Aust can secure stake in Asia food supply

Lucy Hughes Jones
(Australian Associated Press)

 

The federal government is being urged to invest in agricultural innovation and infrastructure to capitalise on a unique chance to feed the burgeoning Asian middle classes.

China’s rising demand for premium food has heralded a much-trumpeted ‘golden era’ for Australian farmers, with agricultural production tipped to exceed $60 billion this year.

Chinese investment in Australian agribusiness tripled in 2016, no doubt buoyed by a new free-trade agreement between the two nations.

There’s also tremendous opportunity with population, urbanisation and income growth expected to drive a 70 per cent increase in global food demand by 2050.

But Australia’s international competitiveness amongst agricultural produce exporters is falling, Agribusiness Australia chairman Mark Allison says.

The farm sector’s productivity has slowed behind countries including Brazil, New Zealand and South Africa, which have enjoyed strong growth over the past decade.

“Australia is losing market share where agricultural trade is growing most rapidly, such as North Asia,” Mr Allison said in Darwin on Tuesday.

Australia produces only about one per cent of the world’s food from nine per cent of the planet’s arable land and very little of its water.

Just to retain that one per cent status, Australia will need to deliver almost a doubling of production by 2050 from the same limited amount of soil and water.

To achieve this, Agribusiness Australia says bigger government investments in technological innovation, research and development and infrastructure to reduce transport costs will be key.

The agricultural industry also needs to win over the Australian public following regular criticism of the live export trade, chief executive Tim Burrow says.

The sector has lost its social license amid environmental and animal welfare concerns, and a growing disconnection between farmers and the broader community.

“A renewed community trust in our agribusiness sector’s sustainability and productivity from research to retail needs to be gained,” Mr Burrow said.

Regulatory burdens on rural businesses, accessing finance and attracting skilled labour also pose challenges.

With Darwin the gateway to Asia, the Territory has a vital role to play in advancing the nation’s agriculture sector.

To secure the NT’s future prosperity, the federal government needs to start delivering on its election commitment to develop the north, Mr Burrow said.

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