PAUL Howes has come under attack for his comments on "ma and pa farming in Australia" in the wake of the Treasurer's decision to block US agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland's (ADM) $3.4 billion takeover bid for GrainCorp.
The ag community hit back at what was seen as "patronising", "ill-informed and ignorant commentary" from the Australian Workers' Union national secretary. Does family farming have a future in Australia? Click here to vote in our online poll
Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, Mr Howes said "It's amazing to think that a Liberal government would make this decision... Joe Hockey's decision on Friday wiped out $1.1 billion worth of value in our economy in four hours".
He said opposition to the deal was based on "irrational fears being spread by some members of the grain growing community".
"We have just sent a massive signal that Australia is not interested in becoming the food bowl of Asia."
He went on to say small-scale farming was no longer a viable model given the extreme nature of the Australian climate and the cut-throat nature of global business.
"The Australian agribusiness sector is in dire need of whole-scale reform. We have to transform our agribusiness sector, and yes, there might be some short-term pain... but in the long-term gain for my members, for regional communities and for agribusiness workers cross the country is immense.
"We need large scale diversified companies operating in this sector. Too often we see smaller companies going through boom and bust cycles because they are concentrated into one sector of the economy.
"The nature of the Australian climate is you have droughts and you have floods, and if their produce is wiped out by that particular element then you have those companies falling over.
"What we need is not too dissimilar to what exists in the US farming sector where you have large scale conglomerates that can diversify against different states and different feed stocks and take advantage of those different elements to be able to have sustainable long-term investment into the sector.
"It essentially means the day of 'ma and pa farming' in Australia comes to end.
"We need to have a transformation of that, so that we can have stability and long-term planning about the types of crops and the types of different processes we will be using in this area," Mr Howes told the SkyNews panel.
Reaction in cyberspace was swift and severe, with stakeholders blasting Mr Howes' "ignorance".
"It may be of interest to you that the UN has designated 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming," responded Alison Fairleigh, the 2013 RIRDC Queensland Rural Woman of the Year.
AFI director Mick Keogh hit back with a blog post that afternoon, headed "Agricultural ignorance no problem for those with an opinion about Graincorp".
"The spate of media commentary... (has) highlighted that most Australian economic commentators are either lazy or have a pretty poor level of knowledge about Australian agriculture," he wrote.
"But also revealed that there are some who have an almost breathtaking level of ignorance, and are not shy about revealing it.
"The award for the most ill-informed and ignorant commentary on the issue must surely go Union leader Paul Howes."
Mr Howes "is obviously completely unaware of the realities of the farm sectors in the USA and Australia," Mr Keogh said, going on to detail the differences between the US and Australian farm sectors (read the full piece here).
The US State Department expressed its disappointment with the Treasurer's decision on Monday. As part of the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the US, a "side letter" commitment gave the two governments the right to be involved in negotiations over any sizeable agricultural investment in either country.
Business groups and hedge funds have claimed the ADM rejection may deter other foreign investors from doing business in Australia. What's YOUR response to Paul Howes' opinion? Post a comment below or tweet to
using #familyfarms hashtag.