Farmers issue warning on food security

A parliamentary inquiry has been told Australia has made no progress towards improving food security over the past decade, and risks soaring grocery prices if systemic issues are not addressed.

NSW Farmers representatives told the Parliamentary Inquiry into Food Security that food systems and agriculture remained on the policy periphery, despite the cost of groceries being the second-largest household expenditure behind rent or mortgage repayments.

While the COVID pandemic and recent natural disasters had exposed the complexities and vulnerabilities in Australia's food supply chain - leading to shortages and a lack of access to affordable and nutritious food - we were no closer to being food secure as a nation, NSW Farmers Economist Brendan O'Keeffe said.

"If you look over the past five years we have lurched from disaster to disaster and I don't think many people appreciate just how close we got to being hungry as a nation multiple times," Mr O'Keeffe said.

"There was a National Food Plan published in 2013 but since then there's been no reporting on its 16 goals or how we meet long-term challenges of climate, global unrest and biosecurity.

"Agriculture is the fundamental part of our food supply, and we need to make sure Australia has a productive farming sector to feed a growing population."

Among the issues impacting food security identified by NSW Farmers were access to key inputs such as fuel, fertiliser and labour, and the impact their costs have on production and viability of agricultural businesses.

"Prices for fertiliser, fuel, lubricants, and chemicals have increased by up to 100 per cent since mid-2021," Mr O'Keeffe said.

"There needs to be more strategic investment in localised production of these inputs, because if we run out - we nearly ran out of AdBlue, for example - the whole food supply chain grinds to a halt.

"This uncertainty is making us far more vulnerable than we should be, especially when you look at the unrest we're seeing around the globe."

Productivity growth in agriculture was also an area that needed more attention and strategic investment, Mr O'Keeffe said, as it would stabilise food prices and thus effectively ease cost-of-living pressures for all Australians.

"No matter who you are, food is a necessity, and increasing grocery prices have hit everyone over the past year," he said.

"At the same time groceries have gone up, farmgate prices have been going down, and this means farmers just don't have the money to improve their equipment or processes to get productivity gains.

"Fair prices at the farmgate and increased investment would make Australian agriculture more resilient and lead to more stable prices for consumers."

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