MALCOLM Turnbull says opportunities for Australian farmers have never been greater with innovative technologies set to underpin booming food exports into Asian markets to potentially grow the industry beyond $100 billion by 2030.
“It’s an exciting time for Australia; it is an exciting time to be an Australian farmer,” the Prime Minister said when unveiling the National Farmers Federation’s new digital innovation plans on Saturday.
“The opportunities have never been greater.
“The only thing that could hold us back – and I’m sure it won’t – is a lack of imagination or determination or confidence or optimism.
“We are a confident, optimistic, adaptive, ingenious nation and our farmers are as ingenious and adaptive and creative as anyone.”
After launching the $1.1 billion national science and innovation agenda last week, Mr Turnbull joined the NFF to help showcase their ambitious online plans.
The NFF’s new agenda involves three key elements; a Digital Agriculture Service; an online platform for Australian farmers; and new multi-million dollar incubator for agricultural start-ups and technologies named ‘Sprout’.
While the online services remain under construction and are due to go live at various stages during the first half of 2016, Saturday’s launch will be followed-up by a media and marketing campaign over the next three months aimed at gaining feedback.
NFF CEO Simon Talbot said Sprout represented the NFF’s biggest ever investment with several “willing partners” looking at putting tens of millions of dollars into the right projects.
Mr Talbot said the program involved a three phased process where farmers can put up problems to be solved and solutions which are then vetted via an assessment process.
“The projects that will be capitalised will vary between $2 million and $10 million in terms of the size of funding required,” he said.
Victorian rural Liberal MP Dan Tehan said the NFF’s plans which involved capturing farmers’ data and generating commercial opportunities deserved praise.
Mr Tehan said the NFF was filling a gap by helping to coordinate and attract private investment into specific agricultural research and development programs.
“We need more of that type of investment to help guarantee a stronger future for the farm sector,” he said.
“I can only see upside to this initiative because there’s a gap that needs to be addressed and good luck to the NFF for doing it; well done.
“We need to see more initiative and entrepreneurial spirit in how we can value add to the agricultural supply chain.
“The Agricultural White Paper did that too but we still need an agency that plays a coordinating role and pulls the capital together; which is a key ingredient to success.”
Mr Turnbull also congratulated the NFF’s digital partners for backing farmers on the futuristic online agenda - global strategy company Accenture, the Commonwealth Bank, Crowe Horwath, Vodafone, Prime Super and Coles.
He also highlighted the National Broadband Network’s important (NBN) role linking farmers into the digital platform.
Mr Turnbull said there were “big opportunities” for farmers to grasp and grow their industry from $57b to $100b in 15-years, but “I’m very confident it can be much bigger than that”.
“The scale of the demand is stupendous and it is only going to grow,” he said.
“The agenda of innovation is absolutely critical to every industry.
“Farmers have always been innovative and adaptive and always been prepared to experiment.
“It’s fantastic to see the NFF in such an inspiring way picking up this innovation agenda and leading with it.”
Mr Turnbull first spoke to the NFF about the digital platform and plans like capturing farmers’ data about six months ago, when he was Communications Minister.
He said the national connectivity that the NBN delivered was at the “very heart” of the NFF’s digital platform whether by wireless, fixed line or satellite, from April next year.
“The NBN will ensure that every Australian - wherever they live - has access to very good connectivity and that is critically important,” he said.
Mr Turnbull said applications like remote censors, drones, remotely operated vehicles and other technologies would help reduce operating costs to farms.
“It will enable individual farmers to expand their scope so they don’t spend as much time going out long distances to check on a water source,” he said.
“They don’t need to spend so much time checking an important barrier fence, a dog fence for example to make sure that there aren’t any holes or breaks in it.
“This is vitally important and the opportunities for Australian farmers have never been greater.”
Mr Turnbull said “we’re at an extraordinary point in the world’s history” with half of the world’s customers living in our longitude to the north “and that percentage is only going to grow”.
He said 40 years ago China was barely participated in the global economy but was now the world’s single largest national economy.
“These changes are remarkable, but not just because of their scale but because of the pace of change,” he said.
“And so farmers like all Australians should seize these opportunities.
“We’re energized by them (and) we are inspired by it because we see it’s a world of enormous opportunity.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon congratulated the NFF on its “new digital revolution agenda”.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the farm sector needed high level strategic guidance and twenty-first century leadership “and a big step-up in innovation and technology adoption”.
But he said they were “all things the government has not provided” and that Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce remained “fixated” on nineteenth century ideas and technologies.
Mr Joyce did not attend the NFF launch alongside Mr Turnbull, with sources attributing his absence to ongoing tensions linked with former cabinet minister Ian Macfarlane’s recent move to defect from the Liberal party to the Nationals.
He also did not release a statement supporting the new digital initiative but released a joint statement with Santa Claus at the weekend to highlight issues concerning biosecurity protections, at Christmas time.
“It does seem very strange that Barnaby Joyce wasn’t there but I think the Prime Minister is trying to send a strong message to the Nationals on Macfarlane,” one government source said.