Agriculture is worth $60 billion to Australian economy

National Agriculture Day is a time to celebrate one of the pillars of the Australian economy – worth around $60 billion – and the farm businesses behind its success.

The September National Accounts figures demonstrated the importance of our agriculture sector: it was the largest contributor to national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and the fastest growing sector in 2016/17. That growth rate varies with the seasons but the trend is strong and sustained.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ priority is to implement policies and programs geared towards ensuring we have profitable, productive, resilient and sustainable agriculture industries into the future.

We support farm businesses through the delivery of key work such as rural research and development, farm support, biosecurity services, water and natural resource management, supporting agricultural trade and market access and delivering world-class science and economics research.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources secretary, Daryl Quinlivan.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources secretary, Daryl Quinlivan.

Implementing the $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper has been a key focus over the past two years, which includes measures to build a better business environment for farmers, to strengthen biosecurity surveillance and work to open up new markets for our agricultural exports.

Trade is core to our work. Australian agricultural exports have benefitted from free trade agreements with China, Japan and Korea. We need to also negotiate new and improved technical market access in these countries for Australian commodities to maximise the value of the free trade agreements. 

Recent market access successes include Japan accepting our pumpkins and melons, Lebanon taking sheepskins, Korea taking table eggs and China taking Australian nectarines – contributing to farmers’ bottom lines.

One of Australia’s key trade advantages is our reputation as a reliable supplier of clean, green and world-class agricultural produce. The department has tried and tested systems in place at off-shore, at the border, and within Australia – all focused on protecting this reputation and defending our nation from exotic pests and diseases that could decimate our agricultural industries.

Managing Australia’s water resources is another priority. We are delivering a generational investment in water infrastructure, including through the $2 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility and $500 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. This investment seeks to support the productivity of our irrigated agricultural industries. 

We also stand ready to support farmers facing tough times, managing farm business concessional loans schemes, Farm Household Allowance and Farm Management Deposits Scheme policy and funding the Rural Financial Counselling Service. Another step forward in farm support is the establishment of the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC). It will deliver farm business concessional loans and manage the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility from July next year. The RIC will deliver loans directly to farmers, offering a new, expanded farm loans program and applying a streamlined nationally-consistent approval process.

Another of our investments in the future of agriculture is rural research, development and extension (RD&E) funding. The department and industry invest over $600 million annually in RD&E through the rural research and development corporations. On top of this, we manage the $180.5 million Rural R&D for Profit program, providing grant funding for practical projects that are accessible for farmers, including managing pests, better use of nitrogen to improve soil quality and improving access to premium markets.

The Australian agriculture sector continues to be a driving force in our regional communities. It is a sector that continues to perform year on year and remains a cornerstone of the Australian economy. 

While the future is bright, we must not be complacent. The sector must continue to adopt new technologies and systems, be receptive to change and be an attractive employer if it is to realise its potential and withstand growing international competition from emerging areas such as Eastern Europe and South America, which will challenge our traditional strengths in grain and beef production.

I believe we are up to the challenge. We will continue to support farmers to innovate and be as productive as possible and provide a platform for their ongoing success.

- Daryl Quinlivan is the secretary for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.