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AUSTRALIAN agriculture has to make some difficult choices if it is to be part of the fast changing food global market, says agribusiness boss Donald McGauchie, including whether the industry gains any real benefit from government spending on drought aid to farmers.
The Nufarm and Australian Agricultural Company chairman told the inaugural Rabobank F20 (Food) Summit in Sydney this morning he has strong doubts about whether the $4.5 billion spent on drought relief between 2001 and 2012 was money well spent, when so much rural infrastructure, research and market development spending has been lacking in the past decade.
He questioned if Australia had a more productive or cost-effective
farm sector or more trade access to the booming Asian marketplace after spending much of the taxpayers dollars on drought help.
While acknowledging drought funding had provided important help to people at a critical time, he said Australia had to start making some tough decisions to succeed.
"We have to adjust for the future, not defend the past," he told about 660 farmers, industry and government delegates from across the continent and overseas attending the big food security solutions event.
"We have had a lot to deal with in the past 10 years... but I don't think we can afford another lost decade of excuses," Mr McGauchie said.
He said farmers couldn't ask others to do more to ensure Australia was a key supplier to the booming food markets overseas, without taking some tough decisions themselves.
Meanwhile governments also had to wake up to the alarming decline in public spending on agricultural research and recognise farm productivity had been declining because Australia had "dropped the ball on R and D".
"Let me tell you this is a great concern," he said, noting Australia needed to increase farm productivity by 2.5 per cent annually to double our farm sector output by 2050.
Asia's mega middle class would have a population four times the size of the US and Europe he told the summit.
A host of international and local farm sector speakers have joined the F20 forum to contribute their experiences and ideas about how the world will need to deal with the food security issue as arable land and farmer numbers shrink.
Rabobank executive board member Berry Marttin said global food
production needed to double by 2050 - but the world would have just 0.5 hectares of arable land to feed each person on the planet by then, compared with 1.2ha in the 1960s.
He said much could be done to improve global food use efficiency if the western world stopped throwing away up to 40pc of what consumers bought at supermarkets.
Rural science commentator Julian Cribb believed major gains in food and energy production would be achieved by farming algae and plans for massive greenhouses in major cities.