Practical ways to help agriculture thrive

| October 11, 2013

The government needs to take a practical approach to support the farming sector. Michael Schaefer, a grain producer from South Australia, shares his ideas on what needs to be done.

One of the things that concerns me and other grain producers most is that there are a lack of practical things being done to fix a number of issues facing agriculture in Australia. Many of these areas will also benefit the broader community as well.

While issues like Climate Change and its potential devastation are receiving a great deal of attention these problems can be ameliorated by practical things like water use efficiency. More R&D needs to go into getting a greater number of kilograms of grain per mililitre of water. It doesn’t matter if it is getting wetter or dryer if we are getting more grains per kilogram we are better off.

The government should also be looking at transportation and road regulations, areas that don’t necessarily have to cost more money. Again efficiency comes into play. More efficient truck combinations, for example, rather than running a single trailer, use a double, triple or AB Double (half trainer and two full trailers).  By using better truck combinations you reduce the number of trucks on the road and cut the amount of pollution by having one truck pulling three trailers rather than three trucks. You also reduce the labour requirements and registration costs and reduce carbon emissions.

I’m not saying every road should allow road trains, however, it needs to be recongised that they are no more dangerous than any other truck and the days of cowboys in the truck industry are long gone. Today a road train is a just little bit longer, not wider and has speed restrictions which are taken seriously.

It’s also important to support these more efficient trucking combinations by encouraging their registration. At the moment it is more expensive to register a larger truck, but by reducing costs and recognising there efficiencies the government can support the trucking industry. The reality in Australia is that road is the best method of transportation and anything that can be done to support the trucking industry should be implemented.

The reality is we can’t shift commodities down fibre optic cable and money needs to be spent on road infrastructure to the main routes for ports and cities. They need to be more robust, safe and wider. We need dual roads from far north Queensland to Adelaide to make moving goods more efficient and to bring costs down.

Australia is a trading nation and can’t work in isolation if we want to keep up with the rest of the world.

Something needs to be done to reduce the costs of registering chemicals. Rather than spending $250,000 to a $1 million and tons of paperwork on registration for OCH, on compounds which have been around for years, the use of full personnel protection equipment should be required.  Two approaches could be undertaken. We could look to other countries which have already done the approvals and as a result reduce the cost of registering the product. We could also look at a minimum safety requirement which means that those who are registered to use the project must abide by the highest code. For new chemicals we don’t have the volumes to pay large registration costs and this must be recognised. Forcing companies to pay up to $250 million and a truck load of paper work we will restrict the ability of farmers access to new compounds. The ground work has already been done in Europe, the United States and Asia.

There should be no reason why we need to double up in terms of testing and quality controls. We should have the highest standards in the world but not have requirements that are unobtainable and restrictive.

By looking at practical ways to support farmers we can have more efficient and robust industry which competes on the world stage. It’s time to recognise these issues and for government to step in and make a stand.