Graham Gorrel's Friday On My Mind | OPINION

HOW can governments unlock the soaring potential of Australian agriculture? It’s a question posed by writer Mark Harvey-Sutton, in one of four features and a probing editorial (under the heading, Getting regional infrastructure right) in Farm Policy Journal (FPJ), an Australian Farm Institute publication.

Harvey-Sutton wrote: “In our land of sweeping plains, the journey from paddock to plate can be a long and costly exercise. How can governments collaborate to drive down costs … transport infrastructure in Australia is at the crossroads.”

“Ageing infrastructure, mounting maintenance costs, a lack of new investment or even a clear strategy is throttling agricultural development.”

One of the features takes a pertinent look at “accelerating the development of Northern Australia … (which) is in large part due to the expected growth in demand from Asia”, a reminder of what Senator Bill Heffernan and former PM, Paul Keating, prophesised decades ago.

Luke Bowen’s timely FPJ article tells us: “By 2050 the Indo-Pacific region is expected to generate almost half the world’s economic output. An increasingly affluent Asian population will see the demand for quality produce steadily increase (but) in terms of being positioned to benefit from this increased demand a major constraint on the northern Australian agricultural sector is the lack of economic infrastructure  - particularly transport and water related infrastructure”.

Other features deal with broadband connection for the rural community and agricultural development and telecommunications, both “critical infrastructure” issues for rural and regional Australia.

The AFI deserve credit for highlighting these critical issues which come at a time when the nation, and regional Australia, need a fillip of the magnitude of the great Snowy Mountains Scheme.

In the past month The DA published two stories that highlighted other areas in which authorities need to focus on regional education and growth infrastructure.

One was an event to address the shortage of rural workforce health professionals and provide those students with experience of life in rural Australia.

The other was CSU’s Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley’s revelation and further determination to see that the agriculture workplace maintained gender equality.

As he pointed out in a paper at last month’s Australian Agronomy Conference it took until 2003 that women, for the first time, had more enrolments in agricultural courses than men. That majority has been maintained.

On another note, QLD TAFE, at the instigation of Bowen Chamber of Commerce president, Bruce Hedditch (former Wagga Mayor) is in Japan this week on a two-fold mission to encourage the Japan Agriculture Exchange Council to send horticultural students to North QLD to further their studies and to push exports; Bowen district is the largest winter growing horticultural district in Australia.

In finality, it is almost four years since a DA editorial referred to Professor Pratley’s survey commissioned by the NSW Government into agricultural education, including the future of special agricultural high schools.

The DA’s message then was, quoting former NSW education minister, Adrian Piccoli, “there needs to be a broader understanding by the public about the importance of agriculture”. Indeed, but we also need political motivation.