The cattle transaction levy should be lifted by 50 cents to better fund the fight against the beef industry's enemies headed by animal activists, says Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association president, Chris Nott.
Mr Nott, Alcoota Station, Alice Springs, told the NTCA's annual conference in Darwin the time had come for beef producers to stand up to their critics and opponents.
Many delegates were clearly worried the beef industry was losing the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers because of the misinformation being spread by animal activists.
While a number of key speakers assured them that research showed farmers were still widely trusted in the wider community there was a general feeling the beef industry needed to get on the front foot.
Mr Nott outlined a number of serious threats causing uncertainty and anxiety to Top End producers headed by the ongoing push by noisy animal rights groups to shut down the live cattle trade, the intrusion of oil gas companies and the never-ending uncertainty of land tenure on pastoral leases.
He acknowledged the work being done by conference guest speaker, Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers Federation, to tackle animal activists but said producers needed to employ well paid professionals to lead the fight to repel the threats facing them.
"Our industry is worth $11 billion and to attract executives of significant quality we need to offer remuneration in line with the task," he said.
"Do producers in the room support a mechanism for collecting about 50 cents on top of the ($5 a head) MLA levy to fund a body that represents grassfed producers, whether that remains Cattle Council of Australia or something else?"
He later admitted in a panel session he supported a much bigger hike in the transaction levy but feared he "would have been shot".
Speaking from the floor, Cloncurry-based cattleman, Dan Lynch, said a 50c levy rise would be insufficient.
He said producers needed to think about increasing the levy to $8 to $10 a head to keep ahead of the costs involved in marketing, promotion and R&D.
Mr Nott said the north of Australia had little voice in Canberra.
"There is just one million people above the Tropic of Capricorn for nine House of Representatives seats.
"In the Territory we have just two Senators and two federal seats. Getting our voice heard in northern Australia is that much harder with such a small population even though across from WA to Queensland we collectively we produce 11.7 per cent of Australia's GDP."
The live trade - the economic lifeblood of the Top end cattle industry - could be destroyed with a stroke of a politician's pen, Mr Nott said.
The live trade had been banned for a time almost eight years and now governments were intervening in the live sheep trade, he said.
"What industry in Australia faces such a threat?" he said.
The live trade was being threatened by well-resourced animal activists who were out to undermine the industry.
"It is why we at the NTCA have a motion this year calling on Meat and Livestock Australia to spend some money on selling the message of what we do and how well we do it through advertising and advertorials.
"I would much rather see a billboard at Sydney Airport showing an Indonesian child hoeing into the protein of Australian beef than the misrepresentation and misinformation of how we treat our animals," he said.
"But these days the threats come from many different directions. We have seen since our last conference the green light for the development of onshore gas."
Mr Nott said mining companies, like animal welfare groups, had no respect for beef producers.
"Then there is security of land tenure and Native Title and this issue has been present since the formation of the NTCA and we are now seeing it evolve in a way which is creating greater uncertainty than ever before."
He said the Northern Territory had vast untapped irrigation potential for pastures and diversification into horticulture and other crops.
"The Darwin catchments have up to one million ha of potentially irrigable agricultural soils. Of this land area, 800,000 ha are suitable for trickle-irrigated crops such as mangoes, whereas about 90,000 ha are suitable for flood-irrigated crops such as rice."
Similar development potential was available in other NT catchments with the harnessing of water and investment .
"Where does all of this potentially lead? To increased areas of pasture. For example, Leucaena and other irrigated pastures could lift current cattle weight gains of 0.8-1kg per day to well over 1.5kg per day either allowing greater carrying capacity or faster turnoff rates.
"We need to be able to clear land to plant improve pastures with the likes of Leucaena which in turn will lead to heavier weights in cattle which in turn gives more support to a processing plant like (the now closed) Livingstone which in turn means the industry is less reliant on live export.
"This brings me to the current standstill which we have on non-pastoral use permits. We sought and thought we had agreed changes to the Pastoral Land Act that allowed sub-leasing.
"However, at the last minute these changes were removed and the NT Government announced it would insert a 'right to negotiate' for native title holders clause for NPUs. There has only been 18 non-pastoral use permits submitted and approved and of these only three were challenged by the Land Councils.
"Since then we have been in a state of paralysis when it comes to NPUs. We simply don't know what can be approved without challenge? What level of cropping or project fitted within what tier? What were the timelines for approvals and how would they be enforced?
"And probably the most crucial aspect - do the Native Title holders have the power to veto the entire application?
"What we do want is that we can go about the business of doing business without uncertainty. We want to know we can spend money on infrastructure; on people on our property without it being sold out from underneath us."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.