Our farmers are Australia’s future

By Luke Hartsuyker, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. We also have a highly variable climate, with rainfall that can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. Heatwaves, droughts and floods are all regular features of life on the land in Australia.

From the earliest days of Australian agriculture, we have had to adapt and improve as a matter of necessity. This could explain why Aussie farmers have such a strong spirit of innovation and ingenuity, and a commitment to continually adapting and improving their farming practices.

This has seen Australian farmers take their place amongst the most productive and efficient primary producers in the world.

The Honorable Luke Hartsuyker MP.

However, we are not content to rest on our laurels.

To capitalise on the opportunities presented by growing global demand for quality agrifood products, particularly amongst our Asian neighbours, we must rise to the challenge of continuing to increase productivity.

Key to this will be our ability to do more with less, by making the most efficient and effective use of the natural resources and inputs needed to support a productive, profitable and sustainable agriculture sector.

Research and development will play an important role in this—however, it is of utmost importance that R&D outcomes can be practically implemented on farm, and realised through improved farming practices.

That is why the Australian Government has implemented the $180.5 million Rural R&D for Profit Programme, which focuses on delivering accessible and innovative technologies and research for primary producers, while fostering partnerships and collaboration across the sector.

More than $79 million in projects have so far been announced, with more to follow under Round 3 of the programme.

For example, under Round 1 of the programme the Australian Government provided $4 million for the Smarter Irrigation for Profit Project, which aims to modernise on-farm irrigation systems for multiple industries to improve efficiency in water and energy use. Preliminary results from the project show that significant water and energy savings can be made by adopting simple modifications to the timing and delivery of irrigated water.

In 2015, NAB Research surveyed agribusiness clients and identified energy costs, water scarcity and soil health as the top three business concerns.

These are factors that have the potential to have a big impact on the competitiveness, profitability, productivity and sustainability of our agriculture sector—and this government is committed to working with the sector to address these challenges.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is helping farmers to transform their businesses by lowering operating costs through investment in renewable energy and energy efficient equipment.

For example, CEFC finance has helped Australia’s largest beef company, AACo, install solar panels across 15 grid-connected sites in Queensland to reduce grid energy consumption by 30 per cent.

To better manage our precious water resources, the Australian Government is also undertaking the most significant investment in water infrastructure in Australian history, including making more than $8 billion available for water infrastructure across the Murray–Darling Basin.

This investment in one of our most important food-producing regions will help increase water use efficiency and secure a healthy and productive future for the Basin and the communities that depend upon it for their livelihoods.

And, of course, Landcarers across the country continue to play a critical role in helping to improve farming practices and soil health. Since 2014, the National Landcare Programme has seen improved farming practices implemented across eight million hectares of land.

The Australian Government’s investment in soil health and good soil management includes over $800 million in projects delivered by locals to improve soil and biodiversity management on Australian farms since 2008.

It includes approximately $85 million from the National Landcare Programme to support Landcare projects aimed at building healthy soils for agriculture, increasing farm profitability and increasing farmers’ resilience to climate variability.

We are now looking at the design of the next iteration of the National Landcare Programme, which will take the important work of this movement forward to 2021-22.

We will be consulting on the new programme prior to its commencement, and I am confident that the new National Landcare Programme will continue to deliver the positive results that have made this movement such an iconic part of many rural and regional communities.

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