In his first 12 months as the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud explains his commitment to grains.
The Australian grain sector is one of our largest and most valuable agricultural commodity sectors. Around one quarter of Australian agricultural businesses will produce some amount of grains, oilseeds or pulses in a typical year.
2016/17 was a great year for our grain industry, with production of grain, oilseeds and pulse crops accounting for around 29 per cent of the total value of farm production, or nearly $18 billion. It also delivered nearly one third of the agriculture industry’s valuable export dollars in 2016/17. The grain industry was a huge player in agricultural production, exceeding $60 billion for the first time in 2016–17, and farm exports hit $49 billion.
Export opportunities are the lifeblood of the grain industry with more than 70 per cent of the national crop supplying overseas markets. That’s why this government is focused on gaining better access to high-value global markets, developing new markets and maintaining existing markets.
In July I attended the G20 Summit in Argentina. G20 member countries account for 80 per cent of the world’s agricultural related trade so maintaining and strengthening these relationships are key to Australia’s trade success.
This year we secured the Trans-Pacific Partnership and signed the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement on top of free trade agreements with Korea, Japan and China. These agreements have led to reduced import tariffs on many Australian products, with further reductions to come.
The government is also working with the grain industry to address non-tariff barriers such as quotas and difficult or expensive testing. We invested $51.3 million to extend the network of agricultural counsellors in key export markets from 16 to 22. Agricultural counsellors are our men and women on the ground working through trade barriers and market access issues.
Many parts of Australia are doing it tough with drought impacting production. Rainfall during autumn across the Australian cropping region was the second lowest on record. Recently the Prime Minister and I toured some of the hardest hit areas and I held a drought roundtable with key agricultural industry leaders and banks to help come up with some answers.
To date the government has provided more than $1.3 billion in assistance to farmers and communities in drought and hardship.
The Farm Household Allowance has been extended from three to four years and we’ve delivered an additional $20 million to extend the Rural Financial Counselling Service to 2020. The cap on Farm Management Deposit accounts has doubled from $400,000 to $800,000, to help farmers manage drought and other lean years. I also called on the big banks to offer offset accounts for FMDs-with NAB recently coming to the party.
A new Farm Liaison Officer was appointed to travel through drought affected areas and help those in need to connect with vital services and programs, including the Rural Financial Counselling Service and Farm Household Allowance.
In our Australian climate, challenges will always remain but we are committed to working with industry to address them. Profitable and productive farm business underpin the national economy and thriving regional communities.