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SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE THE NEW FARM REALITY

20 November 2006

AS OF today, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is calling for a new partnership in the way Australia manages its agricultural base to recognise and expand upon the sector’s massive contribution to national economic prosperity and managing the environment on behalf of all Australians.

In it’s Pre-Budget Submission, released today, the NFF has flagged the need for a ‘generational shift in thinking’ focusing on five budgetary pillars to lay solid foundations for maximising the sustainability of Australian agriculture – beyond drought – through: the environment, capacity building (including drought management), supply chain efficiency, labour force, and biosecurity.

“We, as a society, need to recognise and build upon the outstanding work farmers have already done in environmental sustainability,” NFF President David Crombie said. “The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has recorded that farmers spent $3.3 billion on natural resource management in the last recorded year, that 92% of farmers have environmental programs in place to manage and preserve their land, and that farmers plant 20 million trees a year for conservation purposes.

“These simple facts are just the tip of the iceberg in showing how farmers have embraced environmental sustainability as the lifeblood for the sector’s future. Farmers have taken that generational shift in thinking and made it a reality. NFF calls on government policy to reflect modern realities and commit strategic funding accordingly.

“That’s why NFF’s Environmental Stewardship initiative – an incentive-based program to formally recognise farmers in going ‘over and beyond their normal duty of care’ in safeguarding the environment and providing them with the means to do more – is essential.

“We’re advocating a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to managing the environment.

“The Federal Government has stood by farmers in extending and streamlining Exceptional Circumstances drought assistance to help farmers though the current drought. Moving forward, a more strategic and longer-tem vision is necessary – geared to drought recovery and future drought management.

“We need to shift the policy paradigm from drought relief to drought management and preparedness.

“And so, the Federal Government’s ‘Agriculture Advancing Australia’ program needs to raise to a new level – to provide farmers with the tools to more effectively recover from today’s drought and, just as importantly, prepare for future drought events.

“Recognising the issues of climate change and water reform require long-term solutions, it is essential to embrace farmers in planning now. The fact is Australia’s 130,000 farms occupy 60% of Australia’s landmass and use 60% of Australia’s water.

“At the same time, Australian agriculture and its flow on effect generates $103 billion a year in production, accounts for 12% of GDP, drives $28 billion a year in exports, and support the jobs of 1.6 million Australians – half of which are in our capital cities.

“On infrastructure, some key elements of Australia’s transport systems border on the dark ages. Farmers have achieved average annual productivity growth of 3.8%, each year over the past 20 years.

“Despite farmers’ massive efficiency gains and competitive advantage, we are held back by an out-dated rail network, an inherently inefficient and over-regulated transport system that is punctuated by a lack of inland and local level road capacity, and poor connectivity to limited freight hubs.

“Bringing these inefficient supply chain systems up to scratch must finally be acknowledged as a necessary investment in our national economic survival.

“It is also essential Australia’s super-efficient farm production is backed up by improving efficiencies further a field, in the processing, retail, food services and export sectors.

“With unemployment at 30-year lows, it is no surprise that labour is another key pillar for NFF’s sustainability push. Bringing working holiday maker tax withholding rates for horticulture and the minimum wage requirements for 457 Visa holders into line with local worker levels, would be a sensible way of tapping into a viable and willing new labour source.

“Finally, with the Federal Government implementing a new biosecurity framework, NFF wants to ensure that adequate resources will be injected to ensure that the system operates with surety. Australian farmers and Australian consumers depend on the integrity of this system.

“Australian agriculture provides most of the fresh, clean, naturally-produced and competitively-priced food Australian’s value. To ensure we do not place this in jeopardy, along with billions of dollars in annual farm production, we must ensure a robust system to manage animal and plant disease risks.”

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

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