Agriculture under threat: Laurie

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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Agriculture is under threat from a multitude of challenges, according to National Farmers' Federation (NFF) president Jock Laurie.

Speaking at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days, Mr Laurie said farmers' concerns were much the same across Australia - the impact of the carbon tax, the future of live export, foreign investment and interaction with mining companies.

"Everybody in the job would say they've dealt with some very big issues. I think they are probably three or four of the biggest issues that we've dealt with in the agricultural industry for a long time," he said.

"The mining and foreign investment issues have been developing over a period of time, and then the carbon tax is delivering a government policy. For them to happen at the one time, I think the industry feels a bit threatened."

It was a sentiment backed up by the latest Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey.

While winter rains have reversed the season's fortunes for most areas, a quarter of WA farmers were expecting economic conditions to worsen in the next year - that figure was just 9 per cent last quarter.

Concerns centred on government intervention and policy, with more than a third of the farmers expecting economic conditions to worsen touting government policy as the cause.

A little over a quarter of WA farmers believed economic conditions would improve, but just a few months ago more than half of the State's growers were optimistic.

Across the nation, 35 per cent of farmers were expecting conditions to worsen and almost half of these farmers blamed the government.

The volatility of international markets and debt woes of the United States and Europe were also key concerns.

Australia-wide, more than half of all farmers surveyed believed coal seam gas exploration to be a threat to agriculture.

It reflected Mr Laurie's fear that the relationship between mining companies and agricultural land owners was unsustainable.

"We've been discussing that with the Federal and State governments - they need to think about what agriculture's role is going to be up to 2050 and beyond," he said.

"Considering food production has to increase by about 70 per cent to feed the growing population… the last thing you want is to have an expansion of one industry at the expense of another that down the track you're going to need."

He said the NFF had not yet formulated a policy on foreign investment in Australian agricultural land, but welcomed the review into the matter.

"The review by the Government will hopefully give some clarity on the situation. Out of that, there will be a strong debate as to what the parameters should be, if there should be any parameters and how the produce is marketed.

"There are a lot of details that will have to be discussed before we form a policy on what our view is on foreign investment.

"Foreign investment in Australia in a lot of ways has probably maintained land values… it's given stability to the market and that's provided opportunities in agriculture.

"But when we're seeing changes that we're seeing now, we need to be aware of what those changes are and make decisions about whether we think they're acceptable or not."

The last thing you want is to have an expansion of one industry at the expense of another that down the track you're going to need. Jock Laurie, NFF

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