Farm leaders are hoping next Tuesday's federal budget will start bridging a $76 billion infrastructure spending gap across regional Australia.
National Farmers Federation chief economist Ash Salardini said the government had been tight-lipped about the budget but he had heard it would have a focus on industry development, particularly manufacturing, and infrastructure.
Mr Salardini said spending an additional $3.8 billion a year was needed for the next 20 years on key infrastructure in regional and rural Australia on things like transport, digital connectivity, water and energy.
With the cost of servicing debt at an all time low, Mr Salardini said now was the ideal time to pump money into growing and diversifying the regional economy.
The NFF wanted local, state and federal governments to pool their resources and funds to construct essential infrastructure and provide incentives to rebuild manufacturing, particularly food processing, in major regional centres like Shepparton, Albury and Wagga Wagga.
The lockdown of Melbourne because of coronavirus had underlined the need to move food processing away from capital cities and closer to farms, Mr Salardini said.
Spreading Australia's economic and manufacturing base would reduce risks posed by future pandemics or other potential disasters like serious biosecurity failures or terrorist attacks.
"Capital cities can't be the centre of all our economic activities," he said.
And the success of a renewed push for manufacturing in the bush would hinge on the availability of cheap energy and water.
The NFF is also pushing for a $1 billion national biodiversity credit scheme over four years to reward land managers for stewardship work protecting Australia's natural heritage.
The biodiversity credits could be purchased by the likes of property developers and miners to offset their impact on the environment.
Both the NSW Farmers Association and Queensland's AgForce are both hoping for a major lift in rural infrastructure spending in the budget.
NSW Farmers president James Jackson said the combined experience with COVID and the summer bushfires had rammed home the need for high-quality communications across the bush.
He said "four bars of 4G" was needed across most of the state.
Mr Jackson is on the same page as the NFF in terms of rebuilding food processing and manufacturing in regional areas.
He said just about every town now had a micro-brewery so there was no reason why Australia couldn't start processing and value-adding more of its high-quality food in regional Australia.
NSW Farmers was also keen for a major federal commitment (around $10 billion) for a new super highway across the Blue Mountains to better link Central West NSW with western Sydney, particularly the new international airport due to open at Badgerys Creek in 2026.
Mr Jackson said the community and governments were wanting farmers to protect native icons like koalas but money had to be "shaken loose" to help pay them for things like fencing and wild dog and weed control.
Chief executive officer of AgForce Mike Guerin said he hoped the budget would provide recognition of agriculture as an essential service and one of the industries that can drive Australia's economic recovery.
Mr Guerin said increased spending on key infrastructure would help lift productivity and reduce costs in the farm sector.
AgForce was pushing hard for the removal of bottlenecks and "pinch points" in Queensland's arterial road network to reduce the cost and time of getting livestock to abattoirs and imported inputs to the farm.
Being able to access abattoirs like Rockhampton and ports with B-triple trucks would help reduce the cost of transport with the journey from farm to plate now equating to more than 40 per cent of the cost of food, he said.
Biosecurity was another major issue with the need to keep out pests and diseases along with education and the need to provide young people with career pathways into agriculture.
Mr Geurin said the Queensland Government's decision to mothball the state's two remaining agricultural colleges was "breathtaking".