Blueprint for future of agriculture

23 Feb, 2006 01:03 PM
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STATE governments should immediately end their moratoria on GM crops and contribute to a national and unified landcare program, according to the Federal Government's Agriculture and Food Policy Reference Group.

Recommendations in its Creating our Future: Agriculture and Food Policy for the Next Generation report, released last week, were made on issues including supply chain efficiency, tax offsets, landcare, quarantine and labour supply.

But the recommendations to end GM crop moratoria and to halt drought subsidies by 2010 look certain to elicit a passionate response from farmer groups.

WAFarmers economics and farm business director Ross Hardwick said the recommendations were welcomed but the report still viewed agriculture as a price-taking industry, rather than a price-setting one.

"While producers and growers remain in a price-taking situation, they continue to miss out despite everyone else in the sale chain making money," Mr Hardwick said.

"But we are relieved that there is some pragmatism and commonsense in these recommendations.

"A single natural resource management program is long overdue, it's a much more sensible approach and it will put landcare control back into the rural residentsí hands, rather than those of the beauracrats.

"We are pleased about the AusLink recommendations but the Commonwealth must address ports at Albany and Geraldton, not just those of Port Hedland and Fremantle."

Mr Hardwick said WAFarmers would push for the expansion of Kunnunurra Airport to accommodate fruit exports from there to South East Asia.

Reference group member Bill Ryan, also Kondinin Group chief executive officer, said the recommendations were finalised after a lengthy and exhaustive consultation process.

Mr Ryan said the reference to international and domestic pressures on the quarantine process in one of the recommendations was recognition of the challenges of operating in a free trade environment.

He said the best people to handle landcare programs were often the landholders, and the recommendations recognised that fact.

"Farmers and pastoralists manage 62pc of Australian land so it makes sense that where a regional landcare program needs to succeed, local residents are best-placed to implement them," Mr Ryan said.

"The best people to handle environmental outcomes in the bush are the primary producers and growers."

Agriculture Minister Kim Chance said he supported the WAFarmers view that the report considered farmers as price-takers, but said calls to lift the GM crop moratoria immediately were ridiculous.

"They are saying that it's ok to plant GM crops now and then worry about legal liability issues once they are in the ground, which makes no sense at all," he said.

"Plus the report contradicts itself by calling for a resolution of liability issues but on another page it states common law is sufficient to deal with GM crop issues.

"It's also interesting that a Federal Agriculture Department is looking at trade issues which come under the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department's jurisdiction."

Mr Chance said he agreed with the recommendation for a national landcare program, and Catchment Council initiatives in WA had already involved farmers in an on-ground manner.

He said tax offsets for rural people were outdated and needed revising, in line with the current cost of living.

Federal Cabinet saw the report and promptly rejected the recommendation to change tax rebate schemes to encourage investment in rural areas.

The move disappointed National Farmers Federation chief executive Ben Fargher, who demanded to know what policy the Federal Government would pursue to revitalise rural communities instead.

Copies of the report are available online from: www.daff.gov.au.

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