Friday, April 19, 2013

Food Bowl in Australia?? Real or Media Hype.

Australia as a food bowl for Asia is a concept that just will not seem to go away.

Technically it is possible to increase food production here in Australia but it might need that magical mystery commodity that often is elusive - WATER.

The latest impressario advocating the food bowl concept is Anthony Pratt.  I think he has already proven to be a useful business person after shouldering the mantle of his father at Visy.  But they have interests in irrigation piping, and have been involved in the concept of piping rather than channels for irrigation water in Victoria.  Pragmatic views or vested business interests?

There is more here -

[the Austalian is pay walled but think this should be available freely; it might be seen elsewhere]

The food processing side does need to do more but are getting screwed through the major supermarkets and imported manufactured product at low prices. is interesting to hear that many consumers want Australian grown and processed foods.  Are Chinese vegetables to be trusted, given the issues with food tainting and quality, contaminated land and corruption generally in China?  Many consumers distrust processed food from Asia due to poorer food regulation and safety quality issues. 

The "more agriculture / horticulture and food processing"concept is important, but we need to grow our strengths.

Broadacre crops, including ideas related to precision farming and controlled traffic and livestock production [beef and lamb notably, with chicken too] are two vital areas that can grow without a lot of angst.  With GM crops possibly in the mix as well, especially now that attitudes to this concept seem to be slowly moderating in Europe.  While dairy is getting trashed at the moment over local milk prices, the industry has been internationally focussed for some time and there are growth options in temperate areas - some are being exercised by progressive growers, with sales to Asia, seen as a growth market. 

Meat processing is a labour intensive process, although that is changing, and the new AACo site in Dariwn might showcase some of that and with lower process costs to come from it.  But prices for output is important and need to give a decent return to producers - a tricky business in a world market with options for multi location purchases by Asian countries.

AUSVEG the peak body for vegetable industries, is hopeful that growth is achievable, but where?  Water water water - a major need in temperate Australia.  Vegetable and fruit growers have had a tough time recently but they can grow, but not maybe rapidly, and overhanging debt might be a drag.  

Patch development is a concept that could offer some options in north Australia - with suitable areas of modest size being developed with appropriate soil and water resources [ see report of northern Australia land and water task force of 2010].  Some are under development already with a good example the work of Centre Farm in Alice Springs.  More have been identified in a general sense already, by other entities.  And land tenure issues need to be rectified and adjusted across the north.

Qualified scientists in agriculture have diminished and R and D in the sector is declining  - that would need reversing, and will take time.

Achieving the size advocated in today's newspaper article is many years off.  But playing to our strength is important and agriculture in the broad sense is one of Australia's strengths.  But surely we can do more in the value adding area.

Not to mention the need for better market access for our agricultural products through some free trade agreements, currently stalled  - think Japan and China.

No comments: