Goal not easy to reach

By Country News

Making tough choices will be central to Australian agriculture’s continued success, according to Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodd.

Speaking during the ABARES Outlook conference in Canberra last week, Dr Hatfield-Dodds said five key areas were vital to meeting the National Farmers’ Federation’s goal of lifting the value of Australian agricultural production to $100billion by 2030.

‘‘We must recognise that achieving the best outcomes for agriculture, our rural communities, and the national economy will require some tough choices,’’ he said.

Ensuring agriculture is attractive to workers and investors, harnessing innovation to boost performance, promoting on-farm resilience and risk management, persisting with water reforms and respecting and responding to evolving consumer expectations were all key areas to be addressed, Dr Hatfield-Dodds told the conference.

‘‘We should be mindful of the substantial, and sometimes painful, reforms that underpinned the growth achieved in recent decades — and that favourable global prices account for 90 per cent of past trend growth,’’ he said.

Dr Hatfield-Dodds said a call to continue to harness innovation and prioritise reducing fragmentation, improving collaboration, creating greater clarity and consistency around contributions and benefit sharing, and achieving faster adoption and commercialisation of successful research must all be championed by the industry.

‘‘Our farms must remain resilient and manage risk effectively. Australian farmers manage very significant variability, including variable climate and volatile commodity prices,’’ he said.

‘‘We must persist with water reforms. The view that healthy industries require healthy catchments has not always been visible in recent debate and finger pointing, which is often framed in terms of trade-offs between ‘industry’ or ‘development’ versus the ‘environment’.

‘‘Australian agriculture has many advantages, and a track record of good performance, underpinned by tough choices. But to thrive and grow — to meet $100billion — some difficult decisions will need to be made.’’

The report’s recommendations — to increase flexibility and contestability of funding, scale-up specialised innovation hubs, and encourage diversity and capability to improve outcomes — have been endorsed by NSW Farmers president James Jackson.

‘‘We produce the world’s best goods but ship nearly 90 per cent of them as raw materials — we simply must increase local value-adding capability to reap the full benefits of free trade agreements and our global reputation for quality and safety,’’ he said.

‘‘New technology makes it possible to value add food and fibre here in Australia.

‘‘Better focused R&D coupled with supportive policy and infrastructure investment across state, federal and local government is needed to release the full potential of our agricultural regions.’’