Food key to security

30 Nov, 2012 03:00 AM
Australian Agricultural Company chief executive officer David Farley.
Australian Agricultural Company chief executive officer David Farley.

AUSTRALIA has just two decades to make the most of our farmland assets and rebuild a national focus on delivering food to the world or risk being a magnet for a mass migration of hungry refugees.

Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) chief executive officer David Farley has told a Sydney business forum Australians have generally lost their "agricultural literacy" and must be careful not to send the wrong messages to hungry nations nearby.

Our comparatively opulent lifestyle and general disinterest in investing in long term farming initiatives had left Australia looking increasingly arrogant and aloof while the globe's population shot towards nine billion within 40 years.

With worldwide farmland areas shrinking at the rate of a million hectares a year Australia had a responsibility to use its resources more wisely to fill the gap and ease food security dangers in developing nations - many of which were next door.

"It's in our own national security interest and it's the responsibility of mankind to look after those who can't produce food for themselves," said Mr Farley who runs Australia's oldest agribusiness covering 7.2 million hectares of northern beef pastoral and cropping country.

Unless the continent's wealth of land, farming assets and precious water resources were used wisely and became much more a part of our culture and consciousness, Australia would not only miss the long term income opportunities opening up to agri-food sector investors, but also risk promoting a migration invasion.

"If we don't comfortably participate in supplying the solution we won't be worrying about 400 refugees arriving by boat in a weekend - there'll be 400,000," he said.

"Already 28,000 illegal arrival immigrants have come to Australia this year - that's equivalent to the population of Alice Springs.

"My concern is that history will repeat itself - on a bigger scale.

"You'll find man's movement about the globe has always been related to food. Man will always try to feed his family and he'll move to find sustenance."

Mr Farley said the past year's "Arab spring" uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa were ignited by grain price spikes in 2007 and the subsequent impact of regional droughts on more volatile markets.

Instead of proactively reinforcing our position as a food supplier to the developing world, Australia was increasingly viewed in developing Asia as a rather short-sighted, bossy neighbour with a skewed "let them eat cake" attitude to the world's protein needs.

"The more I travel overseas, the more I realise we live in an opulent society and we are seen as one," he said.

"Asians think Australia is all about eating cake."

He said Asia watched in disbelief as Australians "took food from Indonesian tables" by imposing its live cattle export bans, as agriculture and export infrastructure investment struggled for support and food productivity research and development spending dived.

Years of protracted debate about the Murray-Darling river system had focused primarily on flushing more water downstream to meet distorted environmental goals rather than carefully using the precious resource to grow much-needed food.

And despite being surrounded by ocean Australia now also restricted its seafood self-sufficiency to about 15 per cent.

"We have to be fair dinkum about using our water carefully," Mr Farley said.

"Food is not a fashion - the world needs land and water and more protein.

"We have a powerful responsibility as Australians to be far more literate about what we're doing with our agricultural future."

With Australia already the world's second biggest exporter of its beef production, number three in wheat and sugar and fourth in dairy products, the nation had to "make up its mind" to determine how much land was needed to satisfy its future market position in the world.

"Assuming we do want to participate (in feeding the world), this is a decision all Australians have to get involved in achieving," he said.

"We badly need an education process to begin in urban Australia and a full level of emotional intelligence about what agriculture is really all about."

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Boonah Bob
30/11/2012 6:59:16 AM

Well said Mr Farley. But while we have the Down,Down,Down an increasingly large number of farmers will be Out,Out,Out! I personally need a good reason why I should take all the risk and produce milk for a very ungratefull COLES??
John Niven
30/11/2012 10:11:54 AM

This is simplistic garbage, Australia is a net importer of food. production costs and FTA's result in 120,000 tonnes of pig meats to be imported. This is crap.
Bushie Bill
30/11/2012 10:39:52 AM

You should know better John, or at least you should have the nouse to check: Australia is NOT a net importer of food. Exports are greater that imports by a significant multiple.
Big Al
30/11/2012 11:26:42 AM

David Farley's "Statesman-like" commentary makes welcome reading among the rural media network but it is the metropolitan media which needs to run good sense articles of this kind. While I agree entirely with his views, I should add that the answer to the F.A.O.'s 2050 challenge of doubling food outputs by that time does not lie in trying to feed the estimated world opoulation of 9.2 billion by that time - rather, there should be an effort to curb population growth through better education, shared affluence or even 2-child policies to ease the burden on sustainability.
john from tamworth
30/11/2012 4:51:19 PM

Mr Farley is right,our reputation in Asia is not good.These countries are driven by a consensus that economic growth is good and that it is glorious to get rich.They have explicitly rejected the welfare state,have only token(if any) union representation and have no interest in enviromental baggage like climate change.Their tax systems are very gentle allowing the business elites to accumulate wealth at a staggering pace. Just as Rod Carnegie predicted 30 years ago Australia is becoming the poor white trash of Asia.
1/12/2012 10:08:27 AM

All so very true David, but how can we turn the trend around with the average age of farmers being over 65, and no incentive for the younger generations to take on an agrictural career ? Sadly farmers no longer have control of the price of their produce ! Peter Groves
1/12/2012 1:54:37 PM

I agree that Australians in general have lost their agricultural literacy, and I applaud David Farley's initiative in speaking to industry leaders about his future concerns for agriculture. However, what does using our water and land unwisely mean? Does David mean the continued break up of viable farmland into smaller land holdings which often degrade to blackberry, gorse and other noxious weeds? And council rate increases that stifle investment in sustainable farming ventures, and encourage small holdings to be used for unproductive recreational use? Both of these situations need addressing.
Bushie Bill
4/12/2012 3:20:48 PM

The industry is begging for large scale corporatisation and industrialisation, with all the positive and negative implications that will bring. However, it is seemingly inevitable, and it is always best to think early and plan than to deny and have to scramble. The scramblers are always the losers, and the lesson is never learned.


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Can't you boys find another playground to occupy? Same old punters, same old tired barbs and
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Another of the sacred scare stories comes undone for the agw
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He might well be a decent bloke Chick, however Jock is right on the money regarding Sterles