WITH the federal election tomorrow, Stock Journal is looking at candidates in the seat of Mayo, including Centre Alliance's Rebekha Sharkie and the Liberal Party's Georgina Downer.
What do you consider to be the most critical issue in agriculture in SA and what would you do to address it?
SHARKIE: The River Murray is the most critical issue. If the river is not sustainably managed, the livelihoods of thousands of agriculturalists and irrigators will be under threat. I have long advocated for enhanced fairness and transparency in the delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan but repeated scandals and serious criminal allegations have convinced me a Federal Royal Commission is the only way we can get to the bottom of all the problems in every jurisdiction and get the Plan back on track.
DOWNER: I consider drought, climate and water are the most critical issues. We've had a bit of rain in recent days and it's welcome, but it wasn't a great season in 2018 and we've had a dry start to 2019. Many farmers in SA have struggled with poor seasonal conditions.
Governments can't make it rain but they can support drought-impacted agricultural industries in other ways. I'm very supportive of the Morrison government's election commitments to support farmers impacted by drought.
These include the $3.9-billion Future Drought Fund, concessional loans for restocking and resowing, an additional $15 million for the Drought Communities Program, $7m to establish the Rural Financial Counselling Service's Small Business Support Program, and improvements to the Farm Household Allowance, such as making the $5m farm assets threshold permanent.
In the longer term, I'm also keen on more drought-tolerant crops and farming systems, and improved long-range weather forecasting.
This can only come about through greater investments in research, development and extension by industry and government.
What is the biggest challenge in Mayo at this time?
SHARKIE: In addition to the Murray River, there are three great challenges. Mayo's horticulture sector needs assistance for netting schemes to protect them from repeated hailstorms and pests. Farmers who are drought-affected, but not in drought-declared areas, need additional assistance. We need to address anti-competitive practices that are suppressing prices in agricultural value chains.
DOWNER: Mayo is a community that is rapidly increasing in population, which results in some growing pains, such as land-use conflicts. We have good farming land throughout Mayo and we need to ensure it stays that way. The same goes for our natural environment.
I think we need to direct attention to infrastructure, which not only accommodates growth but better supports agriculture in the electorate, such as improving B-double access with road upgrades, and more local value-adding capacity.
I've been lobbying hard for feasibility studies into meat processing on Kangaroo Island and the Fleurieu Peninsula (now being carried out by the state government) following reductions in capacity. It would be great to have some more local brands competing in domestic and overseas markets with finished products, creating more dollars and jobs for our community.
Do you think enough is being done to support farmers in tough times, such as drought?
SHARKIE: The government has tried hard to support farmers through recent droughts and floods. I am concerned farmers outside of declared emergency areas, who are still suffering extraordinary climactic conditions, are not getting enough support. We know climate stress can be a spectrum, while the present system of support is largely binary - you get support or you do not, with little in between.
I am concerned by the continued dwindling in government-funded agricultural research. With a volatile climate, we desperately need more research on climate adaptation and more resilient agricultural practices to better future-proof our farming communities.
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DOWNER: I think we can all do more, including government, but not only government. I've been calling for netting subsidies for fruit growers in the Adelaide Hills who, in two consecutive years, have had their crops devastated by hail storms and face continued predations by increasing numbers of pests, such as bats and birds.
There are always good times and bad times in farming, and many factors are beyond farmers' control. It is at times of great adversity - drought, flood, freak storms - when our country responds at its best to support our rural communities.
The Morrison government is committed to supporting farmers facing tough times through a range of measures. But I think industries across the supply chain, including major retailers in our domestic market, could profitably take a hard look at their relationships with our primary producers to ensure the supply chain has greater resilience to disruption and family farming remains profitable and sustainable in the future. The Morrison government's announcement it will invest $10m in two new programs to bring our kids and our farms together will help improve mutual understanding across Australia of the contribution and future of farming, improve knowledge of where our food and fibre come from and encourage more young Australians to study agriculture.
- The Australian Labor Party's Saskia Gerhardy, The Greens' Anne Bourne, Animal Justice Party's Helen Dowland and United Australia Party's Michael Cane were all invited to take part.