Mick McGlone | There’s plenty of power and potential in agriculture

I DON’T watch a whole lot of television but Landline on the ABC at noon on Sundays is a show I never miss.

It never fails to put a spring in my step, with lots of good news stories about Australian agriculture, and it shows how innovative our farmers are.

Sure, there are some bad news stories but they are always told in a matter-of-fact way, with not too much gloom and doom, and an attitude of “Here’s the problem, this is what is needed to fix it and this is how we achieve that”.

The show doesn’t trivialise the problem but it presents it in a way that provides some hope for a solution.

There was a time when it was said Australia “rode on the sheep’s back”.

But times have changed and the Australian commodities economy has entered a boom or bust cycle, with increasing subsidies laid on by foreign governments for their producers and the expansion of the European Union creating enormous hurdles for Australian agriculture.

However, Australia has bounced back, with the federal government, producers and others in agribusiness working together to find a way to crack into foreign markets, especially Asia.

Which has been very timely, with the growth of the middle classes in India and China.

On Sunday’s edition of Landline the question was asked “Is agriculture the new iron ore?”

And surely the answer is yes.

According to international rural finance organisation Rabobank, the world’s population is expected to be nine billion by 2050 and there will need to be more food produced in the next few decades than has been produced during the past 10,000 years combined.

Australia can never produce enough to be the food bowl of the world or even Asia.

But it can produce enough to ensure Australia’s regional population, if not the whole of the country, can enjoy a fulfilling lifestyle.

I don’t mean living in mansions but rather living in a community that enjoys being involved in an agricultural industry that has had the kinks ironed out of it and the risks, including climatic challenges, minimised as much as possible.

One story on Sunday was on how the dairy industry is likely to boom with the access our producers now have to the Chinese market and another was on an innovative company that has come up with a way of supplying fresh fruit and vegetable vending machines.

But the big one was an interview, conducted by Pip Courtney, with Olam International chief executive Sunny Verghese.

Mr Verghese — who heads a company that operates in 65 countries and is one of the world’s largest agricultural commodity trading companies — was in Australia to speak at a national cotton conference.

And he made no secret of the fact he is a fan of Australian agriculture, saying Australia is, from an agricultural production standpoint, one of the most advanced.

“A good example is cotton — Australia yields an average of 10.4 bales per hectare, is way ahead of most other countries, including the US,” he said.

“So even though costs in Australia are high from a labour cost point of view and from an energy cost point of view, you still, because of high productivity, have Australia as a cost-competitive producer of many of these agricultural commodities ... We believe that Australia has a true comparative advantage to produce agricultural commodities like this cheaper and better than others.”

So amid all the doom and gloom of unemployment, rising prices, an oppressive federal budget and the demise of manufacturing in this country, agriculture stands as a beacon of hope for us all.

It just needs governments, financial organisations, the media and people not involved in agribusiness to understand the potential of agribusiness.

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