Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 15, 2023


National Agriculture Day

The Hon. B.R. HOOD (15:48): Friday 17 November is going to be National Ag Day. Many people here know how passionate I am about agriculture. Having grown up on a farm in the South-East, I had a pretty amazing lifestyle. Cleaning troughs, helping dad at harvest time, shearing, crutching—it was an amazing life, but I also know the enduring challenges of farming.

Farming demands resilience, patience, stamina, perseverance and, of course, passion: you have to love the job to do it year in, year out. But there are some current challenges with our farmers, and I am hearing them from my mates not just in the South-East but around the state. A recent ABARES report has shown that the agricultural value in Australia has dropped from $92 billion to $80 billion.

The National Farmers' Federation wants us to get to that $100 billion industry by 2030, and I really hope we can, but farmers are not immune from the cost-of-living crisis and they are currently in a perfect storm. Input costs have gone up with the increases of meat that we saw over the last couple of years, but they have not followed the prices at the market that are now going through the floor. I tell you what: we do not see much of a change at the checkout either.

I know reports of farmers who have spent three grand on cattle, per head, who are now lucky to get a thousand bucks per head for those cattle. Farmers are really the only people in our economy who buy their inputs at retail, sell their outputs at wholesale and then get squeezed in the middle. Of course, the narrative always is, 'Well, if you're in tough times, cut your spending; you'll be right,' but the fact is that farmers need to keep spending to keep productivity up.

Farmers grow our food. They keep us going in this country and around the world. In fact, we need to increase food production by 70 per cent by 2050 to feed all the people in the world. Australia is perfectly placed to do that, but our farmers are struggling.

Let's think about our Australian sheep farmers. They are faced with decisions on ways to de-stock their sheep because their sheep are deemed worthless by the people who are setting the prices, and feed is becoming too scarce to carry these sheep through until next year. Many are facing the terrible prospect of having to actually pay to dispose of their animals at the saleyards and meatworks because the returns are less than the cost of freight and of other fees.

Of course, let's not forget the shameful decision to phase out our live sheep exports, an industry that is worth $82 million to us annually. Luckily—and I say this sarcastically—the department of ag have a statement on their website for people who might be struggling through the physical and emotional toll of cancelling that industry: they understand the phase-out may be distressing for some people.

It is not all doom and gloom. I want to make sure that Ag Day is something we can celebrate. There is community support for farming. The IPA polling recently showed that 68 per cent of Australians believe that farmers and food producers are unappreciated—and they are—and more than 2½ times more Australians think farming has a positive impact on the environment rather than a negative one. Our farmers are our greatest conservationists. They look after their land because it is what ultimately makes them a profit.

I want to touch on some really amazing local people quickly in my speech. Recently, the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology had their 2022-23 Awards for Excellence. That saw Cath Kidman—a local from my patch down in the South-East, a technical viticulturist at Wynns Coonawarra—take out winemaker of the year. At the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion Awards, Penley Estate's Kate Goodman from Coonawarra took out their winemaker of the year award gong as well.

I am going to continue to advocate for farmers in this place, because we have to. National Ag Day is coming up on Friday. Their tagline is, 'Grow you good thing'. You know what? We need a farmer three times a day: for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, and all the yummy little snacks in between. I am reminded of something that Paul Harvey said in 1978:

…on the 8th day, God looked down at his planned paradise and said, 'I need a caretaker'...someone to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant…and not to cut corners…so God made a Farmer.

Happy National Ag Day to all my mates on the land out there. I know you are doing it tough, but keep fighting the good fight. We need you in this country.