10 point plan for Australian agriculture

What’s in a number? In 2013 the National Farmers’ Federation released its “Blueprint for Australian Agriculture”.

It was a good document advocating seven key themes; Innovation, Research, Development and Extension, Competitiveness, Trade and Market Access, People, Agriculture in Society, Natural Resources and Transformational Issues. The document received broad industry support.

Speaking in the Parliament recently I produced another number; a ten-point plan for Australia’s agriculture sector. I told my colleagues that to meet our aspirations to secure higher and more sustainable profitability we need to:

1. Establish high-level government policy guidance;

2. Restore a genuine and effective COAG process;

3. Strengthen our biosecurity to protect our reputation as a provider of clean, green, safe high-quality food;

4. Adapt to a changing climate and tackle drought;

5. Pursue a vigorous productivity agenda;

6. Embrace more efficient and more sustainable land use practices;

7. Further develop market mechanisms to maximise the efficient allocation of natural resources;

8. Encourage the pursuit for higher value products and markets;

9. Increase our efforts to reduce non-tariff barriers in export markets; and,

10. Lift our research, innovation and extension efforts.

I was at pains to point out to the House that my list was not intended to be exhaustive. For example, there are many other issues critical for our farm sector but fall under the responsibility of other Minsters and Departments; road, rail and ports infrastructure, connectivity, tariff barriers, workface issues and taxation policy to name just a few.

All of my ten points were consistent with the aspirations and policy directions highlighted in the NFF’s Blueprint. But what I was focusing on in my speech is the matters which fall within the responsibilities of the Minister for Agriculture and the policy areas I would make a priority if given the chance to serve once again in that role.

I was recently pressed to nominate just three things that will most determine our future success in food and fiber production. As reluctant as I was to accept the challenge to provide such a short list, I nominated science, innovation and a willingness to embrace change. On reflection, I’m quite comfortable with my response. I’m convinced we can’t achieve a lift in productivity and sustainable profitability without a full embrace of science, innovation and change.

However, if I had my time over I may have first asked; “what do you mean by future success”? While we rightly focus on income and profit, success also means guaranteeing our food security. We are too quick to assume food security could never be a problem for Australia.

While as a net exporter it is true we are exceptionally well placed; a changing world and climatic environment dictates our future food requirements should always be a part of our policy conversation.

The good news is, the prescriptions for both sustainable profitability and food security are much the same and can be found in the 10 points I recently shared with the Parliament.

This piece was published on Australian Farmers on March 2 2018.

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