Executives call for further investment in food production

Elizabeth Proust, chair of Nestle Australia has said that new investment in food manufacturing and production is essential if Australia intends to become Asia’s food bowl.

Executives from SMS Management, NAB group and Nestle Australia came together at a recent roundtable forum and were asked to identify sectors of the Australian economy with the best potential for future economic growth, The Australian reports.

The sentiment that the Nation has a unique opportunity to capitalise on its reputation for clean and green food production, or “Brand Australia”, was at the top of the list, and Proust believes that value-adding is the key.

“If you use the analogy of the mining industry, where all we did was largely export the raw product, we're in danger of just doing that with agriculture, wheat, milk, etc, and the real challenge is can we find ways to value/add to all of our superb natural products and farm produce,” said Proust.

"There's almost no new investment in food production, in food manufacture and, in fact, if you look at what's happening in the Goulburn Valley, fruit is rotting on the ground because of closures of factories there.

"I'd be very cautious about seeing us as an exporter of raw materials, so to speak, rather than somebody who can be really smart and clever, and find ways of really making export dollars by exporting the final or the almost final product."

Michaela Healey, NAB Group executive for people, communications and governance says that further challenges lie in motivating people to move to regional areas in order to foster the sustainable growth of the industry.

"One of the other challenges is how do we create viable farming communities, and the willingness of Australians to go and live in remote areas, work in abattoirs, pick fruit, harvest," she said.

"That's a large issue for us and our challenge is around opening our doors to people willing to migrate and work in these industries. It is something that we need to face if we're going to be able to harvest the produce to be able to get the returns on it.

"I think it's not just the foreign investment; it's so many elements to do with our country gravitating towards living on the coast rather than being willing to invest time in agriculture across our big brown land."

Nicole Birrell, SMS Management director and former ANZ executive said that the Australian agricultural industry could have a ‘very bright future’ should the appropriate levels of investment be made.

“The recent news on China's interest in our wheat, just to name one thing, is very encouraging and something that's probably been coming for a long time," she said.

"There's a lot of innovation happening in that sector. The challenge is always to actually get people to go and live in the more rural areas as opposed to, you know, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, but I think that's one sector that could have a very bright future."


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