By Growcom CEO David Thomson

The ability of agriculture to sway opinion in high places is arguably waning. And the evidence is in the slow but steady withdrawal of support and services.

Rural and regional Australia is hollowing out. As people move from the country and into cities, the power of agricultural influence is being lost with them. This deepening drought is only exacerbating that shift.

It should come as no surprise that votes and seats are an input as part of the policy development calculus.

And so we might suppose it was sometime before the last budget that the Federal Treasurer asked his cabinet colleagues for savings measures from each of their departments.

In one possible scenario the Agriculture Minister suggested the costs borne by the department in facilitating horticultural exports could be more fully recovered from industry to the tune of $1.5 million. Cabinet, we assume, agreed.

Now in the grand scheme of things, $1.5 million is not a lot of money. But that’s half the point. If government is trumpeting the importance of more horticulture exporting as part of our goal of reaching $100 billion in value by 2030, then why can they not continue to meet these costs?

While hardly registering a blip in the government’s budget, the increase to levies paid by individual exporters under the proposed new arrangements could have a real impact on their businesses.

A couple of important levies based on volume are slated to increase by 275 per cent. That’s a lot. And for those high-volume, low-margin export commodities like carrots and onions, this increase could quickly tip their trade into uncommercial territory.

This push to recover more costs from industry for services that were otherwise discounted or free is going to continue in a competitive environment between government departments for limited funds.

You might be surprised to learn about 40 per cent of income for the Federal Department of Agriculture already comes from fees levied on industry in the name of cost recovery.

So the agriculture industry needs to exert itself, as Growcom is on behalf of horticulture.

Consultation on these export levies and fees is open until 10 January. You can submit a response to the government survey at https://haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/cost-recovery-implementation-statements.

Or better yet, write a thoughtful letter to your local Federal Member of Parliament.