Growing cities may scuttle growing vegetables

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 1st February 2011

Research undertaken by the federal Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is a wake-up call on the issue of Australia’s future food security, according to Rachel Mackenzie, policy spokesperson for the peak horticulture body Growcom today.

“Research conducted by the National Institute of Labour Studies (NILS) for DIAC has found that if the Australian population continues to grow at current levels, 430 000 hectares of land surrounding Sydney and Melbourne will be taken up by housing in coming years,” Mackenzie said.

“Based on the current annual immigration intake of 260 000 per year, the research found that by 2050 this loss of productive land will slash agricultural output, forcing the import of fruit, nuts, vegetables, pork, dairy and lamb.”

“Even without immigration, state capitals are still forecast to grow up to 1.5 times bigger in the next 50 years. Despite the change in leadership from Kevin Rudd with his ‘Big Australia’ to Julia Gillard with her plan for a ‘Sustainable Australia,’ forecasts for population growth have altered little. The research also found that another 2.5 landfill sites would be required for every one in use today.

“The prospect of the loss of 430 000 hectares of farming land and of having to import large amounts of fruit, vegetables and nuts, adds further weight to Growcom’s calls for a coordinated government policy to ensure food security.”

Peak horticulture body Growcom has had a food security policy as one of its top lobbying issues for several years, Mackenzie said.

“Without a domestic horticulture industry, Australia is at the mercy of world markets for our food. While other countries currently have surpluses of food that they can export to Australia and elsewhere, exponential world population growth, climate change, and rapid depletion of aquifers used for irrigation in India and China mean that this food may simply not be there for import into Australia in future.”

Mackenzie said food security finally made its way onto the federal agenda at the 2010 federal election, and the federal Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig had recently appointed a National Food Policy Advisory Group.

“Growcom has undertaken a comprehensive study on this issue in recent months and expects to interact closely with this Group, as well as continuing to lobby politicians of all parties, at local, state and federal levels on food security. While in the immediate future issues such as flood recovery are top priority, in the long term food security is the most important issue that our industry and our nation faces.”

Mackenzie said the Queensland Government had gone quiet on the strategic cropping land proposal, a policy and planning framework discussion paper released last February by Stirling Hinchliffe, Minister for Infrastructure & Planning.

“While the government has had the floods and the negative impacts of the Coal Seam Gas Industry on agricultural land and water to deal with, it is important that this proposed new framework should not be allowed to languish on a back burner.

“It is vital that government’s expectations for strategic cropping land should be made clearer for the agricultural, mining and urban sectors in order to support sustainable industry growth.“