SHADOW Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has used the release of a new agricultural science research report that outlines a 10-year strategic plan, to criticise the government’s attitude towards farm profitability.
The “Grow. Make. Prosper. The decadal plan for Australian Agricultural Sciences 2017–26” has been produced by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Committee of the Australian Academy of Science.
It was launched today at Parliament House in Canberra by NSW Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker, representing the Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce, at a breakfast also attended by Mr Fitzgibbon.
The report makes five core recommendations to try and streamline the farm sector’s research priorities, to achieve strategic outcomes and enhance government and private funding sources.
While Mr Fitzgibbon and Labor welcomed the decade plan’s release, the Shadow Minister said the Coalition government’s “rhetoric” on agriculture and science “no longer stacks up”.
“Its actions speak louder than words,” he said.
“The relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is point in case where farmers, chemical companies, the APVMA itself and the federal government-commissioned cost benefit analysis have all warned Australia's agricultural productivity will be harmed by the staff shortages because it will take longer to approve new chemicals,” he said.
“Barnaby Joyce has continually declined to say what degree of declining agricultural productivity he would be prepared to accept in exchange for moving the agency to his northern NSW electorate.
“Taxpayers’ money being wasted on pork barrelling exercises like the APVMA relocation and the Regional Investment Corporation should be invested in long term strategic initiatives that will strengthen Australian agriculture.
“The government must hear the call.”
Mr Fitzgibbon has also attacked Mr Joyce for cutting the Rural R&D for Profit program first announced in the 2013 federal election campaign as a $100m program but given an additional $100m in the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper announced in 2015, through to 2021–22.
However, the total funding available for the program has been slashed to $180.5m since those announcements.
“That’s a cut of $19.5m for agricultural research and development and an average cut of $6.5m per year - if this trend continues, then over eight years $52m will be cut from the Rural R&D For Profit Program,” Mr Fitzgibbon said after the federal budget in May.
“Barnaby Joyce was happy to announce $200m for the program back in 2015 but refuses to provide reasons as to why the R&D funding has been cut.”
But Mr Fitzgibbon said the new strategic science research report pointed out that it was “time to put a greater emphasis on the importance of better communication and collaboration of science, R&D, big data analysis and innovation in the agriculture sector”.
“If we are to meet our aspirations in food and fibre production, we’ll need to lift the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Australian agriculture,” he said.
“This coordinated and collaborative approach will ensure that we can lift our defence against pests, weeds and diseases and secure a higher return from our natural, human and capital resources.”
Mr Hartsuyker said Mr Joyce “couldn't make it to the launch but recognises the significant work that everyone has put into the plan to get it to this point”.
“As Australia works towards a more profitable, more resilient and more sustainable agriculture sector, this is clearly a plan that recognises the critical requirement for long-term planning,” he said.
“And it is a plan that recognises the integral role that science, research and innovation will play in any successful future for Australian agriculture.
“Those principles will be central to ensuring that Australia's agricultural industries - which are projected to be valued at $64 billion in the current financial year - continue to deliver growing returns to the national economy.
“And to ensuring that Australian agriculture continues to pay dividends not only to farmers and farming families, but to every Australian by putting clean, safe and sustainable food on their tables and 40 million more beyond our shores.”
Mr Hartsuyker said the priorities identified in the decadal plan were a welcome analysis of where the future of national investment in agricultural science and innovation would best be placed: from genomics, technology and big data, to chemistry, climate and metabolic engineering.
“They complement an ever-increasing focus on the ways that cross-disciplinary research in all areas of the economy comes to bear on the future of rural and regional Australia,” he said.
“And they are entirely consistent with existing Australian government Science and Research Priorities and the government's rural research and development priorities.
“In short, they will inform the development of our continued investment in the science, innovation and R&D - an investment that will be vital to the future success of all of our agricultural industries.
“Australian farmers - with the help of industry and the sector's peak bodies - are already among the most innovative in the world.
“Without constant improvement and access to the latest technologies and ideas, growth can, and does, stagnate.”
The report’s leading recommendation calls on the Australian government to establish a national agricultural research translation and commercialisation fund, to invest in promising agricultural discoveries and fast-track commercialisation into new and improved Australian products and services in domestic and international markets.
It also recommended all agricultural sector organisations do more to understand and effectively engage with the general public on social acceptance of agricultural science and the enterprises it supports.