel we adapt to meet our circumstances, if we aren't planting wheat perhaps we have changed to canola or pulses,maybe we're running sheep.You cite figures without having a clue then irritate by lecturing us. If....
angry australian
22/09/2015 3:42:49 PM

.... big farms were the way to go why did the likes of Cubbie go broke? Why can't Macquarie make a decent return on capital invested? One size doesn't fit all Joel what may work in Tassie will starve you in the Kimberleys.Quoting figures of output by value is disingenuous, what about profit? Or what about people employed? An orchard at Shepparton may not turnover as much as a station in SW Qld but the community return may be so much higher.Joel when I see the uni lecturers, researchers and others you foist on us farming or fishing for a living then I'll believe we are doing it wrong
Pain de Campagne
23/09/2015 10:44:50 AM

Given this is a piece on Nuffield, wouldn't it be more instructive and interesting for you to have researched and mentioned just some of what these scholars have achieved. What is the ROI on this program and how have they helped to deliver on your 3 priorities?
Neville Mattick
24/09/2015 11:57:31 AM

One of the crisis facing Rural Australia is the lack of acceptable Broadband; the LNP crippled the NBN on purpose and doubled the cost for ¼ the performance - disgraceful; The Digital divide creates disparity and Rural stagnation, Education and Health being two obvious areas falling well behind what urban Australians' expect. If the Family Farm is to survive it is time for Rural Voters' to act in the "National Interest" and not in the interest of The Nationals.
Jock Munro
24/09/2015 6:40:37 PM

Joel wants less farmers and potential National Party voters- he knows that the Liberals cannot win and maintain government without them.
Out of the shadowShadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon aims to put ag policy under the microscope. Based in the NSW Hunter Valley, Joel also has a unique perspective on the tensions between primary production and mining development.

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