By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard
With the inherent uncertainties of the agriculture sector and the environment, as primary producers we know the importance of making hay while the sun shines.
While we are undoubtedly still grappling with some significant constraints, in terms of labour and farm input supply and cost, there are a number of things lining up for agriculture that will be relevant this Federal election.
First, if there is a silver lining to COVID-19, it is that the public, politicians and policy makers are increasingly aware of the value of our regions.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently revealed the population of regional Australia grew by 70,900 people during 2020-21, in contrast to a decline of 26,000 for the capital cities – the first time since 1981 that Australia’s regional population grew more than the capital cities.
Second, not only did agriculture help carry the economy through worst of the pandemic, our terms of our trade have witnessed a significant turnaround, leading ABARES to announce a record forecast of agricultural output for the current financial year of over $81 billion, beating the record of last year by an enormous $12 billion margin.
This all coincides with a Federal election, called over the weekend for Saturday 21 May.
Politicians, like all of us, enjoy backing in a winner. So this particular election campaign represents a unique opportunity for agriculture to reap a harvest in terms of strategic commitments from all parties that will set us up for long term success.
Both major parties are sniffing the breeze and have already announced what may prove to be their signature regionally focused initiatives.
The LNP through the budget announced $2 billion for their Regional Acceleration Program, which will invest in priority areas including regional education infrastructure, supply chain resilience and manufacturing.
The ALP has similarly announced setting aside a $500 million pool specifically for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and fibre to encourage investment in value-adding for both domestic and export markets as part of their broader $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
We call on both major parties to release more information on these and other agriculture initiatives as soon as possible, and encourage regional voters to take time to assess the detail.
At Growcom we’ll have more to say about these initiatives, measuring them by the extent to which they promote regional value-adding opportunities that create new value streams for fresh produce, and whether they add resilience to existing supply chains.