IMPROVED use of agricultural land in peri-urban areas is one of the issues Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister David Basham would like to focus on ahead of the next election.
Speaking on a webinar organised by Rural Media & Communicators SA/NT, he said 50 days into his role, he had ticked off a number of long-running state government initiatives started before he joined cabinet, such as the release of the draft Pastoral Lands Bill 2020, the launch of the SA Grain Industry Blueprint, and work done on the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme that could potentially help grow the Barossa viticultural area.
But he said something he would like to have more focus on before March 2022 was getting fertile land back into agricultural use.
He said land in the Adelaide Hills, and the Fleurieu - where he is based - could be very productive but there was often not a lot of farming being done.
"Let's get that back into primary production and make it easier to get back into primary production by changing planning laws, so we have a very productive high rainfall area to deliver for our state," he said.
Mr Basham said in 2018-19 alone, SA primary industries and agribusinesses supported 115,000 jobs and contributed $15.9 billion to the gross state product, with the government wanting to see that increase 3 per cent each year.
He said the past six months had demonstrated the worth of agriculture to the nation.
"Just because the country comes to a stop, ag keeps moving and keeps the economy moving," he said.
The tough stance on bringing fruit across the state's borders also came up, with Mr Basham saying it was "very important" the horticulture industry was protected and the state remained fruit fly-free.
While there has been criticism of the zero-tolerance policy introduced by his predecessor, Tim Whetstone, Mr Basham said there were signals this approach was working.
He said he had been to the Yamba Quarantine Station on the SA/Vic border in his first week in the portfolio and spoken to officers there.
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He said even taking into account reduced traffic from border closures, the staff there were seeing significant changes in the volume of fruit turning up at the station itself, but not seeing any additional volume at the drop off points before the station.
"That shows the message is getting out there," Mr Basham said.
"We're trying to stop people even considering bringing fruit into SA, not trying to make them change their mind.
"It's something I've known all my life, when going interstate and back to SA, I know I can't bring fruit in."
Mr Basham said the next point of focus would be at Ceduna, with most of the recent outbreaks in Adelaide connected to the Mediterranean fruit fly, which comes from the west.
He said there would likely need to be a purpose-built facility at Ceduna to cater for that traffic.
With the deadline for SA councils to put in their applications to maintain the moratorium on genetically-modified crops within their local government areas looming, Mr Basham reiterated what was needed for these to be accepted.
"The amendment to the (Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004) is quite clear on the process going forward - the only thing that can be taken into account is the economic benefit," he said.
"(Councils) need to put in an economic case to the committee, who will make recommendations to me."
Mr Basham said he had long thought there were great opportunities for the agricultural industry in GM crops and pastures.
He said he had heard of a ryegrass that would have no allergens, which could reduce hayfever.
"There are opportunities to help not just growers but the whole community," he said.
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