THE potential of the agricultural industry to reach $100 billion a year turnover was the focus of a speech by National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) president Fiona Simson last week when she addressed the National Press Club in Canberra.
Ms Simson introduced the NFF’s ‘Road Map for $100 billion in farmgate output by 2030’ to the media – saying it would be released in the near future to map out the industry’s path going forward.
She promoted the agricultural industry, highlighting its contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product and how it “powers 1.6 million jobs across the supply chain”.
Ms Simson said with the three tiers of government working together under a national plan, investment into the right areas could develop the Australian agri-sector like never before.
“Ag’s already on a trajectory growth,” Ms Simson said.
“If we did nothing different we’d probably notch up $84b by 2030, but to achieve $100b we actually need a shake-up – a disruption to business as usual.
“The status quo just won’t get us there.”
She said what that “disruption” looked like had been the subject of the 2030 initiative made possible through NFF’s partnership with Telstra.
“Nationally, we have tapped into bold and really, really smart ideas from farmers and others in agriculture about how we actually can get to $100 billion,” she said.
One idea was for the establishment of “regional agriculture deals” – which were described as geographic zones that were not bound by State or local government boundaries, but delineated by growing environments and pathways to markets.
Ms Simson said with the three tiers of government working together to harmonise road rules for agricultural vehicles and linking road and rail to the areas for ease of market transfer, the result could see “strategic growth, jobs, infrastructure and investment to the regions”.
“Harmonisation of road rules for agricultural vehicles would create enormous productivity benefits – even on its own, if we could just get on and do it,” she said.
“Regional agriculture deals would provide a whole new strategic take on how we approach agriculture in this country.
“The concept would allow us as a nation, to be bold and pinpoint hubs for focused agricultural production – infrastructure pathways to connect them and the businesses that support it.
“Such zones would be shaped around the national advantages and already successful businesses of a region.”
Ms Simson highlighted the Ord River region in Western Australia stating “the opportunities there are absolutely plain to see”.
“There’s not much that can’t be grown there from beef, cotton, maize to mangoes and melons,” she said.
“Brokering regional agriculture deals between local, State and Federal authorities would facilitate investment in much needed built and environmental infrastructure.
“The region’s proximity to Asia is an obvious advantage.
“Such a classification would prompt investment in the built and environmental infrastructure needed to boost production and to get the cotton, maize, mangoes and melons to our global customers.”
Ms Simson also touched on some of the big issues facing the industry, including the drought, connectivity in the bush and the difficulties of attracting workers to the regions.
She welcomed the steps taken by the government to tackle the drought in the Eastern States with the “appointment of our very first national drought co-ordinator (Major General Stephen Day), and for that we’re thankful”.
“However, it’s made all the more difficult by the fact that we actually don’t have a comprehensive national framework to deal with drought,” Ms Simson said.
“Successive governments have had a go, but we are still without certainty that a national strategy would actually provide.
“In fact, agriculture in its entirety is to date without a whole of government national strategy or plan at all.
“We’ll continue to beat the drum until we see one.”
Ms Simson said while other sectors had a plan there was “not a whole-of-government supported strategy for an industry that’s not only been the backbone of our community and a consistent contributor to the GDP throughout our history, but also one with enormous potential in front of us – if only we can get it right”.
With that potential in mind Ms Simson said agriculture was “not only an industry with a special place in our past, but it’s also got on exciting place in our future”.
“It is an industry whose food and fibre is increasingly sought after by consumers across the world,” she said.
“Where farmers lead the way in the adoption of new technologies; that year-on-year excels in environmental stewardship and who holds almost the world record for accepting the least government subsidies of any other comparable nation.
“Australia’s farm sector as a whole has continued to outperform its industrial counterparts in terms of its GDP contribution and its growth rate.”
Ms Simson said the NFF would seek to partner with others to ensure that primary and secondary aged children were presented with the facts about the industry and were shown the opportunities that agriculture could provide in terms of future employment.
There were also efforts in play by the NFF for a regional visa program to assist the sector with much needed seasonal workers.