FUTURE proofing the Australian agricultural industry included defending its existing regulatory processes against external pressures from activists to ensure products that are in common use today could assist with feeding the growing population into the future, according to Croplife chief executive Matthew Cossey.
Mr Cossey spoke at the Pastoralists and Graziers Association 2019 Convention at Perth recently, where he used the recent United Nations population forecast of 10 billion by 2050 to highlight the important role of agriculture in feeding the world and how the industry needed to defend its use of pesticides and agri chemicals to achieve greater production.
"If everyone is going to be fed, the world will need to produce as much food over the next 50 years as we have since the beginning of humanity more than 20,000 years ago," Mr Cossey said.
"That is a staggering challenge that requires a massive effort from everyone in the agricultural supply chain and those who support it - and every tool in the tool box that enables growers and producers to do what they do best.
"And it will need to be done by a farming sector and supporting industries under even more challenging circumstances than they have ever endured previously.
"Consequently, from an ag biotech and an ag chemistry perspective, it is more important than ever for science to protect and preserve future crops by figuring out how to deliver higher yields of nutritious foods and improving existing agricultural methods."
Mr Cossey said science and innovation challenges aside, "future proofing ag was as much about ensuring that farmers were allowed to farm as it is about actual farming".
He said it was important to ensure that the regulatory burden on farming, which was "already huge in many sectors", was based on science and evidence, "not on the latest fad or falsehood on social media".
"Effective stewardship by everyone throughout the agricultural and food supply chains is critical if we are to maintain access to all the tools and products and innovations required to sustainably and profitably produce the food, feed and fibre needed to support that ever growing population."
Mr Cossey said the challenges within agriculture were immense.
"It can not be overstated just how important the broader issue of stewardship is - not just for the plant science industry to maintain the ability to provide our important innovations and products to the nation's ag sector - but for Australia's farmers to maintain their ability to grow and produce food in a sustainable, efficient and profitable manner," he said.
"The global population (growth) will actually require an increase in global crop production of more than 70pc from where we are now to meet that demand."
The United Nations said the world's population was getting older and growing at a slower pace, but was still expected to increase from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050.
"This is all happening at a critical time for farming and we are seeing agriculture under attack as never before," Mr Cossey said.
"There is an increasing disconnect between those producing food, feed and fibre and those consuming and using it.
"The big challenge is how do we reconnect the people of urban Australia with agriculture and how do we ensure that we reinforce with consumers that Australian farmers - particularly WA farmers are indeed world best practice growers and producers."
Mr Cossey said despite those opposed to modern farming practices, the science was there to support it.
"The introduction of modern chemistry into farming not only essentially doubled production of existing agricultural land but is the foundation to disease free, nutritious and affordable food," he said.
"A Deloitte Access Economics report recently outlined that 73pc of Australia's total current crop production is directly attributable to the use and access of pesticides by farmers.
"Food in the developed world is safer now than at any time in human history - yet consumers are easily led astray by false and misleading activists and political agendas that in turn posses the risk of governments responding to that ignorance to the detriment of not just our industry or farming more broadly but to the community at large, because last I checked they all still needed to eat."
Mr Cossey said access to products could not be taken for granted.
He said Australia was fortunate to have a globally respected, scientifically and technically efficient regulator, that was independent, to manage the registration of all agricultural chemicals.
The agricultural chemical industry along with human medicines is one of the most highly regulated industries in the country.
"Pesticides are regulated using the same scientific risk based framework as human medicines to ensure that any hazards associated with the products are properly and effectively mitigated and are safe to use otherwise they don't get approved and they are not on the market," he said.
"Thousands of hours of R&D and scientific assessment have gone in to ensuring that when a product is used according to its label directions it presents no unacceptable risk to users, consumers, animals or the environment.
"This is why it is so important for farmers, environmental land managers and in deed home users of pesticides to follow the registered label instructions for any chemical product.
"Industry led stewardship initatives that assist safe, proper and sustainable use of these products is the first line of defence against unneccesary regulation and the threat of critical products being removed from the market."
Mr Cossey said $2.6 billion in R&D was being spent to develop new products each and every year by each of the main chemical companies globally.
"It now requires the assessment of 140,000 compounds over 11 years of a cost of more than US$280 million to bring just one new successful protection product to market," Mr Cossey said.
He said "the anti chemistry and anti ag activist campaigns" were some of the biggest challenges the ag sector was facing, however "chemistry is a flash point for it at the moment".
Mr Cossey said the industry, as an R&D sector and as a science generally, had been hamstrung by community ignorance around pesticides and science and was facing "a discourse of fear and misinformation and scare tactics".
"We certainly see that in the current public discussion on glyphosate," he said.
"As a science industry we hope that facts and empirical evidence prevails in public debate but that only applies to scientific process - in politics perception is the reality."
He said cleaver activist groups who were skilled campaigners at manipulating public debate were "falsely and deceptively" scaring people so they could "justify their own existence".
"It is therefore the responsibility and indeed obligation on all of us in the sector to fill this gap between the science and evidence and the public discourse," he said.
"And importantly the science and the regulatory policy that supports it.
"We can not allow this to put at risk what is a highly regulated industry that provides products crucial for Australian farmers to deliver safe, disease free nutritious food."