Rural Weekly Op-Ed – “White Paper delivers support that is needed and deserved for family farms”

8 July 2015

There has been a lot of analysis and opinion splashed across the media in the days following the Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister officially launching the White Paper for Agricultural Competitiveness at a Victorian dairy farm at the weekend.

There will be ardent supporters of the Federal Government’s rural blueprint and there will be critics.

But either way, we should take stock from the fact that people across Australia are finally really focussing on the ever-growing contribution our agriculture industry makes to the national economy and the mammoth potential facing this sector in the coming decades.

Forced to take a back seat during the mining booms over the past two decades, we are fast approaching days where agriculture will be once more raised in public prominence.

Through the delivery of the 2015-16 Budget, White Paper for Northern Australia and White Paper for Agricultural Competitiveness, our Federal Government has delivered more for Australian agriculture in the past three months than any other government has delivered in the previous three decades.

International economic drivers of farm gate profitability, such as world prices, subsidisation and protectionism, are outside Australia’s control.

But as one of the world’s largest exporters of agricultural product, Australia must never shy away from making home grown, strategic improvements to its competitiveness.

The $4 billion package announced on Saturday will ensure Australian farms become smarter, stronger and more competitive to exploit Australia’s agricultural comparative advantage.

The White Paper recognises the central importance of developing strong export markets —and it is something we want to maintain as well as build to provide greater profits back to the farm gate and to the nation.

When the Abbott Government took office in September 2013 a 400 kg feed on steer at Gunnedah would have got you $680; now it will get you around $1265.

A 20 kg lamb would have returned $85; it now returns $125.

Feed barley has increased by 21 per cent to around $295 a tonne and the value of a 180 kg bale of wool has increased by 12 per cent, to $2,190.

Since the change of government the prices of soft commodities have now had one of the greatest turnarounds in our nation’s history, by reason of demand from Asia and other markets including the Middle East, a low dollar and good management by government with free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea and six new live export destinations.

This is also in no small measure due to the backgrounds of the men and women who make up our government.

Roughly half of the Cabinet has direct, practical involvement in agriculture and family-based primary industry.

Aside from Barnaby Joyce, there is Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who has held senior positions at Cattle Council and the National Farmers’ Federation.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion was a commercial fisherman. Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Ian MacFarlane were successful grain growers before entering politics.

Health Minister Sussan Ley spent her early married life on her husband’s family farm.

Even Cabinet Ministers better known for their Northern Sydney electorate, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Joe Hockey, own sheep and cattle properties at Scone and Atherton respectively.

Each of these key decision-makers understands the importance of the land to people across the bush, and alongside the rest of the cabinet, they are now delivering for the bush.

Finally, we have a Prime Minister who is truly a friend of the bush. I have seen this first hand as he has comforted landholders in drought-affected regions.

Whether through better genetics, improved pastures or new technologies, Australia’s farmers and producers have a range of ever increasing options at their disposal that provide opportunities to evolve our beef industry from a mere commodity to a premium product.

By dedicating significant government funding and resources to addressing future market opportunities, supply chain transparency and research and development in this White Paper, the Federal Government is taking a confident step forward to address the fundamentals that will keep the family farm gate secure for years to come.