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TAS Country : November 11th 2010
32 Tasmanian Country Friday, November 12, 2010 Opinion www.tfga.com.au Report offers food for thought TFGA matters with Jan Davis FOOD PRODUCTION: Efficiency is the key. AUSTRALIA treads warily into a new age of agricultural challenges that are linked to the globalised nature of business and capital, to the changing climate and to a catalogue of potential claims on the optimum use of land that hitherto was undeniably earmarked for agriculture. There are now conflicting and competing claims on agricultural land: housing development, plantation forestry, mining and small- acreage hobby farms. In August, the Senate Select Committee on Agriculture and Related Industries presented its final report on food production in Australia after a two-year investigation. The report has been criticised as underwhelming and inadequate and has prompted calls for the committee to continue the task with which it was charged. On the question of land use, it noted: ''Land available for agriculture is declining across the globe as expanding populations inhabit fertile land that could otherwise be devoted to food production. ''Although this problem is not as severe in Australia as it is in countries with a smaller land mass, urban encroachment is nonetheless affecting the capacity of Australian producers to grow food in the areas in which it is demanded, which in turn affects its quality and affordability.'' That observation raises the question that, if we are serious about food production in Australia, if the rest of the country is as serious as the Tasmanian Government about the need to maximise irrigation opportunities to make this state a food bowl, then we have to look at placing caveats on the use of our best land. The Senate Committee said it recognised it was difficult for governments to dictate to landowners the purpose for which their land should be used, particularly when agricultural production may not presently be the most profitable possible use. ''However, Australian governments need to give serious consideration to mechanisms for protecting our most fertile agricultural land from alternative uses in the interests of our long-term productive capacity and food security,'' it said. To which I say: ''Hear, hear.'' I have spoken before about the distinct advantages there are for Tasmanian farmers as the climate warms (and it will warm faster in the rest Australia) and new crops become potentially viable for our land. It does not go unnoticed. We are currently engaged with the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian Irrigation Development Board to broadcast the virtues of farming in Tasmania. We have a particular eye on disillusioned farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin, but others doubtlessly have their eyes on us. As our would-be young farmers toy with the idea of entering this new exciting age of agriculture, they may find they will be vying with corporate farmers, perhaps with international ties, for the same parcels of land. But would the big guys have the same sense of stewardship of the land as our existing farmers? I fear not. These are important issues that highlight the need to consider the question of Australian food production much more deeply than we have to date. I would agree with the Senate Committee that its task is not done; that it should look more deeply at these questions and come up with some firm proposals to protect our most productive land. We also need to be innovative in considering the way we plan for future agriculture and food production in Tasmania -- and learn from the lessons we can see on the mainland and overseas. Launceston 6337 1522 Hobart 6235 1451 rura ro ert 2042550-101112
November 4th 2010
November 18th 2010