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Going around in circles on agriculture policy

Craig Zonca, Wednesday March 12, 2014 - 17:30 EDT
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Former National Farmers Federation president Peter Corish - ABC

Former National Farmers' Federation president Peter Corish says agricultural policy hasn't progressed in the past decade.

In 2005, Mr Corish authored a report for the then Coalition Government on agricultural policy for the 'next generation'.

He says much of that work was replicated by Labor's National Food Strategy and again now with the Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper.

Mr Corish says policy discussion is going around in circles.

"A lot of the issues that we dealt with in 2005 - Australian and global food security, improving farm gate returns, access to capital and finance, competitiveness and supply chains, getting rid of or reducing red tape, having a viable number of people in rural communities - are all the same and unfortunately we haven't seen a great deal of progress."

"I think the situation we see in agriculture now is not unique but it's probably one of the most difficult periods we've seen, certainly in the 40 years I've been involved," he said.

Mr Corish hopes the current Abbott Government will look past the political cycle to instead focus on long term changes in agriculture.

"Unfortunately too many of these papers, too many governments have a short term focus.

"Long term thinking for a politician, with all due respect to them, is three years or until the next election cycle.

"We need a plan for agriculture for 30, 40, 50 years and that's what's really lacking," he said.

Mr Corish believes Australian primary producers are well placed to meet the growing international demand for food.

However, he says increased funding for research, development and technology is required for local producers to maintain their competitiveness.

"Our productivity gains in agriculture have plateaued in the last few years, we've really got to boost that up."

In his 2005 report, Mr Corish advocated for better drought preparedness, suggesting the introduction of incentives for fodder conservation, more efficient water infrastructure and the use of more suitable crop varieties.

While still holding firm in his views, Mr Corish admits the last few seasons have provided very few opportunities for producers to invest in drought mitigation projects.

"Farmers in a lot of circumstances haven't had enough reasonable years to put things aside for this current drought event that we've got. It's a really difficult situation," he said.

Mr Corish acknowledges the need for emergency in-drought support but remains unconvinced on the current assistance being provided by State and Federal Governments.

He has previously criticised interest rate subsidy schemes, calling for them to be abolished in his 2005 report.

"With only about 25 per cent of farmers being able to access a lot of that support... you have to question whether in fact it is a viable support scheme.

"We've got to move away from the current short term solutions that are put in place," he said.


© ABC 2014

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