THE long-awaited and much-heralded Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper has finally been launched, more than six months after it was initially promised.
The White Paper has outlined more than $1.2 billion in programs to bolster the sector’s viability, including $500 million for building new dams.
It also tackles drought policy concerns including allocating up to $250m in Drought Concessional Loans each year for 11 years and $22.8m to increase Farm Household Allowance case management for farmers.
The government’s farm policy road map was an election commitment from the Coalition to help boost agriculture as one of the nation’s five key economic pillars.
It will be unveiled this morning by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, on a dairy farm near Warrnambool, Victoria.
In other wins for the farm sector, the White Paper also contains significant tax measures to benefit farm businesses including enabling banks to allow Farm Management Deposits (FMDs) schemes to be used as a business loan offset, reducing interest costs estimated at up to $150m a year, from July 1, 2016.
Farmers will also be able to opt back into income tax averaging after 10 years, from July 1 next year and double their FMDs to $800,000 from the same date.
Ag vital to economy
Mr Abbott said the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper was an investment in the nation’s farmers and competitive strengths in agriculture.
“This is a vital part of our plan to build a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia,” he said.
“A strong agriculture sector contributes to a strong economy and that means more jobs, more exports, higher incomes and better services to the community.
“We’re determined to make the sector even more competitive and to deliver practical actions that will keep our farmers and farming families profitable and resilient.
“We are lowering tax, cutting red and green tape, building infrastructure, encouraging trade, developing northern Australia and supporting business to innovate and create jobs.”
Mr Joyce said the White Paper sets out “real actions” for the agricultural sector in five priority areas: a fairer go for farm businesses; building 21st century water, transport and communications infrastructure; strengthening the approach to drought and risk management; a smarter approach to farming, and access to premium markets.
Mr Joyce said the $500m National Water Infrastructure Fund outlined in the White Paper would provide future water security for farmers.
The Fund will comprise $50m to undertake detailed planning necessary to inform future water infrastructure investment decisions; $450m to construct national water infrastructure, in partnership with State and Territory governments and the private sector, and $200m dedicated to northern Australia projects.
Mr Abbott said investment in the White Paper would also improve access to premium export markets.
“The government has successfully delivered the trifecta of free trade agreements with Japan, the Republic of Korea and China, and is negotiating trade agreements with other major trading partners including India and through the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he said.
The White Paper’s marketing initiatives will be welcomed by the National Farmers’ Federation. These include: $200m to improve biosecurity surveillance and analysis nationally; $30.8m to break down technical barriers to trade and appointing five new overseas Agriculture Counsellors, and $12.m to modernise Australia’s food export traceability systems to further enhance our food safety credentials.
The White Paper also details plans to boost the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC's) engagement with the agricultural sector by including a new Commissioner expert in agriculture, with an $11.4m investment.
“A more farm-savvy and proactive ACCC will encourage fair trading and strengthen competition in agricultural supply chains,” Mr Joyce said.
The White Paper also details $13.8m in a two-year pilot program to provide knowledge and materials on co-operatives, collective bargaining and innovative business models.
“This will help farmers to establish alternative business models - including co-operatives - and manage contract negotiations,” Mr Joyce said.
Another NFF priority – investment in industry research and development and innovation - will also receive a welcome boost with another $100m to extend the Rural R&D for Profit Program to 2021–22, which was another Coalition pre-election commitment
In May, Mr Joyce announced the program’s first round of funding grants of $26.7m, to be matched by more than $32m in cash and in-kind contributions by partner organisations such as RDCs.
EXTRACTS FROM THE WHITE PAPER:
A fairer go for farm businesses
The White Paper delivers a fairer go for farm businesses by creating a better business environment with better regulation, healthier market competition, competitive supply chains and an improved tax system.
The Government is delivering lower, simpler and fairer taxes for our farmers.
We have already abolished the Carbon Tax and the Growing Jobs and Small Business package announced in the Budget will benefit 97 per cent of farmers.
The White Paper and the 2015 Budget deliver a better tax system for farm businesses by enabling:
• banks to allow farmers to use FMDs as a business loan offset, reducing interest costs estimated at up to $150 million a year, from 1 July 2016;
• farmers to opt back into income tax averaging after 10 years, from 1 July 2016;
• farmers to double their Farm Management Deposits (FMDs) to $800,000, from 1 July 2016;
• immediate tax deduction for fencing;
• immediate tax deduction of the cost of new water infrastructure; and
• accelerated three-year depreciation of capital expenditure on fodder assets.
The Government will help farmers achieve a better return at the farm gate by investing:
• $11.4 million to boost ACCC engagement with the agricultural sector including a new Commissioner expert in agriculture. A more farm-savvy and proactive ACCC will encourage fair-trading and strengthen competition in agricultural supply chains; and
• $13.8 million in a two year pilot programme to provide knowledge and materials on cooperatives, collective bargaining and innovative business models. This will help farmers to establish alternative business models (including cooperatives) and manage contract negotiations.
The Government is committed to reducing red tape from the economy by $1 billion each year. The White Paper delivers an additional $20.4 million to streamline agricultural and veterinary chemicals approvals.
Improved country of origin labelling will also let consumers know where food is grown and processed.
Building 21st century water, transport and communications infrastructure
The White Paper builds on the Government’s investments to build 21st century water, transport and communications infrastructure, including a new National Water Infrastructure Fund.
The Government’s $500 million National Water Infrastructure Fund will provide future water security for our farmers. The Fund is comprised of $50 million to undertake the detailed planning necessary to inform future water infrastructure investment decisions and $450 million to construct national water infrastructure, in partnership with State and Territory governments and the private sector. $200 million of the Fund will be dedicated to northern Australia projects.
CSIRO’s Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TRANSIT) will also be expanded to ensure future decisions on transport infrastructure investment deliver maximum benefit.
The Government is already delivering on its commitment to invest $50 billion for current and future infrastructure.
The $29.5 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout will improve access to technology and give farmers more market options.
The Government is investing an additional $60 million on top of the $100 million Mobile Black Spot Programme to improve mobile coverage across regional Australia.
Strengthening our approach to drought and risk management
The White Paper strengthens Australia’s approach to drought and risk management that encourages preparedness for the tough times and supports farming families and rural communities during drought.
The White Paper builds on the initiatives we announced in the 2015 Budget to assist Australian farmers prepare for drought and other natural risks including investing an additional $29.9 million for farm insurance advice and risk assessment grants.
Australia will always stand by farmers in drought. Including initiatives announced in the 2015 Budget, the White Paper provides long-term support for famers when they need it most:
• up to $250 million in Drought Concessional Loans each year for 11 years;
• $22.8 million to increase Farm Household Allowance case management for farmers;
• increased financial counselling services and improved access to community mental health;
• access for farmers to their Farm Management Deposits when needed, without losing tax concessions;
• $35 million for local infrastructure projects to help communities suffering due to drought;
• $25.8 million over four years to manage pest animals and weeds in drought-affected areas; and
• advice and help from the Australian Taxation Office.
A smarter approach to farming
The White Paper supports a smarter approach to farming based around a strong research and development system that underpins future productivity growth; and an effective natural resource policy that achieves a cleaner environment as part of a stronger Australia.
The White Paper provides the agriculture sector access to the most advanced technologies and practices by investing:
• $100 million to extend the Rural R&D for Profit Programme to 2021–22;
• $50 million to boost emergency pest and disease eradication capability;
• $50 million for better tools and control methods against pest animals and weeds;
• $1.4 million to match industry levies and contributions in the export fodder and tea tree oil industries; and
• $1.2 million to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.
The Government is already helping farmers access skilled and reliable labour by focusing on better training through the $664 million Industry Skills Fund and making visa programmes more flexible such as expanding the Seasonal Worker Programme to all agricultural industries and removing the annual cap.
Access to premium markets
The Government is opening new export markets and will protect Australia’s highly prized biosecurity status, which underpins our valuable exports.
The Government has successfully delivered the trifecta of free trade agreements with Japan, the Republic of Korea and China. The Government is negotiating trade agreements with other major trading partners including India and through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The government’s investment in the White Paper to improve access to premium markets includes:
• $200 million to improve biosecurity surveillance and analysis nationally;
• $30.8 million to break down technical barriers to trade and appointing five new overseas Agriculture Counsellors; and
• $12.4 million to modernise Australia’s food export traceability systems to further enhance our food safety credentials.