Rabobank says R&D funds vital for farmers

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Rabobank Australia’s Thos Gieskes says progress is slowing.
Camera IconRabobank Australia’s Thos Gieskes says progress is slowing. Credit: The West Australian

One of the world’s biggest rural lenders has urged Australian authorities to refocus on research and development to help farmers produce more food.

Rabobank Australia chief executive Thos Gieskes said WA farmers had been at the forefront of efficiency gains but progress was slowing.

The bank’s research shows the decline in efficiency gains mirrors a decline in investment in research and development.

Mr Gieskes said Australian authorities, State and Federal, needed to take a leading role in research and development projects along with industry and universities.

His comments are at odds with the WA Government’s moves to extract itself from research and development by shedding hundreds of jobs at the Department of Agriculture and Food.

Founded by Dutch farmers as a co-operative in 1898, Rabobank operates in 40 countries and has a growing client base in WA.

Mr Gieskes, in Perth yesterday for a board meeting, said Australian farmers were among the most resilient in the world.

He said they didn’t have the government support offered to their competitors in Europe and North America so “the survivors are the strongest”.

Mr Gieskes is not a supporter of using public money to prop up inefficient farmers, but he said the Federal Government seemed to think a big share of global food demand would fall in its lap.

He said authorities in New Zealand, which focuses on exporting dairy, lamb and wine while importing other foods, had a much better understanding of how hard they had to compete in the global markets.

“In Australia, individual farmers know this but the Government doesn’t necessarily see it that way,” he said. “They see the opportunity in Asia ... that is great, but they don’t realise there is competition.

“It is a great opportunity for Australia but if they don’t take it, somebody else will.”

Rabobank is known for its careful lending policies and robust client base in WA.

Mr Gieskes said Rabobank looked closely at the people behind a farm or food business.

“We look at people and their perceptions of the risks in the game and how best to mitigate them,” he said.

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