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Farmers saving the economy again, but for how long?

4 March 2009

“TODAY’S national account figures are a timely reminder of how fundamental our farm sector is to our economy, with agricultural production and growth – in seasonally adjusted terms up 10.9% this quarter on top of last quarter’s 13.4% – yet again, helping to stave off recession,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said.

“Mining booms come and go, but Australian agriculture is the constant that gives the Australian economy the surety it needs during good and turbulent times. That’s not a slight against other sectors, just recognition that regardless of the fluctuating fortunes of various industries that, at the end of any day, people still have to eat.

“Already we’re seeing the farming sector renowned as the ‘backbone of the Australian economy’ living up to its tag. The last two national accounts, including those today, show Australia would have been in recession if not for the growth in the Australian farm sector.

“In fact, an extra 15,000 Australians have found work in the farm sector since the economic downturn began. Anecdotally we’re hearing a significant proportion of those are coming back to agriculture from the mining sector. That number is tipped to rise and we certainly have the capacity to employ more Australians.

“It’s often taken for granted, but the Australian farm sector is as vital to the Australian economy today as ever before. Now, in the midst of an economic crisis, people are starting to realise it.

“Even at the peak of the mining boom, agriculture still accounted for 20% of our national exports – that proportion is now set to rise, representing some $32.1 billion in export earnings in 2009-10 – and our farm sector underpins a massive 12% of GDP, with 1-in-6 of all Australian jobs across the economy hinging on agricultural production.

“But, as I pointed out yesterday, the ability of agriculture to continue to perform that role is in serious jeopardy because government investment in productivity-based agricultural research and development (R&D) has imploded.

“We’re spending in research intensity today want we spent in 1970. Meanwhile, our international competitors have ramped up their spending to the point that developing countries are out-stripping us, putting our hard-won gains in a precarious position. The Australian Government cannot afford to be complacent about relying on farming to keep the economy afloat. It must invest in the next wave of productivity gains... sooner, not later.

“Yesterday, Agriculture Minister Tony Burke announced research funding for methane emissions and soil carbon storage – $28.8 million and $32 million, respectively. We welcome it as part of the climate change research response. But climate change is a new research need requiring new research funding... it must not come at the expense of, or be syphoned from, productivity-based R&D.

“Productivity gains, achieved on the back of R&D, have placed Australian agriculture at the forefront of world food and fibre production. But Australia has failed to keep pace and is now falling further and further behind the rest of the world. This must be rectified in this year’s Federal Budget.”

[ENDS]

More information is available in the NFF Federal Budget Submission 2009

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

« Minister’s recognition of farm R&D shortfall timely: NFF


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