IT wouldn't be an over-statement to say Australia's food security is something that tends to be taken for granted by the general population.
Hopefully if our nation has learnt nothing else from this moment, it's that the things which we take for granted actually require a lot of effort and work to maintain.
The COVID-19 pandemic, Russia's war with Ukraine and the consequent supply chain disruptions drew into sharp focus Australia's reliance on other countries to access key agricultural inputs including fuel, fertiliser and labour.
As we've witnessed over the past few years, the agriculture sector's inability to access any one of these elements can have huge ramifications, not only on Australia's food production costs, but also the nation's food security.
On top of this, a lack of climate resilient supply chain infrastructure is having increased effects on the cost and availability of food, as demonstrated most recently by the nation-wide shortages of the beloved spud, with Australia's pubs and restaurants unable to satisfy the hot chip cravings of customers due to the floods over east.
The threats posed by climate change and their impact on Australia's transport and logistic chains means instances such as these are set to become even more common if significant improvements are not made to our freight routes.
These concerns culminated in the Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt directing the House Standing Committee on Agriculture to commence an inquiry into food security in Australia in October last year.
Both of Australia's key grains representative bodies, GrainGrowers Limited (GGL) and Grain Producers Australia (GPA), provided submissions for the inquiry in December, which illustrate similar perspectives on where efforts should be focused to help strengthen and safeguard Australia's food security.
While House Standing Committee on Agriculture inquiry secretary Bill Pender said it was still in its early stages and was expected to be completed by the end of the year, you can find a few of the key points raised by the submissions presented below.
More local manufacturing to ensure continued access to key agricultural inputs
Since the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, the groundswell of support for increased local manufacturing of our key farm inputs has continued, with many farming advocacy groups, including the Pastoralists and Graziers' Association (PGA) of WA, continuing to highlight it as a critical issue for the industry.
The local manufacturing of critical key inputs is also a key policy priority of GGL and GPA and was highlighted in both organisation's submissions.
GPA chief executive Colin Bettles said developing more manufacturing onshore would help reduce the sector's over-reliance on overseas supply and make growers more profitable and sustainable.
"External factors have contributed strongly to the record prices Australian growers are currently paying for fertiliser, fuel and chemical, such as the war in Ukraine and its ongoing impact on global supply and demand," Mr Bettles said.
"An increase in local supply will mitigate some of these price risks - given last year was the most expensive crop we've produced - and help give growers more certainty."
While acknowledging there was no "silver bullet" to managing high input cost risks, Mr Bettles said strong investment and positive policy signals by the government were needed to increase local manufacturing.
"This includes finding ways to achieve these shared benefits, through the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund," he said.
"An investment in increased local manufacturing of farm inputs such as fertiliser is also an investment in national sovereignty, and food security."
GGL chairman Rhys Turton said the highly concentrated supply chain for chemicals and fertiliser was of concern.
"Chemicals and fertilisers impact crop yield and quality, and our preference would be to explore domestic production to ensure access and supply," Mr Turton said.
"The government has recently shown its willingness to act on behalf of the transport industry by promoting the domestic manufacture of a diesel exhaust additive (AdBlue).
"We believe there is merit in acting similarly for chemicals and fertilisers.
"Domestic production will provide local employment opportunities, shorten the supply chain and reduce risks associated with supply chain disruptions."
Mr Turton said the application of green technologies in the manufacturing process, combined with a reduction in transportation, would also provide additional benefits through the reduction of emissions.
Fuel security for food security
GGL said fuel security remained a critical risk for grain production and food security, with one of its recommendations being that the Liquid Fuel Emergency Act 1984 be amended so that farm businesses and agricultural services are classified as essential users by the State's and Territories associated Acts and Guidelines.
Since 2000, the number of domestic refineries has declined from eight to two, leaving Australia dependent on imported fuel for just under 91 per cent of its fuel.
As a member of the International Energy Association, Australia is obliged to hold emergency stocks equivalent to 90 days of net imports, however we have been non-compliant since 2021.
According to the Australian Petroleum Statistic as of September last year, Australia only had 54 days of fuel.
Mr Turton said if supply was impacted during harvest - as in 2012 with the breakdown of the Geelong Shell Refinery - growers would struggle to secure fuel.
"If we are serious about food security, Australia needs reliable fuel reserves, and agriculture needs to be recognised as an essential user," Mr Turton said.
While we know it's important to learn from one's own mistakes, sometimes it's even better to learn from others' mistakes so you don't make them in the first place.
GPA's inquiry submission highlighted some of the damage caused by foreign governments overstepping the mark and banning or enforcing drastic reductions on fertiliser use to help meet their carbon emission targets.
Examples include Canada introducing a policy to reduce fertiliser related emissions by 30 per cent from 2020, which sparked serious backlash from farming representatives, as well as the Dutch government's recent policy moves to ban/reduce fertiliser use to meet emissions reduction targets, which was also met with strong criticism.
Most notorious of all though was the collapse of Sri Lanka's economy following its government's ban on fertilisers, which led to a dramatic reduction in crop yields and ultimately affected the food security of the nation.
Mr Bettles said the political risks were constant and needed to be managed continually with strong representation.
"Governments in Australia have become increasingly acutely aware that they need to be less idealist and more pragmatic, when it comes to making any decisions that impact the ability of farmers to produce food that's safe, and affordable for families and consumers," he said.
"Soil health and quality is critical to any farmers' prosperity and production output - not just Australian grain producers.
"That's why it's treated as an inter-generational asset that's managed with great care and knowledge, to ensure it can be passed onto the next generation in better shape.
"Sustainability may be a buzz word lately, but it has always been in a farmers' DNA and therefore front and centre of GPA's policy and advocacy work."
Submissions for the 'Inquiry into food security in Australia' can be found a aph.gov.au