Will we be able to lasso agriculture’s potential in 2021? 

Opinion editorial by James Jackson, President of NSW Farmers  

A favourable turn in seasonal conditions has reinforced agriculture’s current and potential earning power for Australia. Projections of a record-breaking $65.9 billion in national production bode well for productivity targets, including the NSW sector’s aspiration of reaching $30 billion in output by 2030. However, an investment drought might be the roadblock stopping agriculture reaching its potential. 

What will NSW do to capitalise on agriculture’s potential and gear up for “30 by 30”? Adopting key learnings from COVID-19 and reinforcing longstanding priorities, NSW Farmers has focused on key areas where government investment can bolster agriculture and regional NSW. In doing so, this will propel the state’s recovery from COVID-19. 

We look forward to this underpinning the 2021-22 State budget when it is released in mid-June.  

Regional infrastructure will need to be a priority if the arteries connecting regional NSW with domestic and export hubs are to keep up with agricultural production. The Great Western Highway upgrade is the headline project, and its importance is upgraded by the opening of the Western Sydney Airport and accompanying agri-precinct in 2026. This road must deliver a sub three-hour journey between the Central West and the new airport so that high value perishable produce can achieve the highest possible return for growers. 

Profitable farm businesses are at the core of a productive agriculture sector. After years of uncertainty shaped by drought, bushfires, floods and pandemic restrictions, farmers need to be able to plan for the future. As well as investing in strategies that minimise the cost of key farm business inputs, the NSW Government can help fund pest-management and drought preparedness to help future-proof farm businesses. Attributing further funds to the flying fox netting rebate, investing more in wild dog exclusion fencing, and further enhancing the Farm Innovation Fund will all be paramount.

Agriculture products make up around 10 percent of the state’s exports annually. Our reputation for producing premium products must be upheld through investment in biosecurity and traceability, as well as in expanding our export horizons to new and diverse opportunities. 
Knowing the impact of disruptions such as COVID-19 on supply chains, local manufacturing and value-adding should be made an investment focus. Despite the significant demand for our food and fibre both domestically and globally, our ability to extract value from production locally is relatively low. Grant funding for micro-processing incubators is a way of testing the viability of small-scale, product-specific manufacturing or processing plants close to growers. 

We live in a rapidly changing world, and farming will be impacted by a number of evolving conditions – from shifting consumer preferences to environmental variation. Technology will be one of the means through which farmers adapt to change, and the NSW Government can play a central role in improving access to business-altering technological aids such as drones. 

Regional NSW is a mainstay of the state’s economy. Leveraging the popularity of regional areas over COVID-19, the NSW Government must put down the building blocks now to secure the long-term growth of these areas. This means investing in local infrastructure, health, education, and telecommunications.