FARMING is sexy according to the new CEO of the Northern Territory Farmers Association.
The Sri Lankan-born Shenal Basnayake took over the reins of NT Farmers in the middle of the year with some strong ideas about pushing the Territory's agriculture potential.
Mr Basnayake said he thought agriculture, particularly horticulture, doesn't share the same level of attention as many other industries.
"People don’t think farming is sexy- wrong. What better way to roll around in the hay than when making it?" he said.
"We don’t have a large international export sector, therefore we’re probably not as attention-grabbing as industries that are deemed to bring in huge foreign dollars.
"All we do is feed the nation's people with good fruit and vegetables - how important is that?"
Making NT Farmers a united mouthpiece for the farming sector is one of Mr Basnayake's main goals while in the chair.
"The industry itself hasn’t done a very good job up here over the past few years of speaking with one voice," he said.
That's meant a complete revamp of the way NT Farmers operates and the services it delivers to members, according to the CEO.
"I’ve already developed a member engagement schedule to be launched next year that outlines NT Farmers' activities over the year," he said.
Changing internal operating systems, as well as putting in place a suite of new policies and procedures, plus establishing productive relationships with the organisation's members and stakeholders are just some of the moves he's already made.
"A lot of this has already been done and that’s not just me, it’s a team effort and much thanks has to go to my small but highly productive and efficient team, as well as a supportive board," Mr Basnayake said.
His ability to streamline the organisation's operations comes from a diverse background comprising of university administration, ports and vessel management, local government and regional economic development, advocacy and business development.
Mr Basnayake describes NT horticulture as being at an "interesting point" at the moment.
"On the one hand you have significant focus being placed on the whole of northern Australia at a national and international level," he said.
"We’re seeing a lot more interest and much positive work being done by all tiers of government to attract investors and interest into the industry.
"However you also have the realities of continuously changing rules affecting labour, taxation treatment of working holiday makers, changes to award rates, biosecurity incursions, lack of infrastructure for direct export out of Darwin, urban encroachment on traditionally rural areas, lack of infrastructure that provides consistent communication, pressure on water in certain areas where urban encroachment is experienced.
"This is probably a non-exhaustive list but we’re grappling with a lot up here. Of course some of these issues are national in nature."
Getting the spotlight on Top End agriculture is sure to be helped by Mr Basnayake's already existing dialogue between various government ministers and the NT Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.
Mr Basnayake has met with opposition members responsible for relevant portfolios, as well as a number of other independent MPs.
"Since I joined I have established relationships with all other government departments and authorities at the federal and Territory level in Darwin at the C-level which has proved to be great because we are now quite well engaged and consulted on in relation to all manner of issues," he said.
With considerable recent discussion over investment in northern Australia, NT horticulture is poised to expand on its current $200 million production value.
"It’s not so much about what NT horticulture can do for developing the north- it has been doing this for the past several decades- it’s more about what northern development can do for NT horticulture to take it beyond the current organic growth rates," Mr Basnayake said.
"I suppose NT horticulture is primarily seen by policy makers as an attractive investment proposition.
"Farming is attractive to big and small businesses alike and the NT does provide significant opportunity, but the fact remains that it must be done in a manner that is aware of local conditions, realistic about expectations and supportive of existing businesses.
"In addition, developing northern Australia needs the involvement of locals at every step of the way.
"Apart from being attractive to investors, NT horticulture also provides unique opportunities in the research, development and commercialisation space which aren’t present in many other parts of the country.
"Our similar geographic and climatic conditions to many other parts of the tropical world coupled with our world-class expertise bode well for further collaborative opportunities at an international level."