The opportunities identified for NSW farmers in the Federal government’s Asian Century white paper could be undermined by the O’Farrell government’s cost cutting restructure of the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).
I am concerned the significant opportunities outlined for NSW farmers in the white paper will be damaged by the Liberal and National Party’s funding cuts to agriculture and primary industries in NSW.
The Federal government’s white paper details some huge and exciting opportunities for NSW farmers, however, I fear that the O’Farrell government’s decision to amalgamate key primary industries agencies and slash funding and expertise from our state will see NSW farmers miss out.
We know that there will be a 35 per cent increase in global food demand by 2025, and Australia is ideally located to provide the quality produce to meet this demand.
NSW farmers shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage because the O’Farrell government is slashing funding for research and on the ground support from primary industries in this state.
The white paper also highlights the importance of research and making productivity improvements in the agricultural sector to meet new demand in places like China and India.
NSW farmers have a very long and proud record of innovation and are among the world’s most efficient producers. Our record of improvement has been built on farmers’ willingness to innovate and the strength of a century long collaboration between the DPI, researchers and farmers.
The O’Farrell government’s proposed amalgamation of DPI extension services, Catchment Management Authorities and Livestock Health & Pest Authorities is threatening one of these key links between research and on the ground extension officers.
Under the O’Farrell government’s cost cutting plans, DPI agricultural extension officers will no longer be a part of DPI, and will become direct employees of an unknown number of so-called “semi-autonomous” bodies.
The NSW DPI extension officer network has always been intimately linked with DPI and industry research, providing farmers with the latest advice, conducting on the ground trials and providing a direct on farm link to researchers.
Extension officers I am speaking to are telling me that the loss of this direct link is one of their key concerns about the new structure. In the longer term there is a real fear that extension officer’s knowledge could become dated and NSW agricultural innovation could slow significantly.
After last week’s damning report into the Minister for Primary Industries’ handling of the botched Cronulla Fisheries closure, no one can have any confidence in her capacity to manage this much bigger and much more challenging change.