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Ag minister’s forum leaves farmers underwhelmed

Beef Central, 14/07/2023

Farmers have given a mixed report card to this week’s meetings of agriculture ministers from across Australia in Perth – on one hand greeting the signing of Australia’s first National Statement on Climate Change and Agriculture, but also expressing concern at the silence on the live sheep export phase out and lack of acton on workforce shortages.

In its response to the meetings this week, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) said it welcomed the National Statement on Climate Change and Agriculture, signed off by agriculture ministers at their meeting in Perth yesterday.

However the NFF expressed concern over the proposed implementation of new poultry standards, and a lack of tangible progress on other issues placing pressure on the sector.

NFF Vice President David Jochinke (right) said it beggars belief there was silence on the phase out of sheep live export in the communique from yesterday’s meeting held in the state set to lose the most from the ban.

“The meeting being held in WA was an important opportunity for agriculture ministers to consider the impacts of the live export phase-out.

“With formal consultation concluding recently we hope that ministers took the chance to reflect on the hardship the Federal Government’s policy would inflict on producers in WA.

“The NFF continues to call for a reversal of that policy as evidence mounts of the harm it will cause.”

National Statement on Climate Change and Agriculture 

The NFF said the statement provided helpful guidance as Australian agriculture strives to maintain its global leadership in climate smart farm practices.

“Through droughts, fires and floods, farmers are at the front line of climate change. They have been navigating these risks and doing the hard yards to reduce emissions for years.

“To now have our nation’s agriculture ministers agree a strategy to help the sector build on the work it has done is a positive step forward.

“We’re standing at the precipice of a low emissions economy, but our industry needs the right policy settings to support that transition and tap into emerging opportunities.”

Poultry standards and guidelines 

Yesterday ministers endorsed the new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry.

When the Standards and Guidelines were released last year, the NFF expressed its strong concerns about the impacts they would have on farming families in the poultry sector, and in particular those involved in the layer hen and turkey industries. These concerns remain.

“The farm sector places significant importance on ongoing improvements in animal welfare outcomes, but this must be led by science and holistically consider all factors including animal health and biosecurity.

“Importantly too, when governments implement such changes, they must support impacted producers who have operated and invested in their businesses in good faith for generations.

“For layer hens, our members have clearly told us that a transition of less than 25 years, without support and compensation, could spell the end for many family-owned egg producers, and impact on the consumers they supply.

“Yesterday’s meeting did not provide this. It’s critical now that the states work with and listen to farmer representatives as they consider implementation timeframes.”

National Agricultural Traceability Strategy 

The NFF acknowledges the announcement for a national approach for traceability to benefit a cross section of issues the industry faces in biosecurity, trade and food safety.

“More than ever, traceability systems are an integral scaffold holding up our market access, as well as helping us prevent and act on biosecurity incursions.

“As biosecurity risks and demands for sustainability information continue to grow, traceability is key to making sure Australian grown produce remains safe and competitive.

“However, when traceability initiatives are progressed, appropriate transition packages for each commodity must be provided and we wait to see the detail of this.”

Red Imported Fire Ants 

The NFF is alarmed by the continued spread of Red Imported Fire Ants in Australia and has been calling for immediate action.

“This isn’t just a farming problem, we need everyday Australians to understand the risks and get behind it. We can’t have this turn into another cane toad.

“It’s good news state and territory ministers were unified on eradication and will bring forward budget allocations, but it’s disappointing there wasn’t greater clarity on an immediate funding response to get in front of this threat. More money is needed and we urge all jurisdictions to act with alacrity to get that sorted.

“Here we are again left dealing with a pest brought to our shores. This is a clear example of why agriculture and environment groups have called for the implementation of a container levy to ensure risk creators fund proactive biosecurity measures.”

Workforce 

Today’s meeting did little to alleviate the NFF’s concerns about the PALM scheme and the industry’s workforce woes.

“This month marked the start of several milestones that will make it harder for farmers to access workers.”

These changes included increased visa fees, inflexible hours and higher costs under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme (PALM), a new wage threshold for temporary skilled migration, and reintroduction of the cap on student visa working hours.

“These are dramatic changes making Australia less attractive to workers, but also the changes to the PALM are so unworkable for employers, many of them walk away from the scheme.

“We also would have liked to see solutions come out of the meeting on worker accommodation, providing more agricultural training opportunities to Australians and showing a greater leadership on farm safety.

“We are going to see our workforce challenges deepen. This meeting was an opportunity to get back on track with some real workforce solutions, but we’ve had radio silence on tangible improvements,” Mr Jochinke said.

Source: NFF

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