Sector has the chance to forge its destiny

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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Agriculture is receiving a roadmap to its future and farmers, processors, consumers and everyone in between are the architects.

For the first time, stakeholders from across agriculture's supply chain are sitting down to nut out the future of agriculture so the sector can deliver a blueprint to government. The idea is to start to address emerging problems and opportunities now, so agriculture can forge a bright future in a climate where demand is set to boom.

National Farmers' Federation vice-president Duncan Fraser was one of the chairs of the WA Blueprint panel and said it's about giving policymakers a unified voice from the agricultural sector.

"The idea is to get all stakeholders involved in agriculture… anyone who eats is basically a partner in farming - to get inputs and thoughts to map out a road map for the future that we can take to government to set policy," Mr Fraser said.

"It's a two-way thing. We need the input and then we want them to feel part of the outcomes that they can identify with them."

Mr Fraser said if the industry didn't have a blueprint, the danger was it would get left out of the decision making process all together.

"We can't just sit back and think we're doing a good job, we've got to be in there and fighting," he said.

"Governments tend to be notorious for only taking a three-year view because that's the length of their term in parliament.

"We need to be clear about where we see agriculture positioned and meeting the issues of food security for a developing world, especially in Asia."

WA was the third workshop on the Blueprint agenda, which also has support from Westpac and Woolworths, and last Friday the agriculture industry got together to discuss issues, solutions and opportunities. The WA panel was rounded out by outgoing WAFarmers president Mike Norton, Sheepmeat Council of Australia president Ian McColl and Rural Woman of the Year and Woolocutty farmer Caroline Robinson.

Mr Norton spoke about the opportunities surrounding food security and said it was up to industry to come up with solutions it could then offer to governments.

Ms Robinson said profitability and return on investments was impacting on the sector's resilience and said lack of government support on issues such as Tier 3 impacted on rural communities.

"When the government doesn't have confidence in agriculture and its infrastructure, then that knocks farmers' confidence," she said.

Mr McColl said, as a rule, Australia had failed to truly grasp the notion of food security, while other nations had worked to sure up food supplies through investment in Australian farmland.

The perception of agriculture by the wider community, a lack of investment in agricultural education and eroding profit margins were all hot topics discussed by the participants in the workshop.

More than 1000 people have so far responded to the Blueprint survey, with the report produced scheduled to go to Government in December.

The workshop has already visited Canberra and Queensland and will head to all the other states before the report is compiled.

In the meantime, stakeholders that had already taken part need to take some of the ideas garnered from the workshop forward.

"This is only the start of the process," he said.

The idea is to get all stakeholders involved in agriculture… anyone who eats is basically a partner in farming. Duncan Fraser

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