Need for long-term government agricultural policies emphasised

Published 18 October 2012

Speaking to a meeting of 300 agronomists this week, the President of the National Farmers’ Federation, Jock Laurie, emphasised the critical role of government policies in capturing the opportunities and overcoming the obstacles facing Australian agriculture.

“Politics is very much driven by the community – and the community has become disengaged with agriculture,” Mr Laurie told his audience at the University of New England on Monday.

He was addressing a plenary session of the 16th Biennial Australian Agronomy Conference, running this week (until Thursday 18 October) at UNE. This year’s conference is titled Capturing Opportunities and Overcoming Obstacles in Australian Agronomy.

“Australian agriculture has a clear competitive advantage,” Mr Laurie said, “but in order to make this opportunity a reality we need to overcome the challenge of increasing production of food and fibre at a time when we have less arable land, less water, and fewer human resources. To do so, we need to secure our position with long-term, strategic government policy that recognises the important role and contribution of agriculture.”

He spoke about the need to ensure long-term funding for agricultural research, adding that he had seen the “total waste” of research projects when funding was withdrawn before their completion.

He also spoke about the importance of global perspectives on agriculture – including Australia’s role in the projected 70 per cent increase in world food production needed by 2050.

The President of the Australian Society of Agronomy, UNE’s Professor Graeme Blair, said: “The paradigm of ‘feeding more people from less land’ is critical for our future. Government policies need to facilitate action in this important area.”

In another plenary address, Dr Bob Clements, a former Director of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and The Crawford Fund, reported on the contribution of Australian agronomy to world food security – mainly by increasing productivity – over the past 20 years. Analysis indicated, he said, that this could have underpinned the production of enough extra food to support 30 million people a year. “Internationally, many benefits have come from bilateral projects funded by ACIAR and/or AusAID, involving scientists from Australia and a developing country,” Dr Clements said.

He added that Australia’s most significant contribution had been in no-till farming – an area in which Australia led the world. “This has been the nearest thing to a step change in agricultural production since the ‘green revolution’ of the mid-twentieth century,” he said.

Patrick Heffer, the Director of Agricultural Services for the International Fertiliser Industry Association, addressed some of the main challenges facing the fertiliser industry – including the need to ensure food security, to reduce its footprint on the environment, and to fertilise crops so as to improve human health.

Clicking on the ASA logo image above reveals a photograph of Jock Laurie (left) and Professor Graeme Blair.