Agribusiness forum debates challenges for the future
THE Future of Agribusiness forum was told that agriculture on the Sunshine Coast has a farm gate value of $200 million - and the figure is holding steady despite our shrinking farmlands.
The conference attracted 50 attendees and was hosted by Sunshine Coast Council and Sunshine Coast Business Council.
Business Council chair Sandy Zubrinich said the consensus was the local agribusiness industry had the potential to significantly enhance its contribution to the Sunshine Coast economy, by capitalising on opportunities to grow and export more local agricultural products.
"Sunshine Coast farmers are already renowned around Australia and further afield for producing clean and fresh goods, and it has become apparent that this reputation needs to be leveraged further when promoting goods to overseas markets," Ms Zubrinich said.
"Industry representatives at the conference also determined there is a need for farmers and other local stakeholders to collaborate with one another when promoting their products interstate and internationally. This will not only generate economies of scale, but hopefully also provide them with a more prominent presence within these markets."
Ms Zubrinich said the conference also identified a number of threats to the industry and highlighted the need for government regulation.
"Increasing rural and residential development was recognised as one of the major threats to the local agribusiness industry, with many local farmers facing challenges with neighbours that have moved to rural areas for lifestyle reasons," Ms Zubrinich said.
"Some resident groups are opposed to the impacts of farming such as machinery noise, animal odours and the use of crop sprays, and this has the potential to restrict or even put a stop to farming practices.
"Many of the conference attendees felt there was a need for the government to step in and limit the urban encroachment to ensure their livelihoods were not put on the line."
The Sunshine Coast Business Council will now work with industry to develop a 12-month action plan addressing the outcomes of the conference.
► FARMERS SHARE CHALLENGES
Dr John Switala, an avocado farmer, shared some of the sector's challenges during his speech on the day.
"Every time I go for a drive, it seems like more farming land has disappeared.
"The canelands are disappearing, the pineapple fields around Woombye are all gone.
"But still the industry pumps out the same value of production.
"And the whole industry is under pressure from cheap, frozen Asian imports.
"Then there is the peri-urban debate, where all this farmland is being turned into housing subdivisions and all of a sudden the avocado farmer is worried about running his tractor because he is right opposite a strip of homes.
"It's a challenge for property developers and council.
"Food mileage is also a big issue but consumers are not paying much of a premium for it," he said.
"It's a lovely thing to promote but it doesn't translate to a market price."
Dr Switala said the industry had undergone a lot of changes, and younger generations were not automatically taking on family farms anymore.
"But on the positive side, the Sunshine Coast has the best water and soils; you can grow anything here.
"And we have a very diverse agriculture sector, whereas if you go out west, it's typically cropping, cattle or sheep. It's very narrow."
Dr Switala chose the word "resilient" to describe the state of agribusiness on the Coast right now, praising farmers for adopting new methods and planting new, more profitable varieties.
Dr Switala said the priority now was not simply throwing money at the sector, but changing attitudes towards farming.
"It's the cultural acceptance of it as a viable industry.
"It's getting people to go to a farmers market instead of Coles and Woolies and people accepting farming activities."