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Exciting times ahead for agriculture

16 Feb 17

Exciting times ahead for agriculture

Queensland’s food and fibre sector is ready to lead the way in helping the State transition from a focus on mining and resources to broader based economic growth, according to Dr Beth Woods, Director General of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Dr Woods shared her views on the prospects for agriculture at an Agribusiness Australia meeting in Brisbane last Tuesday.

She said Queensland’s food and fibre sector was among the most capable, innovative and productive in the world.

“Queensland’s current and future competitive advantage lies in the fact that it has a well-established and capable food and fibre sector that strives for continuous improvement through innovation and world-class research and development,” she said.

The State’s primary industries notched up a gross value of around $17.3 billion in 2015-16, growing significantly over the past five years, particularly in beef.

“Queensland produces over 50 per cent of Australia’s beef and exports to over 70 countries,” she said.

Although stock numbers have decreased because of drought, the total value of Queensland’s beef production in 2015-16 was estimated to be $4.3 billion, 31% higher than in 2014-15.

“With the easing of the drought, we need cattle producers to re-establish their herds and build stock numbers through their unique breeding capability,” Dr Woods said.

Queensland is also the country’s largest producer of vegetables and the second largest producer of fruit.

“In terms of fruit, we produce over 90% of the nation’s banana crop and we are Australia’s major producer of tropical fruits such as mangoes, pineapples, avocados, limes and lychees,” she said.

The value of Queensland’s fruit production was estimated at $1.5 billion in 2015-16, with healthy growth in exports.

“This is another fantastic story of growth opportunities from the tariff reductions in the Free Trade Agreements with Japan, South Korea and China,” she said.

Dr Woods also noted the success of the recent broadacre harvest, with many winter crop growers achieving above average yields.

“Last year, chickpeas were the largest grain commodity in Queensland by value,” she said.

“There has been unprecedented demand for plant-based protein from India – specifically chickpeas – and prices are continuing to rise.

“Although India is a major chickpea producer, it has a four million tonne deficit per year, offering real growth prospects for the future.”

It was not all positive, with Dr Woods reminding Agribusiness Australia members that Queensland’s dairy and sugar sectors have had a mixed year, as marketing arrangements and international markets affected profitability and growth.

However, she believes there are many significant growth opportunities for Queensland’s food and fibre producers.

“We continue to hear of the opportunities for this sector – that the world’s population is expected to grow to over 9 billion by 2050 and that global food demand is expected to rise by 77 per cent in monetary terms,” she said.

“Much of this increased demand will come from the rising middle class in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, where demand is expected to double.

“Free Trade Agreements, such as those between Australia and Japan, China and South Korea will benefit Queensland businesses by significantly improving market access and enhancing investment opportunities in our largest export markets.

“But we should not forget that international competitors are also moving to take advantage of profitable opportunities.

“The challenge for us is how to innovate and stay ahead of our competitors and position Queensland’s higher value products in lucrative markets and build sustained business success.”

Dr Woods said there were two important areas for the agribusiness sector to focus on to make the most of these opportunities.

“The first is to continue to improve production systems by capturing the benefits of innovation and technologies,” she said.

“We are all witnessing the rapid move into a new era of agricultural production and we are only just beginning to grasp the potential for automation, artificial intelligence, high speed communication, drones, big data and cloud analytics.”

One of the ways the Queensland government is helping in this area is through ‘Advance Queensland’, a package of initiatives aiming to harness innovation to strengthen and diversify the economy.

Dr Woods said the second key area was to encourage intensification to extract more value from existing infrastructure and supply chain investments.

“Northern Australia remains a focus for State and Federal governments, with significant potential for intensification and diversification of agricultural production,” she said.

“Northern Australia has existing infrastructure, plus spare capacity, expertise and an available workforce.

“To achieve success in this region, we need to focus on where the best opportunities lie and look to realise them in a timely way.”

Of the challenges facing the sector, Dr Woods referred to the ongoing drought in many parts of the State, biosecurity threats and political uncertainty across the world.

“Logistics and market access are also a constant challenge, particularly for those in northern Australia where there are long distances between the farm gate and processing facilities or export hubs,” she said.

“As the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors move into this next phase of major opportunity and uncertainty, maximising the benefits for the Queensland economy will require government, industry and businesses to work together.

“The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is focused on creating the conditions for successful agribusiness and supply chains, assisting businesses respond to challenges and ensuring sustainable management of resources to underpin productivity and protect the environment.”

Dr Woods said Queensland agriculture enjoyed the support of top level agricultural researchers, working from world-class facilities.

“The Queensland government has committed to continuing this investment and a 10 year Research and Development blueprint discussion paper is expected to be released this year,” she said.

“Queensland agriculture has a bright future and I look forward to working with the sector in 2017 and beyond.”

Tim Burrow, chief executive officer of Agribusiness Australia, thanked Dr Beth Woods for her insight into the challenges and opportunities facing Queensland’s growing agribusiness sector.

“Our sole aim is advancing agribusiness for the national good and it is pleasing to see that Queensland has such excellent prospects ahead.”

Ends


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