To: Business Victoria

Food and fibre. Growing Victoria's market capability through rapid adoption of technologies (Discussion paper)

Date : 13 August 2015

Many of our members have been farming for some time. We have seen these types of papers periodically produced by Government predicting that Victorian Agriculture can dramatically drive growth in the State by expanding production and export opportunities. The reality that follows hardly ever meets the hype of the prediction. This seems to be because Government does not address the reality of numerous constraints that can dramatically affect predicted outcomes. Some examples are:

  • the level of economic activity/growth overseas;
  • exchange rate impacts;
  • levels of investment required;  and,
  • climate and soil limitations.

These constraints need to be incorporated into models to test for their impact at different levels of risk. For example if the exchange rate went up 10%, 20% etc what would that do to demand for our exports of various products? Recently NZ invested heavily in dairying at the expense of other farm businesses chasing export markets in Asia. The EFN  believes that this path has recently run into difficulty with a downturn in demand.  Meanwhile wool prices have gone up but many farms have converted to dairying…a lost opportunity.

We need also to recognise limitations to the productive capacity of our lands. The successful future for Australian food and fibre production will not be about massively increasing quantity of physical product, rather it will be about developing and promoting uniqueness, product quality and production sustainability.

The lack of critical analysis and concentration on constraints appears to be the case with the latest Paper. For example Part 3 which is titled “Opportunities and Challenges” offers little about the possible impacts of climate change. This will impact on many facets of agriculture…water availability, fire, flood and storm severity, extreme high temperatures affect pollination, crop and plant health, other temperature effects on plants such as cold induced fruit set etc. Most areas of Victoria will have a tougher environment in which to farm. In many cases just to survive farmers will need to invest in systems that counter climate change. There will be a trend to controlling the physical environment with infrastructure investment and new techniques eg  hydroponics versus paddock production. This may not mean an increase in production just an attempt to remain viable. Looking at the plans for regions, it is not clear that intensification of anything in the Mallee is viable or logical. The drier areas of Western Victoria will become drier and hotter and farming will contract towards the coast. Population and demographic changes are impacting on the viability of these north western areas.

Water availability is crucial for agriculture. Large areas of the west of the state have little surface water and fairly saline ground water. This is a major limitation for farming and associated activities such as fighting fires. The Moyston fire last year required provision of town water in large tankers to fight the fire. Most farm stock water dams are dry now in late winter…imagine what it will be like in mid summer. The current El Nino SOI index is minus 17.5 and trending down. Carting stock water for months is not economically viable. Have climate change and drought impacts been modelled?

There is little discussion of the natural resource base that underpins Victorian Agriculture. If agriculture is going to produce more then there will be more pressure on soils, water and vegetation. This area needs much more analysis. Our history of farming has been exploitive and soil carbon levels as one measure indicate that we need to put more in to our resource base rather than taking more out. That is we are mining not running a sustainable operation.

Other Comments
Encouraging regions to compete by branding is likely to be counterproductive with regions competing for the same total market.
There may be some positive impacts of climate change.  The climate change forecast is for drier winters. Are there activities in NSW and southern parts of WA that will become uncompetitive with climate change? Eg Cotton growing is now being trialled in Victoria. 

Intensification of agriculture has environmental  and quality of life impacts for rural residents. The location of piggeries and intensive chicken/broiler industries and treatment under the planning provisions is a major concern for rural people who often don't understand the implications of having something suddenly built in the neighbourhood.  Intensive agriculture is actually industrial agriculture and has all the associated industrial issues of noise, waste, emissions, extra traffic etc and needs significant regulation - it certainly should not be allowed to be developed in an area simply because the area is zoned as a farming zone.

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