Hallett slams Govt

26 May, 2014 01:00 AM
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You are not going to get even half a radar for $10m.

LIBERAL MLC Nigel Hallett believes WA agriculture is not technologically savvy, with the 2014 State Budget last week a missed opportunity to support innovation.

Mr Hallett, who represents the South West region, acknowledged the State Government's $51.5 million commitment to agriculture to be rolled out this year as part of the Seizing the Opportunity program.

But he said the allocation had ignored the role of technology, and he was disappointed it had failed to embrace Doppler Radar Technology (DRT).

Mr Hallett has been outspoken in his support for DRT, which provides high resolution data for advanced weather forecast and warning services, and is considered necessary infrastructure by some prospective crop mitigation insurance providers.

The Seizing the Opportunity policy, released prior to last year's election, allocated $10 million to help grain growers better manage the weather risk.

Mr Hallett believes the $10m should have been invested in DRT, to help farmers identify seasonal risks and improve farming capability.

There was no commitment to DRT in last year's Budget and funding for the technology is again in doubt with the specifics of the $10m policy yet to be finalised following the release of the latest Budget.

Nationals WA president Colin De Grussa said he understood the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) was yet to determine what key areas would receive funding, but reiterated its policy outlining where the $10m could be spent.

He said the Nationals envisioned funding would be spent on a number of initiatives including the improvement of the existing weather radar network, expanding the number of yield prophet sites, and other technology that would help farmers gather more information so they could make more informed decisions and better manage risk.

Mr De Grussa said DRT was only one technology and the cost would probably be outside the scope of that funding, unless contributions from the Commonwealth or other areas could be found.

He estimated DRT would cost about $20m per radar.

"You are not going to get even half a radar for $10m," Mr De Grussa said.

"The original agreement was just to build ordinary weather radars and the sites that could be considered include Merredin and Jurien Bay.

"It is about improving our database of knowledge on climate which can then result in better decisions.

"It also gives the insurance companies access to information and they are then able to use it to offer more targeted products, which will obviously help farmers manage risk as well."

Mr De Grussa said while DAFWA would identify the areas where the money would be spent, Minister for Agriculture and Food Ken Baston would likely also make recommendations.

But because the policy was funded by the Royalties for Regional (RfR) program, it needed to be signed off by both Mr Baston and Regional Development Minister and Nationals WA leader Terry Redman.

Mr Baston said he supported DRT and was pushing to get it into WA, but that it would require a significant capital investment.

But Mr Hallett said DRT was commonplace around the globe and enhanced efficiencies and led to advances in agriculture, with WA the only State or Territory that didn't have have the technology.

"For the second year running, funds available through RfR have not been committed to purchase specialised DRT," Mr Hallett said.

"If WA wants to compete in a global economy and provide up-to-date risk management strategies, such as yield based insurance products, it is vital that our State keeps abreast with emerging technology."

Mr Hallett said the Government had shown no appetite for crop mitigation insurance products which he believed had the potential to create the financial resilience needed by farmers, banks and industry.

Mr Hallett has recommended six Doppler radars be installed at a cost of $3.5m each, in order to develop a comprehensive network of automated weather and soil moisture measuring stations.

"I'm not sure where the Nationals got the $20m figure," he said.

"The provider who gave us our costings actually installs them across Australia and gave us the quote.

"He has installed 60 of the 64 in Australia.

"So that number is totally wrong. It is $20m to do the State, not one... $20m is a drop in the ocean, especially if it is done over two years."

Mr Hallett said the advantages of DRT capability extended beyond agribusiness to emergency services, mining operations, aviation and marine industries.

Mr Hallett said overseas companies wouldn't invest in a yield-based crop mitigation insurance product because it would be too costly.

"The last company that visited WA said they could offer a product without the technology but they wouldn't be competitive," he said.

"If the State Government are dinkum they need to start thinking about it now if they want it for 2015."

DAFWA has engaged consultant AEC to carry out a cost-benefit analysis on DRT and improved mobile phone service to assist in improving farm business performance. Work is expected to be complete mid-year.

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