Coalition releases ‘R&D’ agriculture policy

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 5th August 2010

Coalition’s agriculture policy meets with approval

The Coalition’s new Agriculture Policy, released today, offers $150 million for increased research and development in agriculture and $8 million to map the carbon footprint of Australia’s agriculture and food production.

The policy has been welcomed by the food and farming sector, including the National Farmer’s Federation, the Australian Food and Grocery Council and Growcom.

Announced today at a property outside Orange, NSW, by Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security John Cobb, the plan comes two days after the proposal of a National Food Plan by Labor.

Provisions include a 25% increase on the current dollar-for-dollar government contributions for every industry dollar raised for 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations, amounting to up to $150 million over three years. A $5 million budget has also been announced for specialised research, mentoring or further study.

Water-wise, $50 million would be available in the form of grants up to $100,000 for farming enterprises, to be spent on water-saving activities, improved grazing practices and renewable-energy powered pumps.

An $8 million committment to mapping the carbon footprint of the food industry aims to certify Australia as a green producer in a global marketplace.

“It is important that, as a large exporting nation, Australia is able to prove our reputation as a supplier of clean, green products is factual and defended in the global market place. This $8 million initiative will provide a ‘third party’ auditable map of the carbon foot print of all of Australia’s agricultural production, from paddock to plate, to be used to ensure that our primary products can compete in the global market place,” the policy says.

In addition, an unspecified amount would go on a ‘Green Tape Audit’, to “identify the ‘green tape’ which is unworkable, contradictory or incompatible with other legislation, affects food production or puts Australian lives at risk. The audit will also look at the impact environmental legislation can have on property rights.”

Biosecurity is also listed to recieve a $15 million ‘Flying Squad’ to provide “urgent additional resources when a bio-security risk is identified”.

The NFF was positive about the policy, describing it as ‘sound’. “The Coalition’s policy combines a range of key measures that, collectively, will improve the capacity of Australian farmers to meet increasing challenges for food and fibre production,” NFF President David Crombie said.

“We await further announcements, for example on a National Infrastructure Strategy, Water Policy in the Murray-Darling Basin and a commitment to fully fund and implement ‘pre-border’, ‘at border’ and ‘post-border’ Beale Review reforms to our biosecurity system.

Growcom Chief Executive Officer Alex Livingstone said that it was pleasing to see that the debate had turned in recent days to serious consideration of the issue of domestic food security, a subject which Growcom had been vocal about for some years, with both major parties releasing statements this week and the Greens Senator Christine Milne also being supportive of the idea.

“Without long term planning we may lose the advantage of growing food for our own population on our own land,” he said.

“Local food producers are under mounting pressures on their viability from factors such as the increasing cost of inputs such as labour, transport, fuel, water, fertilisers and chemicals, an increasing regulatory burden, squeezed margins from retailers and food processors, increased pressure from alternative uses for arable land from mining and urban development, increased disputes with urban neighbours over commercial farming practices and changing climatic conditions, making some crops less productive or unviable with alternative country not as readily available.”

Livingston called on whoever takes government to provide action on clear and transparent Country of Origin labelling regulations, drafting of a national food security policy, workforce policy to assist the horticulture industry, increased biosecurity planning, coordination and risk managment, and implementations of the Productivity Commissions’s recommendations on drought policy.

AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said the food and grocery manufacturing industry supported the Coalition’s approach to food security and production, including R & D, which she said is a cornerstone for increasing capacity in the $100 billion sector.

“However, there is a major need for R & D beyond the farm gate to find and develop innovative, smart products for the future,” Ms Carnell said. “Industry needs a holistic approach to innovation in food and grocery manufacturing – this is vital to ensure we have a food manufacturing sector into future and we don’t become even more reliant on goods from China.

“Water security and water re-use is also critical for food production and processing in Australia – no water, means no food for Australians.

“In terms of sustainability, industry supports mapping the carbon footprint of Australia’s primary food production system because we must maintain our enviable reputation for supplying clean, green, nutritious products to the world.”

Carnell expressed disappointment that the Coalition didn’t take the opportunity issued by AFGC and the National Farmers Federation (NFF) to develop a National Food and Grocery Agenda.

“It’s a pity that the Coalition hasn’t chosen to develop a national policy to optimise Australia’s entire value chain from farm-gate to the consumer,” Ms Carnell said.

“Australia needs a partnership approach involving relevant stakeholders to plan and achieve a national food strategy to ensure Australia has a safe, nutritious and sustainable food supply into the future.”