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TAS Country : November 25th 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010 Tasmanian Country 11 Opinion LAST-MINUTE REPRIEVE: Bishopsbourne farmer Stewart McGee in a paddock he will fill with peas after receiving a contract from Simplot last week. Future clouded by political pea soup' OVER the FENCE John Rich IMPORTANT: Peas play an essential role. IT was most disturbing to read the story about Simplot pea contracts in Tasmanian Country last Friday (November 19). I am in complete sympathy with the growers and Simplot in the face of increasing pressure from imported frozen peas. The situation is becoming worse and I fear for the future of the industry. For many years, peas have not been among the top money earners for farmers, but they are very important in the crop rotation system. They provide valued cropping income as well as being good for the soil and subsequent crops. The economic value flows through locally when farmers spend money in their local communities on inputs for growing the crop. Peas also provide employment for Simplot's workers in Devonport. There will be a large economic loss if peas disappear from Tasmania's vegetable production system. Excluding potatoes, peas may very well be the linchpin that holds the processed vegetables cropping system together. I am reminded of what happened in June 2005 when the Fair Dinkum Foods Campaign began under the leadership of Richard Bovill. That was all about farmers protesting their concerns in the face of increasing imports of frozen foods. The campaign received a significant amount of publicity, both in Tasmania and on the mainland, culminating in a major rally in Canberra. It was interesting to see how many politicians appeared for photo and story opportunities -- they came out in droves. The really sad thing is that the politicians seemed to fade away after the Canberra rally. The Fair Dinkum Foods Campaign also appeared to wither and die. Another memory is the announcement in September 2005 of the allocation by the Tasmanian Government of $4 million to promote Tasmanian frozen vegetables. I have commented on this on a number of occasions in the Over The Fence column. I believe nothing much happened with this allocation for about two years and then a $2 million contract was awarded to an advertising agency in July 2007, with the contract to be completed by the end of July 2008. In Tasmanian Country on January 16, 2009, I raised a number of questions about the investment of $4 million of taxpayers' money. The questions were not difficult to answer and included: How was the money allocated (identifying specific sector allocations)? When was the money allocated? What issues were identified? Who managed the project.? What return did taxpayers get for this significant investment? What benefits have been received by growers and processors? I believe that in the absence of answers to these questions the money has largely been wasted. Another memory is the establishment of the Tasmanian Vegetable Industry Task Force. In November 2005, this group released a 91-page report that included 41 recommendations. In my column in Tasmanian Country on December 30, 2005, I commented on the report and specifically noted Dr Tony McCall's statement that ''time is short''. I wrote then that the report did not give anywhere near enough reference to what needed to be done for the processing sector, given it was the group that was under the most pressure. I also commented that the 41 recommendations were more along the lines of ''wish list items'', rather than immediate actions that would have a positive effect. Maybe now is the right time for a full review of the recommendations to see what, if anything, has been achieved since November 2005. I also recall the release in November 2006 of the Tasmanian Vegetable Industry Strategic Plan 2007-2012 and the associated fanfare. In Tasmanian Country on March 9, 2007, I wrote that the plan did not appear to give enough attention to the processed vegetables sector, despite it identifying that ''the processed sector plays an important role in the economy underpinning of many of Tasmania's rural communities''. We are now four years though the timeframe for the strategic plan. But what has this strategic plan achieved? Is it on track to deliver the desired outcomes by 2012? It would seem that now is a good time for a full review of the Tasmanian Vegetable Industry Strategic Plan to see if the industry is heading in the desired direction. I also recollect the November 2007 release of the Marketing Plan for the Tasmanian Vegetable Industry. This was a 396-page document. In Tasmanian Country on December 4 last year, I noted that the implementation section of the report was not on the the Department of Primary Industries, Water, Parks and the Environment website. However, the website did reveal that Volume 2 of the plan was under review by the Vegetable Marketing Implementation Committee. In November 2009, the Government stated that the implementation committee had been appointed on February 26, 2008, when the marketing plan was launched. It is now three years since the plan was released and this week the implementation plan is still missing from the website. What has happened to the marketing plan for the Tasmanian vegetable industry? The closure of the McCain vegetable processing facility at Smithton gives further cause for concern among the farming community. McCain made a commercial decision about where it would invest its money in vegetables. No one can argue with that, primarily because they have a clear responsibility to operate in the best environment suitable for the company. Reports at the time stated that Tasmania lost about $20 million of farm-gate value as a result of the McCain decision. On November 20 last year, Premier David Bartlett said: ''We will leave no stone unturned to keep this industry alive.'' Maybe now is the time for Mr Bartlett to deliver a report on what has actually been done and achieved in the past 12 months in regard to replacing the production lost through the McCain closure. Tasmanian Country last week quoted Mr Bartlett as saying: ''Right across Tasmania, water is being employed to create wealth, to create jobs, to create exports.'' I have asked these questions previously with no answer and I will ask them again. Mr Bartlett, what use are we going to make with the water? What crops will we grow? And what markets (local and export) have been identified for Tasmanian suppliers?
November 18th 2010
December 2nd 2010