Web_m033313THE first week of the election campaign has been a puff fest from the two main combatants, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, and we’ve heard precious little about the more substantial issues, like agriculture. At the Koonwarra saleyards last Thursday, the ‘Sentinel-Times’ asked several people involved in agriculture what they thought the main priorities were but most would simply like to hear MPs focus some attention on this extremely important sector to local and the national economies.

Cattle buyer and beef producer Ross Svenson said the cost and complexity of government-generated bureaucracy and compliance issues for primary producers was becoming unwieldy and was in need of a serious overhaul. “The authorities are pressing for increasingly high standards with food production but they’ve got to realise that it comes at a cost and someone’s got to pay for it,” Mr Svenson said. “The other issue is that bureaucracy and the cost of it is killing us. “And that starts with local government and goes all the way up. Local government is having the cost of services pushed back on them and the farmers are being hit hard by increasing rates. “It all affects our competitiveness and viability. It’s all just getting out of hand. “For example, the other day you had Joel Fitzgibbon (the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) saying he was going to introduce an Independent Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports, no doubt with an office full of people to go along with it. “I mean, whose going to pay for that? “It’s just mind-blowing the amount of bureaucrats they have employed doing what, nothing.

They’re adding nothing to the economy and there needs to be a complete review of the whole system, top to bottom.” Mr Svenson said government policy needed  to focus on improving returns to the farm gate if they wanted farming in this country to have a future. “If you pay people to produce they will. We have already seen people going back to milking cows and more would be prepared to do it. “Both men and woman are quite capable of running dairy farms these days with the better systems they have to help with milking and all the rest. “People can blend off-farm income with the farming operation but they’ve got to be given the incentive. “Of course the pressure would come off if we had a rise in prices but they’ve still got to be looking at the fundamentals.” He also noted that the recent change in the Fire Services Levy had cost farmers heavily. “It’s very tough for young people to get a start in farming and it’s another area that needs looking at.”

Mr Svenson said the poor returns from farming were also impacting the ability of older parents to hand on the farm to their kids. “Many haven’t been able to set aside enough money for their retirement and need to sell all or part of the farm just to fund their own retirement,” he said. For Lynne Cook and Heather Scholten, farmers from Yinnar at the store sale at Koonwarra last week, they’ve no doubt that the added costs forced on to agriculture by government was at crisis point. “What they’ve got to remember is that any added costs get passed on to the end of the line, to the farmers,” Mrs Cook said. “The truth of it is, I don’t think any of them have actually got any idea what’s going on in agriculture and they’ll wonder why we haven’t got anything to eat in this country.” They said debts were high generally, there was no emphasis place on the sector by government and it was time they started to engage farmers about the problems they were facing instead of wasting taxpayers money on more hair-brained schemes.

A priority NFF President Duncan Fraser said Australian agriculture needs to be a priority for all sides of Parliament this coming election. “Now that we have certainty in terms of the election date, we’re looking equal certainty in policy issues, so farmers can get on with their job.” He urged both parties to make serious statements about what they could do for the sector to ensure “that Australians continue to have access to a sustainable supply of Australian grown food and fibre”. “Through the National Food Plan, The Asian Century White Paper and recently through media comments from the Prime Minister, the government have signalled that food, fibre and agriculture are a priority. Similarly the Coalition have indicated their commitment to the sector with agriculture as one of their key policy pillars. What farmers and the broader rural sector now need to see is the detail behind the rhetoric, so that they can make up their own minds about what the major parties and independents have to offer.” Here’s what the National Farmers Federation believes are the five key agricultural policy areas ahead of the September 7 election: * Growing Australian Agriculture: reprioritising agriculture in the national agenda. Key actions required: a commitment to implement Blueprint priorities and to increase agriculture’s share of the federal budget. * Investing in RD&E: driving innovation and productivity through increased investment in agriculture RD&E. Key action required: increasing total expenditure on R&D by one per cent (of total national expenditure on R&D) by 2015. * Increasing competitiveness and profitability: ensuring we are a globally competitive and our farmers remain profitable.

Key actions required: reduction of red tape through harmonisation of state/federal regulations; ensuring fair competition through delivering the balance of market power; and driving investment in infrastructure needed by our farmers. * Building a stronger workforce: encouraging greater uptake of agricultural careers and delivering improved labour solutions. Key actions required: embedding agriculture into the national curriculum and improving flexibility to allow individual flexibility agreements to be completed pre-employment. * Balancing agriculture and the environment: ensuring our natural resources can continue to be managed while also increasing agricultural production. Key actions required: ensuring infrastructure and other efficiency measures are in place prior to any water purchases in the Murray-Darling Basin; and helping farmers to improve preparedness and response to extreme climactic events including an overhaul of drought support measures. “All sides of Government need to remember – the future of food, fibre and agriculture is dependent on policy decisions made today. These decisions are not just important for farmers but for the millions of Australians who eat, drink and wear what we grow every day.”