Strong ag advocacy critical going forward

Dec 28, 2023 | Column

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role at Primary Producers SA is to work across commodity interests on issues that support farming enterprises to remain profitable and sustainable, both now and into the future. 

Often these issues aren’t immediately obvious to industry sectors until there are direct impacts from government policy, such as on the cost of doing business or a hit to farm income through loss of market access.

PPSA is the voice of the sector to government and ensures South Australian interests are heard at the national level through our membership of the National Farmers’ Federation.

We are part of the NFF’s ambition to reach $100 billion in farm output by 2030.

The past year has proven how farm advocacy is increasingly dominated by a much broader policy agenda than the agricultural portfolio in Cabinet, as governments look to address competing interests across the economy, with major resets to land access and water policy, while indirectly reforming labour markets and superannuation thresholds that impact the profitability of farm businesses.

Governments of all persuasions are ramping up efforts to curb emissions and fast track renewable energy projects to achieve climate targets, while at the same time developing new markets to preserve biodiversity through the new nature repair package.

Competition for agricultural land is only going to increase from mining, energy and big polluters looking to balance the books through carbon offsets.

This change is particularly relevant to SA, where scarce arable land is being assigned to future housing development to support forecast population growth.

Meanwhile, the year ended in Canberra with parliament lifting the restrictions on water buybacks to achieve the Murray Darling Basin goals, with assurances that communities will be supported through structural adjustment packages as irrigation capacity is lost for productive agriculture.

Pleasingly, trade relations with China have begun to thaw, and the monumental task of rebuilding market access for key products such as wine will begin in earnest.

Despite this, many producers are instead choosing to exit the industry and pull up vines, rather than sustain ongoing losses.

These compounding pressures on our wine regions will be felt long before the impact of water buybacks.

While policy makers deal in the theoretical, primary producers are dealing with the realities of a changing climate and market volatility in running their farm business.

Day in, day out, the farm sector is creating economic wealth.

The commodities we produce are tangible — not merely a book entry or market derivative, but actual food and fibre a growing world population needs to survive.  

We cannot afford to lose sight of ending hunger as global sustainability goal as we rush to meet other goals at the expense of agriculture.

When environmental ambition overtakes practical reality, it will be our primary producers who first feel the impact. The cost of food production will escalate, leading to lower production. 

The $100 billion target will be lost through the impost of poorly designed regulation, irrespective of rainfall or commodity prices. The future of agriculture depends on good public policy.

As the world looks to Australian agriculture to balance world food supplies, we need government policies that recognise and reward the effort of primary producers.

That is why NFF, PPSA and our peak commodity groups continue providing a strong, united voice to government and the wider community to help ensure our sector continues to thrive.

This column was written by PPSA CEO Caroline Rhodes and first appeared in the 28 December 2023 edition of Stock Journal.

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