LAST night Upper Hunter election candidates stepped away from the mining discussion to field questions from the agricultural community.
Here’s what they had to say to local farmers about securing agricultural jobs and enticing young farmers to remain in both the dairy and overall agricultural industry.
Brad Smith, local dairy farmer addressed the candidates: “My industry is rapidly ageing and dying both figuratively and literally. Many initiatives have been introduced over the last decade and we’ve seen worse and worse results.”
“How will you encourage the next generation of dairy farmers to enter and stay in agriculture?”
In order of appearance.
Sue Abbott said the dairy industry has clouds on the horizon and is an industry that looks quite threatened. If elected Ms Abbott said she would consult with dairy farmers as she is not sure where the industry will go because other things are coming along. “Like precision fermentation, food software, looking at alternative milks. We’ve got this whole new range of products that have taken the place of milk so that’s a big conversation we need to have,” said Ms Abbott.
David Layzell said the dairy industry needs better support. The Nationals held a round table with dairy farmers, talking about things to improve including water metre issues. “They’re the sort of policy issues where common sense comes in and we can make a difference, because we need those dairy farmers coming through. Dairy aside, I think generally agriculture is going to see a move with some of the innovations going on in farming right now,” said Mr Layzell. He said people who can now move to the country, will help the new generation of farmers take up their parents’ properties but the government needs support them.” I think we’re going to see a new wave of new farmers come in,” said Mr Layzell.
Kirsty O’Connell thinks the government should be borrowing models form other states, using Tasmania as an example, which offers interest free loans to farmers to support their business planning. “I Worked in Queensland for a while and the joke used to be that by the time the NSW government answered your email, someone in Queensland would have met you at the airport, sold you a block of land and given you a grant to start your business up. We need to be looking at those kind of innovation’s because I think the crippling coast of debt, even with low interest rates is the single biggest barrier for young farmers coming into farming,” said Ms O’Connell.
Sue Gilroy said government needs to encourage young farmers to stay on the land and cut the red tape She said Shooters Fishers and Farmers MLC Member Mark Banasiak put an inquiry into dairy farming yesterday, which the Coalition didn’t support. “Things like cutting the property tax, we need to make it easier to keep our young people on farms because at the moment it’s more difficult,” said Ms Gilroy.
Jeff Drayton said the most important thing to do it talk to farmers, which is what Labor has been doing. He said Labor decided it will introduce a dairy and fresh food commission, after discussions with dairy connect. “They’re the types of people you need to get out and talk to and listen to. That will be the idea of the Commissioner, to advocate on dairy farmers behaves because quite frankly at the moment, you’ve got no one to talk to and nowhere to go,” said Mr Drayton.
Steve Reynolds said it’s all about consulting with local farmers to find incentives and how to entice young farmers to stay. “The only people move to areas in anything is whether it’s enticing and whether the incentives for what the attractiveness is to it. The training has got to be there to keep them there to start with and the incentives to stay on that land, through a tax break and whatever else needs to be there,” said Mr Reynolds.
Archie Lea said he was never in favour of regulation. He said apprentices should be on the land for four years and regulation should be given back to farmers. “It’s your milk, you produce it, you work hard for it under god,” said Mr Lea.
Tracy Norman thinks land use planning should be used to ensure the right zones are available for farmers to value add. “The thing is you’ve got to make money; you’re not going to be attracted to an industry you’re not going to make money on. My way is value adding, making sure there’s opportunities to value add, so you want to make sure that you’re zoning is right for that,” said Ms Norman. She said she would talk to her neighbour, who has travelled the world to study the farmer retention problem. “I was told yesterday that having the balance of power mean that I could make the supermarkets put up the price of milk, so maybe that would help,” joked Ms Norman.
Dale McNamara said the big problem is when you buy a bottle of water at the shop and its more expensive than a bottle of milk. “It’s good to see a young man who is a dairy farmer. I grew up on a dairy farm and I can tell you there wasn’t much money in milk, it’s hard work. I believe we need to look at how were going to train our upcoming farmers but were not going to do that if we don’t spend the money,” said Mr McNamara.
What action will the successful candidate take before the next election to protect and grow jobs in the Upper Hunter agriculture sector?
Sue Abbott said if elected, she would look at de-carbonising the agricultural sector to grow jobs. “We need to start getting the ag sector into a renewable phase, a green renewable economy,” said Ms Abbott.
Jeff Drayton said the government has stopped talking to farmers about a lot of issues. “We need to start listening, because I think that’s stopped and that the problem. There appears to be a real disconnect between the key agricultural bodies in this state and the State Government,” said Mr Drayton.
Sue Gilroy said understanding how to attract investment and growth into the ag industries depends on the understanding what’s been stopping the growth and investment. “Whether it be international investment or local investment, lets encourage and attract that investment into our agricultural businesses,” said Ms Gilroy.
David Layzell said it’s important to grow the agricultural sector by removing the red tape. “We need to be able to streamline that . . . that would be what I would be targeting, making it less about forms and more about face-to-face contact so we can streamline some of these processes and make sure people can do their business and make a dollar without getting bogged down in the office filling out forms,” said Mr Layzell.
Archie Lea said farming is a business and incentives need to be crated for young people to come in, with tax breaks across the board. “With young people coming in you have TAFE and the other college to invest in bringing people up here form the cities for agriculture,” said Mr Lea.
Dale McNamara said securing and maintaining jobs is about creating balance between agriculture and mining. “To secure the people in our industry, whether it’s mining, agriculture and even our renewable energy, which is out there and One Nation supports all forms of energy, we need to have good balance between all of our industries . . . a great balance will take us forward in the future,” said Mr McNamara.
Tracy Norman said to create jobs, there needs to be investment opportunity. “To ensure investment we need certainty about land use. It’s good to have policy, we need to make sure were actually implementing that policy, we need to make sur that were not just deciding that one day the mine is going to be there, or we might have coal seam gas, whatever uncertainty the government comes up with tomorrow. People will invest if they have that certainty and that will grow jobs,” said Ms Norman.
Kirsty O’Connell said if elected, she will sit down with all business’s leaders, farmers and community leaders before Christmas, to develop a concrete plan for the future. “That in particular, sets out how we will protect our agricultural sector and grow jobs,” said Ms O’Connell. She said she would also set out an accumulative impact study on the Hunter River, to “ensure there are permanent buffer zones around critical industry clusters” and extinguish expired exploration licences.
Steve Reynolds said he would develop a structure strategic concrete plan before the next election. “We need to have a structured strategic plan in place and what better way to do it than not listening to the bureaucrats and people in Sydney that are telling us how it should be done than these advisors in this room. It’s coming back, having discussions, formulating the right group of people to have the right instruction for that strategic plan,” said Mr Reynolds.
For more information on where candidates stand: Voting 101: Upper Hunter by-election.