Government again passes up 500:1 return on investment

    14 May 2013

    The federal government has once again missed the opportunity to facilitate a significant improvement in agricultural productivity, and a 500:1 return on investment, by failing to fund a specialty and minor use crop protection program.

    CropLife Australia CEO, Matthew Cossey said today, “The crop protection industry and the farming sector more broadly have been calling on the Australian Government for many years to provide base funding for a specialty crops and minor use program. Such a program is essential for maintaining Australia’s agricultural competiveness, as the system in its current form is failing not only Australian agriculture, but the economy as a whole.

    “Enthusiastic rhetoric about the future of Australian agriculture has never been so plentiful. Commendably, this rhetoric has extended as far as the development of a National Food Plan and the Asian Century White Paper. Unfortunately, however all of this promise and goodwill will evaporate without smart, targeted, early investment to assist farmers in accessing all the tools they need.

    In today’s budget, the government has ignored its own policy and failed to make a prudent fiscal decision to improve the nation’s food production capacity.

    “The government’s mandatory regulatory system for pesticides creates a market failure. This failure comes from the fact that the small volume of sales of products for specialty and minor uses does not offset the high costs associated with registering those products. A lack of registered pest management tools means that glass ceilings are placed on these potentially high profit crops. The way to remove this glass ceiling on specialty producers and deliver a bonus to the nation’s farming sector is for the Australian Government to establish and fund a specialty crops and minor use program.

    “An analysis of the US specialty crops program showed that every dollar spent by government in assisting specialty growers in the US returned more than $500 to the economy. The US model, which has been in place for more than 30 years, also facilitates greater investment by the private sector and as a result both US agriculture and tax payers win.

    “Europe has also recognised the benefits of such an initiative and started its own program in the last few years. Those benefits include cheaper fruit and vegetables for the entire community. That is a big economic bang for small bucks. Not many current federal government programs could claim a 500 to one return to the economy for government expenditure. Australia has a market which is less than 10 per cent the size of both Europe and the US which means that such a program is even more important for our famers.

    “Repeated failure to fund this program means that neither broad acre nor specialty crop producers in Australia have access to all necessary and internationally available pest management tools. As a result, Australian farmers are at a serious disadvantage to their international competitors.

    “As little as $40 million over four years would improve responsible chemical usage. It would mean that Australian farmers could consider a range of other high return produce and crops. It would significantly assist in addressing the challenges of weed and pest resistance problems. Such a program would also ensure that Australian food producers develop environmentally friendly, sustainable, integrated crop management systems through access to the latest chemistry.

    “This policy is not only necessary for removing productivity blocks on Australian farmers, it’s also an easy win and it’s time we had a commitment from both sides of politics to matching the rhetoric and making a small, smart investment that would have massive benefits for Australian farming,” concluded Mr Cossey.