• Hannah Phillips

Fiona Simson at the Press Club

Fiona Simson, Chair of the National Farmers Federation, addressed the Press Club on Wednesday on the subject of creating a $100 billion agriculture industry by 2030.

She said that this is a bold plan, particularly in circumstances where a large part of Australia’s agricultural land is experiencing a drought which has taken many experienced and savvy farmers by surprise.

The government has constantly adapted policies to meet changes in circumstances but we do not have a national plan for agriculture or drought.

We need a plan if food and fibre are to reach their potential as part of the economy.

The farm sector has continued to outperform industrial sectors throughout Australia’s economic history.

Ms Simson said that the agricultural sector had been boosted by the free trade agreements with the Asian economies however the FTAs require a national plan to manage our response to the massive growth in demand.

Agriculture is on a growth trajectory. Business as usual would mean that the sector would achieve $84 billion by 2030 but there is a need for innovation to grow beyond that.

Ms Simson says that we need regional agricultural deals that would establish hubs that become agricultural centres, supplying infrastructure that is essential for getting products to market in the most efficient way.

Regional hubs could be linked to regional visas to meet a shortage of workers.

They should also lead to a deepening of the capital market so that farmers can access the finance they need to expand.

Governments need to harmonise their laws. A single road rule for the movement of agricultural vehicles would bring about enormous productivity gains.

There is also a need for more diversity, particularly the introduction of more women into leadership roles.

Farmers will need to adapt to new technology, particularly the use of 5G connectivity, which will enable the use of new platforms for trade and payments systems.

Farmers are held in high esteem by the Australian public. In order to maintain this trust farmers will have to work on ethical and environmental issues.

There is a need for governments to get rid of the red tape which prevents farmers from implementing practices that will preserve the environment and improve the productivity of the land.

She said that the red meat industry will be carbon neutral by 2030 and farmers were concerned about sustainability to a very high degree.

However she pointed out that this didn’t stop people calling for massive culling of beef herds in order to reduce carbon emissions, which was an emotional reaction not based on facts.

She added that carbon neutrality will be achieved through changing the food consumed by the animals.

Inside Canberra asked Ms Simson how she envisaged Barnaby Joyce’s role as a drought envoy.

She said that it was likely that he would be able to empathise with people going through tough times brought on by the drought.

She said that any policy options should be brought to the notice of the Minister, David Littleproud, rather than being a part of Mr Joyce’s functions.

John McDonnell and Michael Keating

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