THE future of NSW agriculture is bright but there is a growing disconnect between the city and country, according to NSW Farmers’ Association president Fiona Simson.
Speaking at a Country Women’s Association zone meeting yesterday in Quirindi, Mrs Simson identified foreign investment, education and human capital as issues needing to be addressed in today’s rural agricultural industries.
“I’m passionate about the future of agriculture, but there are issues we are facing that need representation at both the state and federal levels,” Mrs Simson said.
One such issue was that too much time and money was spent on regulatory issues and not enough on the human aspect of farming.
“Today farmers are heavily regulated and we have green groups controlling debate about land use and quizzing farmers about needling sheep, branding cattle or taking the tails off lambs,” she said.
Mrs Simson said she was not opposed to environmentalism but said that some groups were promoting radical environmental policies which were out of touch with the agriculture industry.
“If people want to keep eating meat, they need to know where it comes from,” she said.
A recent study conducted among Year 10 students had shown some “disturbing” results about where teenagers believed food came from.
“Some students believed that cotton socks grew on animals and yoghurt came from trees,” she said.
“We need to exert some influence over the education syllabus taught to our children. It’s about getting into schools at every level and educating kids about food and fibre production.”
The image of farmers and food producers needed to gain some “social licence”, or become integrated into the everyday fabric of Australian children’s lives.
“Kids do not understand how food comes from the farm to the supermarket to the plate,” she said.
Mrs Simson said NSW Farmers’ stance on coal seam gas had been vocal and strong and described the state government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy as “hugely disappointing”.
Mentioning in particular the aquifer interference policy, part of the wider land use plan and the gateway process as bones of contention, Mrs Simson said the aquifer policy in particular was “nonsensical” and exempted the very coal seam gas and mining companies it was designed for.
“It’s a guide and not at all enforceable. It’s not a proper regulatory instrument and a complete disappointment,” she said.
Mrs Simson said the gateway process, which gives mining companies the final tick of approval, needed a third option.
“At the moment there are two options: one to approve the development and the other to approve the development with conditions,” she said.
“The gateway is more like a freeway. We need a third option where the gate shuts.
“I am very concerned with that.”
Mrs Simson said some issues facing farmers today were generational, such as coal seam gas and the Murray-Darling Basin plan.
“As well as ensuring that regional communities are looked after, we also need to consider the
environmental and the social implications,” she said.
Mrs Simson said agriculture had a huge future and that Australia was “on the brink of a food boom”.
“We need to ensure efficiency is high, ensure our practices are of the highest level and continue
to attract investment into our industry.”
Investment also needed to be made in human capital – her own son Tom desperately wanted to carry on the family farming tradition.
“We want young people back in our farms, and we need people who wish to carry on farming,” she said.