FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce will today release the Green Paper for the government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, placing farmgate returns at the forefront of its policy objectives.
The delayed release will take place at the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) 2014 Congress being held in Canberra today and tomorrow.
Mr Joyce will give the opening address at the biennial congress, representing Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was due to speak at the event but has flown to Jakarta to attend new Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s inauguration.
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The Green Paper reinforces Mr Joyce’s key message about achieving better financial returns at the farmgate, to ensure a sustainable and competitive Australian agricultural sector.
“Ultimately if this objective is attained then investment in Australian agriculture will follow, more export income will be earned, regional communities will be stronger, better jobs will be created and the health of our economy and nation will be strengthened,” it says.
“It is farmers who need to make business decisions that will make them profitable and competitive.
“The government’s role is to set the right policy environment to support this outcome for farmers and across industries, not to make business decisions for farmers who are far better placed to do so.”
New NFF chief executive officer Simon Talbot said the Green Paper has nine key areas which aligned clearly with the NFF’s Blueprint for Australian Agriculture.
“Pleasingly, it places farmers at the centre of a virtuous cycle for Australian agriculture,” he said.
“In that, it addresses the need to increase returns at the farm gate and it recognises families and rural communities as the cornerstone of sustainable agriculture.
“It then offers what I’d call pathway opportunities to both access new innovation and target export markets, which we believe will obviously be countries like China and Indonesia.
“The last fundamental element it aims to address is the need to reduce red tape and increase competition and choice for Australian farmers in terms of food and fibre production and markets.”
NFF president Brent Finlay said unlocking the potential of Australian agriculture will require greater collaboration of industry and government policies: an approach that helps, not hinders, the advancement of agriculture.
“In particular, we will be looking to the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper to set a sound and sensible pathway forward on key issues like profitability, trade, infrastructure, natural resource management and labour needs,” Mr Finlay said.
“The commitment to further explore water infrastructure opportunities around Australia is an important acknowledgement that infrastructure investment, including in water, must continue to grow to promote increased capacity and development in Australia’s rural and regional areas,” he said.
Professor Mark Adams, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment and director of the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food at the University of Sydney, said the government's renewed interest in water infrastructure was "welcome news".
"Australia needs a ‘water grid’ along the same lines as our power grid. The eastern seaboard presents many opportunities for greater interconnectedness of river basins via infrastructure – dams are just part of the needed actions."
Drought issues to the fore
Drought policy is also a key feature of the Green Paper – with stakeholders saying the best way to prepare for drought was to be more profitable.
“There was a view that this enabled farmers to invest in preparedness for drought - both through physical infrastructure (such as water infrastructure and feed storage) and maintaining financial assets,” the paper’s chapter eight says.
“Individual farmers are best placed to determine how to manage their particular circumstances and prepare for drought in a way that suits their business.
“However, there are community expectations of a role for government in providing appropriate support to farm families and otherwise viable farm businesses suffering severe droughts.
“The States and Territories also have an important role in providing drought assistance programs.
“The White Paper will consider drought preparedness and in-event drought support measures as part of the government’s commitment to review the adequacy of current support.”
Two of the key drought support options detailed in the Green Paper are encouraging multi-peril crop insurance and introducing accelerated depreciation for new water and fodder infrastructure.
“New commercial multi-peril crop insurance products are starting to enter the Australian market,” it says.
“Insurance products like this can help reduce the impact of adverse weather and drought on farm income by partially off-setting lost revenue.
“One option to encourage insurance uptake could be to provide a grant to reduce the upfront costs associated with the risk assessment process for a multi-peril or revenue insurance product.
“This option could be used while new insurance providers are entering the market and establishing products and withdrawn over time as the market develops.
“Another option - which falls within State and Territory responsibility - is removing or waiving stamp duty on insurance products. This would make insurance premiums more affordable for farmers.
“As the take-up of some insurance products is currently low, the effect on existing State and Territory revenue from this change would be small.”
The section on drought policy also includes: improving climate information; providing appropriate in-drought support to farm families and otherwise viable farm businesses; additional mental health support; and provision of additional assistance for prolonged and severe drought.
The process to generate the Green Paper involved almost 700 submissions from stakeholders on suggested policy options.
However, the Green Paper says some of those submissions won’t be pursued by the government as they as some conflict with broader government policy directions while others would not be affordable in the current budget environment. It also says many policy ideas in the Green Paper overlap with the work of other reviews, such as the Harper competition policy review and Taxation White Paper.
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