Calls for more focus to help agribusiness

Calls for more focus to help agribusiness

Agribusiness
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Rather than just having a "right now" policy on the impact of drought and climate change on Australia's agricultural industry, the Federal government needs to spread its focus to building resilience for the future.

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Rather than just having a "right now" policy on the impact of drought and climate change on Australia's agricultural industry, the Federal government needs to spread its focus to building resilience for the future.

That's what La Trobe University Business School lecturer in agribusiness Tim Clune told Farm Weekly, following an ABARES report into the effects of drought and climate variability on farms.

Released in December last year, the report discussed how agricultural policy could get ahead of the curve and farmers could use management practices to limit the effects of climate and price risk.

Dr Clune said the report was effective in opening up the conversation on how the government could better support Australian farmers in the face of great adversity.

"The ABARES economists identified that if you keep throwing cash at things, people will just expect cash to be thrown and it doesn't build up any resilience in the industry," Dr Clune said.

"We've got access to Centrelink payments, such as Farm Household Allowance and that agricultural welfare is a necessary element, but we can't rely on them and just wait for rain.

"We need to have a focus in that research, development and education space about how we deal with less available water, a change in seasonality and what opportunities does that create for us to leverage to be more resilient."

With some commentators arguing for a greater emphasis on agribusiness education, Dr Clune said there needed to be more emphasis on building the business skills that would drive agribusiness.

"There's been a steady decline in agribusiness education investment over the past decade, so Australia's agricultural policy is lacking elements in the education and training space," he said.

"For example, where are the gaps in supply chain and market development understanding?

"To a certain extent, a lot of that is just being left up to the market to work out, but I think it needs a bit more help."

With agribusinesses at the top of the production curve commonly having access to such services in-house, Dr Clune said agribusinesses in the middle of the curve would require access to those skills, knowledge and experiences from other providers.

"The challenge around that is there isn't sufficient education in the market place to have those skills available," he said.

Dr Clune said the National Farmers' Federation's goal to exceed $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030 could be achieved not only by productivity, but through value-adding as well.

"From a productivity perspective, as many reports have identified, we're pretty good at it as a sector," he said

"But I think we have some real challenges in applying the business of agriculture to that productivity."

"We need to leverage that productivity strength through different approaches to markets, new markets but also, at a fundamental point of view, helping businesses be successful."

In responding to climate change, Dr Clune said there hadn't been sufficient conversation about how big the risk was.

"To effectively manage risk, you need to understand the magnitude of the risk," he said.

"We need to be able to have an open conversation about a change in climate, the underlying issues that lead to a change in climate and from that conversation it becomes how do we deal with it here and now, and how do we implement things to mitigate it in the future."

In order to alleviate the impact of climate change over the next 20-30 years, Dr Clune said the industry needed to be highly adaptable, creating new and alternative farming systems.

"It may mean that where we currently farm in Australia, we may not be able to farm as reliably, and I think more research needs to be done to understand those questions," he said.

"For example, if we were to come to Australia today, would we set up our farming zones in the same places that we did in 1788?

"If we think about the Goyder Line in South Australia, would you draw the Goyder Line in the same place as Goyder drew it in the late 1860s?

"That line has moved, so what does that mean in terms of where it's going in the next 30-50 years?

"They're the sorts of questions that need to be answered quickly in a sustainable farming systems understanding to really drive resilience."

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