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ABANDONING FARMING WOULD COST MAINSTREAM AUSTRALIA DEARLY

18 October 2006

“Ludicrous claims that Australian agriculture is dead or dying are wrong. It’s thirsty work, no doubt, but the contribution of farming to the economic, environmental and social lifeblood of all Australians cannot be dismissed on the whim of a few ill-informed ideologues,” NFF President David Crombie said today.

“Recent claims may be good for a headline, but let’s look at the facts.

“It has been erroneously cited that agriculture contributes 3-4% of GDP. This is based on value at the farm gate – $36 billion-a-year and over 330,000 direct jobs. But this ignores the vital flow-on effects through the economy, which sees agriculture account for 12% of GDP, $103 billion-a-year in production and 1.6 million jobs.

“In short, without farming, 12% of GDP would be at risk – that includes 1.6 million Australian jobs, half of which we know are in Australia’s capital cities. That would be an economic and social disaster.

“Telling farmers to ‘get off the land’ threatens to break the back of the nation, not to mention the hearts of the families involved, and rip the guts out of regional communities.

“Of course, agricultural production uses a lot of land and water to produce the food Australians eat. A massive 70% of everything we produce in farming heads overseas – vital income for the nation. But the remaining 30% is what we consume right here at home.

“Human need doesn’t get any more basic than food on the table and Australian agriculture is the source of most of the food Australians eat. Our wide choice of fresh, clean, naturally produced and competitively priced food is something all Australian’s value.”

Some have seized upon the drought to criticise agriculture’s commitment to Natural Resource Management (NRM). This is based on out-dated misconceptions Mr Crombie noted.

“Just last week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released findings that Australian farmers spent $3.3 billion on Natural Resource Management over 2004-05, managing or preventing weed, pest, land and soil, native vegetation or water-related issues on their properties,” Mr Crombie said.

“More than $1.1 billion was spent on weed prevention and management, while land and soil-related activities accounted for $900 million.

“Farmers recognise environmentally-sustainable farm practices are essential and have been engaged in developing and planting drought-resistant crop varieties and pioneering new irrigation systems that target water where and when it is needed, as well as a raft of environmentally-sustainable farm practices.

“Instead of ploughing four or five times a year, more and more farmers now use conservation tillage techniques to protect the soil and minimise erosion.

“In fact, the ABS report showed that 92% of Australian farms undertook some form of activity to prevent or manage NRM issues, illustrating that the overwhelming majority of farmers are embracing measures to sustain their resources and farming business.

“Australia is a harsh continent. It always has been and always will be. Our climate has always been a challenge, but one that farmers have always met – successfully achieving productivity growth of 3.8% a year to be Australia’s leading sector.

“The worst drought on record presents new challenges and pressures, especially on the back of several continuous dry seasons. Even the best farm management practices cannot fend-off the ravages of drought under the current circumstances.

“The question is, do we, as a nation, throw our hands up in the air and say farming isn’t worth the effort or do we dig in and make sure Australia continues to have a sound agricultural base?

“Australian farmers are resilient. Despite common misconceptions, Government support for Australian farms represents just 4% of farming income. By comparison, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in the United States it’s 17%, in the European Union it’s 31%, and in Japan it’s some 56%.

“In fact, Australian farmers are the least protected in the world. We’re not looking for handouts – just the recognition that all Australians need to pull together to get through the worst drought on record so we can emerge the other side strong and productive.

“I know, and farmers need to be reassured, that ordinary Australians recognise the vital contribution farming makes to this country. Despite the ideologically-driven rhetoric from some, farming is a mainstay of Australian ingenuity, adaptability and enterprise. Giving up on farming is not an option we can afford to contemplate.”

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan, NFF Public Affairs, (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250 email:

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