Despite the tough times beef producers up north are experiencing, Australia's beef industry overall is poised for a good year.
According to weeklytimesnow, Ben Thomas, senior beef market analyst from Meat and Livestock Australia, announced earlier this week that last year's beef exports of 963,000t would be beaten this year, with this industry on track to surpass one million tonnes.
A key factor in hitting this figure will be an order placed by Russia, after Brazil was unable to fill supplies.
The weakening of the Australian dollar is also helping, Thomas said.
"Those record volumes last year were on the back of an average Aussie dollar of US103 cents, and now we have a positive outlook for the Australian dollar over the next nine months of about US80 cents," he said.
Japan, South Korea and the USA are the three biggest markets for Australian beef, but China is becoming increasingly important, importing 32,000t last year and 115,000t expected this year.
A $60m Indonesia-Australia Red Meat and Cattle Forum is the "first step in starting afresh" relations with Indonesia, the Cattle Council of Australia has said.
The new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited Indonesia last week and announced a $60m plan to boost investment in the red meat agribusiness sector, weekytimesnow.com.au reports.
Relations between Australia and Indonesia were damaged following a temporary ban on live exports in 2011. Amid claims of animal cruelty at Indonesian abattoirs, the ban lasted for approximately one month, but the trading relationship between the two regions hasn't yet recovered.
According to seedstockcentral, the funding packaging will be provided over 10 years and is aimed at increasing agricultural cooperation and boosting investment in the red meat agribusiness sector in Indonesia.
The Indonesia-Australia Red Meat and Cattle Forum will be made up of a number of representatives from the beef and cattle industry as well as senior government officials.
"In politics, there is always the opportunity to start afresh with new people," Cattle Council of Australia president, Andrew Ogilvie, said. "It is good that this dialogue with Indonesia is progressing."
We’re a Melbourne-based duo that’s offering something new and exciting: traditional Vietnamese food that’s ready-to-eat, straight from your fridge. We offer catering and pre-prepared meals that are healthy, nutritious, and lightning fast to prepare.
Travelling through Vietnam many years ago, we lived on beef wrapped in betel leaf served with vermicelli noodles. It's a no-fuss, quick, and easy meal to eat. And so yummy, you'll drink the very last drop of sauce from the bowl.
Exectuive chairman of Visy, Anthony Pratt, says the government needs to shift its focus away from keeping the automotive manufacturing industry afloat and turn its attention to food.
Pratt was visiting Visy's paper mill in Tumut when he described the subsidies the government is handing out to car makers as misguided.
"We think food is a natural fit for Australia, unlike the car industry," he said.
According to the AFR, Pratt said Australia's food safety expertise and our close proximity to Asia gives the food industry a competitive advantage over other markets.
He said Australia can quadruple its food exports to Asia and with the support of the right government and strategies can become a food "superpower" for the region.
But Australian manufacturers must keep costs low and develop innovative new products if they're to survive the tough times Australian manufacturers are currently experiencing, he said.
"There will be a few casualties – those that don’t keep their costs under control. I think it’s incumbent on all companies to continue to reinvest in their businesses in order to be as low as possible on the cost curve," he said.
He said that competition laws will need to be changed to allow consolidation among rural companies and also suggested suspension of payroll tax for food manufacturers and government incentives for innovation in agriculture.
Victorian baby food maker Baby Royale has gained Malaysian distribution, expected to eventually be worth $20 million a year.
Baby Royale – which has a strong export market in the Middle East with its premium halal products – will be stocked in the supermarket chains Tesco, Cold Storage and Giant supermarket in Malaysia.
"The ASEAN region we see as being 50 percent of our business within five years. And longer-term, we see even bigger opportunities in the region," Adam Moore, the company’s managing director, told The Australian.
The announcement is being reported in terms of the opportunities available to food manufacturers in Malaysia, frequently overlooked in Asian Century conversations, which are usually focussed on China.
“I think the focus for food is shifting beyond the China centric view of Asia,” said Moore.
"There are a lot less barriers to entry and I think we should be taking more advantage of it."
Business Spectator reports that Baby Royale spent two years researching the Malaysian expansion, then a further year in the country with advisory group DKSH Malaysia working on a product range tailored to suit the local market.
“These markets have evolved now, it’s more than ‘This product works really well in Australia, we’d like to sell some excess stock in Malaysia’,” Moore told the Spectator.
“That doesn’t work any more – you’ve got to invest in the local scene and understand it. For us, that’s where the clean, green positioning is really important. That’s what consumers in this segment expect.”
Malaysia has fewer cultural language and cultural barriers than China, and Australian companies have the benefit of a Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which began at the start of the year and removed most of tariffs on Australian food exports.
Simplot has entered the $197.6m Asian shelf stable retail category, launching its Five Tastes range of meal kits, cooking sauces and pastes.
Tara Lordsmith, general manager marketing at Simplot, said the brand is trying to make a name for itself in the very crowded Asian home-cooking category.
"Our research told us that people are keen to cook Asian cuisine at home but find the Asian aisle confusing with so many unfamiliar brands," she said.
"It's highly fragmented with the top 30 percent of the category held by 10 different brands, so we identified an opportunity to take leadership with a distinctive, modern new brand."
Five Tastes is the first ever new-to-market brand launched by Simplot which owns brands including Birds Eye, Leggo's, John West, I&J, Edgell and Chiko.
The range comprises classic Asian favourites such as Pad Thai, Green Curry, Red Curry and Laksa.
David White, Five Tastes executive chef, said the range simplifies Asian cooking for home cooks.
"It’s one thing to experience Asian cuisine fresh from a street vendor in Asia, but it’s another thing to recreate that experience at home," he said.
"Achieving that balance of flavours has traditionally required precision, generations of knowledge, extensive preparation and exotic ingredients. With the Five Tastes range we have done all of that for you so you can create easy, cook-at-home Asian meals that are clean, fresh and bursting with flavour."
The brand will be launched via a heavy social media campaign as well as TV, print and online.
Simplot issued a statement in early June stating that the plants – located in Bathurst, NSW and Devonport, Tasmania – are currently not competitive because of the rise of cheaper imported products, which is only exacerbated by the high Australian dollar.
The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has teamed up with the University of Queensland to establish the Agents of Change PhD program, which aims to help develop food professionals and capitalise on export opportunities in Asia.
The new research and training centre, at The University of Queensland's St Lucia campus in Brisbane received a $2.695m grant from the Australian Research Council for the Agents of Change PhD program, with the wider food industry also throwing in $600,000.
“The program will bridge the public/private divide in the food industry and produce graduates with deep scientific capability, as well as knowledge in business, leadership and commercialisation,” said Melissa Fitzgerald, director of the federal government-funded centre.
“We aim to produce future food industry leaders,” she said.
Graduates of the program will work on improving global food security and will help Australia to take advantage of Asia’s growing demand for safe, healthy and high-quality foods and retail-ready ingredients.
The first cohort of 10 PhD students and three postdoctoral researchers will start at the training centre early in 2014.
Fitzgerald said the PhD-level training will lead to opportunities in industry rather than academia.
“Our PhD graduates will be business-ready leaders and innovators of tomorrow's food industry,” she said.
Campbell Arnotts, SunRice, Heinz, PepsiCo, Simplot, and Goodman Fielder are among the companies partnering with UQ and the AFGC to offer the PhD. Each of these food brands will work with one student, who will research an area of specific interest to that company.
“The student also will work in the company, carrying out parts of their research,” said AFGC’s chief executive, Geoffrey Annison.
Professor Fitzgerald said the program is aimed at students who may have studied food science at undergraduate level “and want more”.
“Currently there is nowhere in Australia where they can get the scientific quality of a PhD together with the ‘in-company' experience that is essential to a vocational career in industry,” she said.
A poultry processing fire in China's northeast has killed at least 119 people.
The fire broke out at the Baoyuan poultry plant in Dehui in Jilin province around 6am on Monday, when 300 workers were on-site.
Xinhua has reported that emergency workers were uncertain as to how many people were trapped inside, but has confirmed at least 119 people have died.
State broadcaster CCTV said on Monday that the cause of the fire wasn't clear, but eyewitnesses reportedly heard a blast and suspected a leak of liquid ammonia, while others have mentioned an electric spark in the plant.
Xinhua has since reported that the fire could have been sparked by three explosions in the early morning.
According toYahoo! News, the fire – the third major blaze to be reported in China in the past four days – was one of China's worst recent industrial disasters, with the death toll the highest since a 2008 mining cave-in which killed 281.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Baoyuan poultry plant began operations in 2009, employs 3,000 people and produces 67,000t of meat per year, sold nationwide.
Despite recent efforts to improve conditions, Monday's fire has put the spotlight on China's lax industrial safety standards, with many of China's factories springing up in recent decades to drive rapid economic growth.
Fonterra has identified Asia as a significant growth market moving forward, after discovering 72 percent of people see dairy as an important part of a balanced diet, but less than half have it on a daily basis.
Nine thousand people across nine countries were surveyed and Fonterra's group director strategy, Maury Leyland, said the findings represent an opportunity for the New Zealand dairy industry.
"With a fast-growing and increasingly affluent population, people across Asia are becoming more focused on their families receiving the right nutrition. Fonterra is well-positioned to help meet this demand," Leyland said.
"Our strategy outlines our focus on the Asian markets, where we see big potential for growth. In New Zealand the average person consumes the equivalent of 245 litres of milk each year, but in Asia this average is only 30 litres."
According to a statement issued by Fonterra, dairy demand across Asia has grown rapidly over the past 10 years, with demand for high quality dairy nutrition increasing by 49 percent.
Fonterra also has 11 markets across Asia, educating food companies and consumers about the benefits of dairy, and looking at ways to make dairy more accessible and a core ingredient in commercial kitchens.
Of those surveyed in the research released today [31/5/13], Chinese and Thai consumers were the most aware of the benefits of dairy nutrition, with 84 percent of respondents saying they believed it was an important or very important part of a balanced diet. Recognition was the lowest in Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam at just over 60 percent in each country.
Chinese consumers are eating the most dairy with over 60 percent of people eating at least one serving a day, followed by the Philippines where 53 percent of people have dairy products on a daily basis.
Released over the weekend by the Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig, the National Food Plan contains worthy goals for boosting food exports and production but lacks urgency, says the Australian Food and Grocery Council.
AFGC CEO Gary Dawson said the Council has long advocated for a National Food Plan which provides policy on ensuring that Australia has a safe, nutritious, sustainable and affordable food supply and can capitalise on export opportunities.
"The National Food Plan released today [Saturday, 25 May] takes a number of steps towards this by establishing the Australian Council on Food to bring the challenges of food production and manufacturing ‘front of mind’ to the nation's most senior policy makers, while the five yearly reviews of the National Food Plan will enable governments to track the progress of meeting long term sectoral objectives, critical to the success of the industry," he said.
Dawson also praised the $28.5m Asian Food Markets Research Fund which is expected to provide insights into Asian consumer buying preferences, build on Australian products' 'clean and green image' and maximise our competitive advantage.
Where the Plan falls short, according to Dawson, is that it lacks urgency in addressing the immediate challenges affecting the competitiveness of the food manufacturing sector, and will require much bolder policies in order to be effective.
"Given the scale and importance of food production and processing to the Australian economy the initiatives outlined today are very modest. There is little to build confidence to invest and no immediate action to tackle regulatory reform," said Dawson.
"While long term aspirations are important, industry needs the government to act urgently because without a competitive domestic industry these opportunities will never be realised."
The Greens have also come out criticising the National Food Plan, saying it fails to address issues surrounding the supermarket duopoly and lax food labelling laws, the Australian reports.
However, the National Farmers' Federation is happy with the Plan, with president Duncan Fraser saying it's a sign that the government has been listening to Australia's farmers.
"We asked the government to include collaboration between the agricultural sector and the Government on the creation of brands to promote Australian production. Today, the Minister has announced $2m as part of the Food Plan to develop a brand identity for Australian food and related technology," he said.
"We asked the government to ensure that work is done beyond the farm gate to improve opportunities for farmers to sell their produce, including a greater investment in understanding international markets. The Minister has today announced $28.5 million for research to tackle roadblocks to export, including a study into food needs and preferences, helping businesses increase their exports."
The NFF also praised the $5.6m allocated to building relationships with trading partners, including expanding the network of specialists that support agricultural trade in Asia, as well as the launch of a Productivity Commission review to identify priority areas of reform of food supply regulations.
"Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we asked the government to play a role in working with the agricultural sector to improve consumers’ understanding and perception of agriculture. We welcome the inclusion of $1.5 million to develop resources and provide professional development to support teaching about food and agriculture through the Australian curriculum – this is a starting point for what must be a greater long-term investment from government and industry," said Fraser.
Demand for quality dairy products in developing nations has provided a valuable opportunity for Australian and New Zealand producers.
Australian and New Zealand producers are looking to nations in Asia and Africa with emerging dairy markets and rising middles classes to expand their reach as dairy importers around the globe start reduce their dependence on exports.
A New analysis from business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan (Strategic Growth and Emerging Export Opportunities in the Australian and New Zealand Dairy Sector Nations) has predicted that the market will rise from $11.60 b in 2011 to reach $17.2 b by 2018.
“Exporters need to re-evaluate their marketing strategies to cater to newer customers, rather than simply concentrate on the big importers such as the United States and China,” said Frost & Sullivan Chemicals, Materials & Food research analyst, Natasha D’Costa.
“This will enable the exporters to not only address the healthy markets locally, but also help build global dairy demand.”
Frost and Sullivan believe that ANZ producers should take capitalise on the first mover advantage by entering these markets, and take advantage of the geographical proximity markets, particularly Asia.
However they have also warned produces of the challenges that exporters face regarding trade barriers, fluctuating currencies, price sensitivities, regulatory processes and cultural differences- especially regarding religious beliefs.
Frost and Sullivan have stipulated that exporters must position their products appropriately to align with the needs of the importing nations in order to be successful.
“Finding the right mix of existing and emerging key growth export nations will ensure that the ANZ dairy market grows from strength to strength both in terms of revenue and perceived brand value,” said D’Costa.
Sheepmeat from New Zealand is being rejected at the Chinese border, potentially leaving thousands of tonnes of meat waiting at port or on the water.
According to stuff.co.nz, the ban is because of a name change on an export certificate, caused by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry being renamed the Ministry for Primary Industries, as part of an industry merger.
However, it's been said that the real reason for the ban, which is affecting every New Zealand meat company exporting to China, is to protect the Chinese pork and poultry industries.
The block first was first enforced at the end of April, but government officials were only informed on Monday of last week.
China is continuing to allow dairy products and beef hide imports into the country, despite the meat block.
Staff at the New Zealand embassy in Beijing are working with authorities to lift the ban, which could have long term implications for New Zealand's meat industry, said Meat Industry Association chief executive, Tim Ritchie.
"If it’s not sorted out very quickly it will be very serious," he said.
Japanese scallop fishery, the Hokkaido Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Association, has today received certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Started in the late 1800s, the Hokkaido scallop fishery has an annual harvest of 400,000 metric tonnes, but last year reached 410,000 metric tonnes, making it the world's largest scallop harvest.
The scallop (Patinopecten yessoensis) is supplied to domestic markets as well as to Southeast Asia, Europe and the US, where demand for MSC-labelled seafood is high.
Hokkaido scallops are now eligible to bear the blue MSC ecolabel which assures seafood buyers that they are traceable to an MSC-certified fishery which is both sustainable and well managed.
Takehiro Sakuraba, chairman of the Hokkaido Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Association, said "I'm proud of Hokkaido’s scallop fishery as an example of best practice in catch-and-grow fisheries. Our scallops have become internationally known as one-third of the whole catch in Hokkaido is exported.
"This was the context for our ambition of achieving the internationally recognised MSC-accreditation for sustainable fishing, and we are delighted that we have been successful."
Rupert Howes, MSC chief executive said Hokkaido's certification will improve its reputation both in Japan and overseas.
"This iconic fishery has provided a wonderful and renewable source of food for over two centuries and has also made an important contribution to the local economy and security of the livelihoods of both fishers and others involved in related industries. I have no doubt that this tremendous achievement will generate a lot of interest from both the domestic and international markets that are increasingly concerned about the sustainability and provenance of their seafood choices.
"I wish the Hokkaido scallop fishery every success in meeting their existing and new customers’ demands for certified and sustainable seafood," he said.
Earlier this year, Food mag was lucky enough to be invited to South Australia as part of Advantage SA's Premium Food tour. A whirlwind two day tour, we met with a number of hard working, inspirational food and beverage producers and manufacturers in Adelaide, Coffin Bay, Port Lincoln and the incredible Kangaroo Island.
With an international reputation for top quality foods and wine, and growing export opportunities in regions including China, India, the US and South-East Asia, who better to ask about the trials and tribulations of manufacturing than those getting their hands dirty?
Peter Davis, owner Island Beehive, Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island is famed as being the only source of the most pure Ligurian bees on Earth, and it is from these bees that Island Beehive produces its renowned organic honey.
As well as producing honey from his own hives, Davis has eight other producers contracted to supply honey with all the packaging and labelling completed on the Kingscote premises, and adhering to the strict guidelines of the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA), the brand's organic certifier.
Perhaps the most exciting development in Davis' business in recent times is China's growing interest in his products.
Davis recently sent an order for 10,000 jars of honey to China, which was no easy feat seeing as it all had to be packaged and labelled by hand.
"We couldn't find a packer who was certified to pack organic honey in South Australia at a price that we could actually accept, or that the customers would accept. So we decided to pack it ourselves. Only having a small, hand-packing machine, we packed 10,000 jars for that order, and a week after that order, another Chinese girl said 'I want 6,000 jars plus 2,000 one kilogram units,'" Davis said.
"So we went from having a $30,000 order to having another $40,000 order as well."
Davis sees exporting as the biggest opportunity for his business moving forward, and as such is in the process of installing a mechanical production line to boost productivity and efficiency.
"One of the reasons why we're doing it is to try and guarantee the integrity of the product," he said. "The other reason is that we want to increase employment opportunities locally.
"Throughout February and March, where we would normally have had a downturn in tourism activity, we actually employed all of our girls for extra hours to pack by hand and label all the products.
"But we want to go mechanical because we can see that instead of doing seven tonnes in two months, we might have to do seven tonnes in a couple of weeks, and we just don't have that capacity at this stage."
As excited as he is about Island Beehive extending its reach overseas, actually getting the product off Australian soil is a tedious and frustration process, Davis said.
Despite the rigorous testing involved in receiving organic certification, Davis told Food magazine the exporting process for organic products is much more restrictive than for non-organics. Not only are there a lot of I's to dot and T's to cross, but there's also a lot of confusion between NASAA and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).
"We've been having lots of trouble with the DAFF and NASAA in trying to get the right forms. None of them seem to know which forms you require … It's not a very clear process. It's supposed to be, but it's not.
"We've been trying to export wax into Liguria and we've spent the last two and a half months trying to do the paperwork and we still don't have the right forms, because DAFF doesn't know which ones we need and NASAA doesn't know which ones we need."
Other than an abudance of red tape, other key issues which are causing Davis, and no doubt countless other Australian food manufacturers, grief are the high Aussie dollar and increasing expenses. Put them all together and doing business can be a real chore for companies like Island Beehive, which despite its growing successes overseas is struggling domestically with retail figures stagnant at 2008-09 levels.
"We get ice cream from Streets and the distributor came in this week and said that each week in Adelaide four to five small delis, pizza shops and chicken shops that have ice creams are closing their doors and walking out of their business because they're not getting the turnover. They're not getting people coming through the doors," he said.
Davis can empathise with these struggling business owners, himself frustrated with the seemingly endless expenses associated with operating your own brand.
"The red tape that we have to comply with, the taxes that we're having to pay, the electricity prices and the water prices have all gone up so much that everyone is going broke," he said.
"The government's trying to tell us trade, trade, we need to trade but all they do is make it bloody harder for us."
Roy Morgan Research has revealed – somewhat unsurprisingly – that the vast majority of Australians prefer to buy locally-produced goods. But we're not the only ones who see the value in our homegrown brands.
The research found that 88.5 percent of Australians aged 14 years or over are more likely to buy Australian-made products, with other manufacturing markets including Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, the US and the UK.
Products made in the US came in at second place, with 56.2 percent, The UK also rated highly with 53.8 percent, closely followed by New Zealand, at 52.8 percent.
Countries not faring so well include Chile (9.6 percent), Indonesia (10.8 percent) and India (13 percent).
What is perhaps most interesting is the discovery that 90.7 percent of people born in the US preferring Australian-made products. Of those born here, 90.3 percent want to buy locally – a figure matched by those born in Canada.
When it comes to those born in Asia, 78.9 percent prefer Aussie goods, while 54.3 percent are likelier to buy Japanese products, 39 percent from Chile and 33.6 percent from Korea.
Norman Morris, industry communications director at Roy Morgan research, said the findings inducate that across the globe, Australia has a well-respected reputation in manufacturing.
"While there are slight variations if we take a person's country of birth into consideration, Australian-made is still consistently more popular than products manufactured elsewhere. People born in the US are especially fond of locally-produced goods, sometimes even more so than those born here.
"Not only are these results encouraging for local manufacturers, they reinforce the value of the ‘Australian-made’ angle when marketing home-grown products," he said.
So what are they buying?
When people surveyed were asked ‘For each of the following products — clothes, food, electrical goods, motor vehicles, sporting goods, wine — would you be more likely to buy it if it was labelled Made in Australia?’ 87.4 percent of the population is more likely to buy food produced here.
75.2 percent prefer to buy Australian-made clothes, but locally-manufactured cars don't hold the same appeal. Just 55.5 percent of respondents said they'd be more likely to buy a car if it was Aussie-made, with the percentage falling to 36.6 percent of people born in Asia.
Made in China
Australians are steering away from products manufactured in China, with 32.3 percent o Australians saying they prefer to buy Chinese-made clothes and only 2.9 percent claiming they prefer to buy Chinese wine, but this is unsurprising considering the popularity of Australian wines in Asia.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has departed on a nine day trade mission to China and Hong Kong.
The ABC reports that the trip will focus on the agriculture, tourism, food, wine, mining and education sectors and that the premier will be joined on the trip by 60 business leaders from those industries.
Weatherill said China’s “…expanding middle class has a massive demand for our premium clean food products.
“There’s a massive demand for our energy and resources and demand for our education services so we're exploring all those things."
The premier will also be concentrating on China’s ever-growing tourist market.
"They are our largest, by value, tourism income group so they have more visitor nights and they spend more money than any other group … so China's tourism is absolutely crucial for us," Weatherill said.
"We will be looking to encourage them with what we have on offer. We are also talking to airlines, also forming some really strong relationships between us and a number of provinces within Hong Kong and China to demonstrate to each other what we have to offer.”
Adelaide Now notes Opposition Leader Steven Marshall’s criticism of the government’s relationship with China.
Marshall pointed out that figures from the Australian Bureau of statistics show that SA’s exports to China had declined by 9.4 per cent in the 12 months to the end of February.
Also, he said the Government had closed overseas trade offices, cut assistance to exporters, and postponed a target of $25 billion worth of exports by 2013 until 2020.
The recent Global Food Forum featured several prominent businessmen calling for Australia to dramatically increase its contribution to global food security, in particular highlighting business opportunities for Australian agriculture to feed Asia’s burgeoning middle classes.
While this renewed interest in the potential of Australian agriculture is welcome, how realistic are calls to double or quadruple Australia’s food production? And what principles need to be observed as we embark on this journey?
Australia is a large country with a relatively small population. It is easy to gain the misleading impression that we have vast idle land and water resources just waiting to be converted into agriculture. The truth is far from this.
In southern and eastern Australia, most land that is suitable for agriculture has already been converted into crops or pastures. The situation for water is even more constrained. Agriculture consumes around 70% of available fresh water and most river systems are already over committed.
Fast forward to 2050 and it is likely that there will be less, not more, land and water available for food production. The reasons are well recognised: competing claims on land and water from mining, urban expansion, biomass for energy, and environmental conservation; a hotter, drier, and more variable climate under climate change; and a belated recognition that past loss of biodiversity resulting from agricultural practices is unacceptable and unsustainable.
The exception to this picture is northern Australia… maybe. Yes, there are untapped land and water resources, but the soils are often fragile, the climate harsh, and attempts at establishing thriving agricultural industries in the north make for sobering reading, although the cattle industry has proven resilient and tropical horticulture provides some success stories. In any case, future agricultural industries in the north will need to based on scientific research that acknowledges agricultural production must remain within ecological limits. Much research is needed.
Will government and industry invest in the required research? Australian farmers are a resilient lot. They have remained in business despite droughts, floods, a high Australian dollar, low commodity prices, and increasingly complex regulatory and policy settings. Australian agricultural production has historically grown at around 2% per annum, an impressive result built on sustained government and industry investment in agricultural research and development. However, recent evidence reveals productivity growth in agriculture has been declining, and a major contributing factor is falling investment in research and development. If Australia is to greatly expand its contribution to global food security, there will need to be a significant and sustained increase in agricultural R&D, and this will need to come from both government and the private sector. But what research is needed, where is the strategic vision?
Global food security will be the defining challenge of the 21st Century. How do we feed 9-10 billion by 2050 given we live on a finite planet? The strategy of simply harnessing more resources (land, water, energy) into agriculture, although effective in the past, will no longer be feasible.
We must learn to live within ecological limits. There is already evidence that we have exceeded safe limits for nitrogen pollution, fresh water extraction, loss of biodiversity, and carbon pollution, and agriculture is often both the perpetrator and the victim of environmental degradation. There is growing recognition that future growth in agricultural production must be balanced with desirable environmental outcomes. Is this possible?
It has to be, we have no other option. Sustainable Intensification is emerging as the new paradigm that promises increased production within ecological limits, or “more from less”. Sustainable intensification has three core elements:
producing more output from the same area of land (or unit of water, etc)
while reducing the negative environmental impacts, and at the same time,
This won’t be easy and it is a far more nuanced and complex challenge then simply doubling or quadrupling production. This challenge is not something abstract or intellectual, it is real and it is here and now.
Yes, sustainable intensification will require renewed investment in traditional strategies like agronomy, plant breeding, soil science and ecology. But investment in complimentary strategies like reducing population growth rates, reduction of food waste, land use planning, enabling markets, and promoting food literacy demands a coordinated vision and strategy from government.
Last but not least, we need a public and informed discussion around the ethics of food, agriculture and the environment.
There are around 1 billion food insecure globally, with 400 million in India alone. It has been estimated that Australia (population 22 million) produces enough food for 60 million, so Australia is one of the relatively few food exporting countries. Australia should continue to be a food exporting country, but we need to do so within our ecological limits.
Australia’s Chief Scientist recently pointed out that while Australia’s role as a food exporting country is vital, Australian agricultural knowledge and expertise is even more valuable, benefitting an additional 200 million people, often those most vulnerable. If Australia can double or quadruple food production, and improve its natural resource base through the principle of sustainable intensification, then we will have made a tremendous contribution to humanity.
Bill Bellotti receives funding from ACIAR, the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson said on Thursday that free trade talks between Australia and China have hit a deadlock.
As AFP reports, Emerson told the Global Food Forum in Melbourne yesterday that the Gillard government will not accept China’s demand that Australia lift its threshold on reviewing the purchase of assets by foreign states from zero to Aus$1 billion.
"China is saying, at this stage, non-negotiable, you've got to go from zero to Aus$1 billion (US$1.03 billion)… so that's where we're stuck," Emerson said.
He said that the Australian community would not accept such a deal.
Foreign investment is overseen by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) which currently reviews every investment by state-owned enterprises from any country as well as investments from the private sector of $248 million or more.
As the Australian reports, Emerson said that a comprehensive trade deal with China was "just beyond both countries". Instead, the government was "build a foundation" with a focus on agriculture.
New Zealand signed a similar deal with China five years ago which has resulted in New Zealand tripling its exports to China.
The thought of expanding agricultural exports to Asia has received plenty of support at the Global Food Forum. However, many in the community are cautious about large scale foreign investment in the sector.
Chicken meat sales, both domestic and imported, have fallen by 80 percent following the recent bird flu outbreak in China.
According to World Poultry, estimates from the National Poultry Industry Association show that poultry businesses in China have lost an estimated 13 billion yuan (€1.6 billion) since the H79N outbreak.
Unsold meat has so far cost breeders more than 3.7 billion yuan, while demand for imported poultry has also fallen, and sales for both domestic and imported chicken have dropped by 80 percent.
Large numbers of poultry have been slaughtered and markets in Shanghai and Beijing have been closed to contain the virus, which has struck 77 humans nationwide with 16 deaths.