21 December 2023

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

As I’ve travelled around the country over the past 12 months, I’ve seen that there’s a lot to look forward to for agriculture, and on the other side of the coin, challenges we need to be aware of and realities we need to not only accept, but embrace, in order to keep moving forward.

It’s been another big year for the industry, albeit different to the past few years, which were marked by drought recovery, bushfire, floods, massive national crop yields and record livestock prices. In 2023, the rain stopped coming in many areas, an El Nino event finally declared in September. Crops didn’t meet expectations in some regions and livestock prices fell. It’s all cyclical, of course, and nothing we haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Recent widespread rain has in fact eased some of these concerns, but the outlook for a drier 2024 remains and we must be ready for how that will play out.

On the trade front, there was welcome news as tensions with China eased and significant tariffs on the likes of barley and wine – in place for a number of years – were removed. China as also announced the reinstatement of export approvals for several Australian meat export processors that were suspended during the pandemic. A long-awaited free trade agreement with the European Union suffered another setback though, as Australia declined to sign the deal unless it offered greater market access for Australian agricultural products. We wait to see if the new year brings any significant breakthroughs.

On the domestic front, I have been vocal in recent months on the prospect of a fresh round of water buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin, disappointed that in 2023 I believe policy-makers have learned little from past missteps. Will 2024 bring the innovative thinking this critical system so desperately needs? I and so many others struggle to remain optimistic, but at the same time we will keep pushing for greater awareness of the issues, and solutions that address the needs of all Basin stakeholders.

Biosecurity has been in the headlines in 2024, too. Lumpy Skin disease continues to be a concern in neighbouring Indonesia but our efforts to keep it out of Australia have been successful to date. On the other hand, we have seen the catastrophic consequences of a breach of our biosecurity framework. The incursion of the varroa mite into NSW is the worst nightmare of the honey bee sector, as efforts continue to try to at least control the spread after eradication was ruled out in September.

On a very positive note though, I’ve had the pleasure of attending numerous industry events where I’ve heard from so many inspiring speakers with passion and ideas that excite you for the future of our industry. Ideas and innovations that will continue to drive productivity, efficiencies and profitability across the industry, and achieving all this through increasingly sustainable methods. The young people I have met who have chosen agriculture as their future career path give me confidence in the leadership of tomorrow and assure me the industry is in safe hands.

On the subject of leadership, I was privileged to attend the National Farmers Federation (NFF) AGM in October, where one chapter closed with the departure of long-time president Fiona Simson, and another opened as David (DJ) Jochinke assumed the role. As the peak body for the industry, the NFF has a lot on its plate for 2024 and, as in 2023, there will be peaks and troughs, but DJ has made his priorities clear and as an industry we must stand united to achieve the outcomes the nation and the world needs.

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