Farmers have finally been heard in their fight for fairer economic conditions at a roundtable discussion with politicians and public servants on Monday.
A hand-picked cross-section of farmers and graziers from across the region met in Griffith in a bid to shape the government’s policy to make the industry more fruitful.
The farmers were unanimous in the calls for government to take the politics out of major decisions affecting their livelihoods, a request which will now be printed in the Agricultural Competiveness White Paper.
The broad ranging discussions focused on cutting regulation, improving supply chain infrastructure and agricultural finance.
Tabbita dry area and irrigation farmer with a pomegranate orchard in Hanwood Scott Vaessen was surprised by how candid the talks were.
“One of the strongest points was trying to extract politics from the decision making process, especially on infrastructure, water and improving research and development,” Mr Scott said.
“The idea is the major points out of the consultation will eventually flow into a green paper and hopefully receive parliamentary consideration.
“The question mark is whether anything will really come from our suggestions, but I think there is a good chance if the coalition remains in government for two or three terms.”
Booligal sheep and cattle grazier Ben Barlow was buoyed by plenty of optimism around the table about the potential for the local agricultural industry to tap into Asian markets.
“The average age of farmers is approaching 70, the numbers of farmers has halved in last 20 years and if you think about it we’re competing with farmers overseas who have lower labour costs and lower interest rates,” Mr Barlow said.
“We discussed generational change in farming and how we can access different capital to make the industry successful, like in America where various agribusinesses have come together to form trading entities, especially because traditional forms of borrowing money are tight.
“There was also plenty of discussion about the processing sector and how we can get that operating more efficiently to value-add and in turn access more international markets.
“We can produce the stuff if the government opens up markets for us but we need that access and to hear that from farmers first-hand is a good first move from the government.”
Riverina MP Michael McCormack sat in on the discussions and said he heard farmers call for better water policy in particular.
“The overwhelming message was if the water was available and a good policy setting enabled farmers access to it, then this area can really grow and prosper and feed the burgeoning Asian middle class,” Mr McCormack said.
“I thought it was a really good conversation between local people who are passionate about ensuring the continued success of irrigation communities and they laid it on the line in a raw form but there wasn’t any vitriol, it was very constructive.“