Australian farmers risk missing a major chance to supply hungry Asian markets unless governments and businesses dramatically expand food production in the nation’s north.
That’s the view of Nufarm chairman Donald McGauchie, who oversees the agribusiness that sells crop protection and seed products to farmers around the globe.
Mr McGauchie says it would be a tragedy if New Zealand, Brazil and Indonesia continued to massively increase their agricultural output while Australia sat on its hands.
“We can’t afford to have another decade of wasted opportunity,” he told AAP after Nufarm’s annual general meeting on Thursday.
Mr McGauchie said Australia needed significant investment in agricultural research and development, and infrastructure in northern Australia.
Investment should come from both state and federal governments, but mostly the Commonwealth.
Mr McGauchie said the business sector needed to make a strong case for development in northern Australia so that politicians could convince the public that such development would benefit the nation.
Research into agriculture had been reduced by $4 billion in the past decade, and that had to be reversed, he said.
Earlier, Mr McGauchie told shareholders that the economic rise of Asia would create a middle class of more than three billion people by 2030, and they would have a healthy appetite for quality produce.
“That’s why Australia should dramatically expand agriculture, particularly in the Top End,” Mr McGauchie said.
He said irrigated land in northern Australia would be ideal for sunflower, sorghum and cotton production.
The north could produce out-of-season crops for southern Australian markets and fresh produce markets across Asia.
A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government was in the process of assessing the issues related to the development of agriculture in Australia.
A white paper on Agricultural Competitiveness, which will outline plans to take the sector forward, is expected early in 2015.
Also, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss is working on a white paper on the development of Northern Australia.
“We need to build a case to convince other people in other parts of Australia that developing the north will actually benefit the whole nation in the long term,” Mr Joyce’s spokesperson told AAP.