Statement to 60 Minutes
The National Farmers’
Federation and its members want to categorically reassure all Australians of their
continued access to food during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Farmers are used
to working from home every day producing more than enough food and fibre for
Part of this reassurance is letting Australians know, overall Australia produces an amount of food that is far in excess of what our population can consume in one year. In fact, our nation’s farmers grow so much that each year, about two thirds of Australia’s annual agricultural output is exported for the world to enjoy.
In the context of the
COVID-19 pandemic, at times empty supermarket shelves are a symptom of supply
chain logistics needing to adapt to the new, unfortunate patterns of panic
buying. It is in no way linked, to an actual shortage of food. Any assertion to
the contrary is scaremongering and has the ability to cause unnecessary angst
for Australians, many who are already anxious about the current situation.
Unfortunately, misleading information has been circulating about Australia’s food exports and imports. As the peak body representing Australian agriculture, the NFF believes these claims must be clarified:
Claim: Australia now imports most of its dairy
Fact: Australia’s dairy cows produce about 8,800 million litres of milk each year. About 65% of this milk is consumed by Australians, the remainder is exported in the form of fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese and ice cream for example Australia remains a net exporter of dairy products and produces a significant surplus to what Australians can consume.
Source: Dairy Australia
Claim: Australia imports nearly one third of the wheat needed on the east coast to produce flour, pasta and bread.
has the highest wheat production per capita in the developed world. As a result
of our large wheat production and relatively small population, Australia is a
net exporter of wheat, and will be for the foreseeable future.
In the past
two years, some wheat imports have entered Australia due to drought and the
requirement for very high protein wheat by Manildra, an Australian-owned east
coast-based processing company.
The volumes of these imports include: 2018: 360 kilometric tonnes 2019: 550kmt. These imports equate to 4% in 2018/19 and 6% in 2019/20 of overall Australian domestic demand. This wheat was used for industrial purposes (including ethanol and manufacturing starch for export markets) – not for human food products such as flour, pasta or bread. The biproduct was also available to livestock producers as animal feed.
Sources: Mecardo, USDA, ABARES, FAO, AHDB, Refinitiv.
Claim: Australia now
imports most of its rice.
usually grows more than enough rice to supply Australian and international
markets. But Australia is not currently self-sufficient. Due to the drought and
water policy, Australian rice crops in the last two years represent less than
25 per cent of annual domestic rice consumption. This has led to an increasing
reliance on imported rice. At the same time, the global COVID-19 pandemic has
increased demand for rice here and overseas. Vietnam and Cambodia have
restricted rice exports in response to domestic food security concerns driven
by persistent drought and COVID-19.
The international rice supply
is also under pressure from persistent drought in other exporting nations, such
as Myanmar and Cambodia, and locust plagues across northern Africa, the Middle
East, India and Pakistan. There is also evidence of China acting to shore-up
its own food security.
Unlike cereal crops and
dairy, rice requires irrigation. Australian-grown rice uses less water than any
other country – 50% less than the global average. The rice industry is working
with governments to resolve unintended and perverse outcomes of water reform,
but in the short term, the priority must be ensuring enough water to grow rice
for Australian households in 2020-21 under the exceptional circumstances
created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: Sunrice & Ricegrowers’
Association of Australia
The impact of drought on
As demonstrated by the latest
forecast by the Australian Bureau of agriculture and Resource
Economics and Science, the recent
widespread drought conditions have resulted in a decline in the production of
most agricultural commodities. However, given the sheer overall volume of
production, this does not and should be construed as a threat to Australia’s
overall food security.
Many Australians joined with farmers
and regional communities in rejoicing the welcomed recent significant rainfall
across the Murray Daring Basin and other agricultural regions. For the majority of farmers this rainfall has
meant an autumn well-equipped to sow a winter crop of products like wheat,
oats, barley and canola. We expect, the improved conditions will see overall
farm production rise in 2020-2021.
While the drought has also
impacted the irrigation sector and a range of licence holders have had
substantially reduced allocations, this has most seriously impacted what is
known as general security allocations. This is why annual crops such as rice
have been affected. Nevertheless, there has still been water available for production
agriculture, mostly higher valued water known as ‘high security’ and food is
still being produced in the southern basin.
Issues around water
management in this country are immensely complex. Right now, Australian farmers
are continuing to step up, to grow and deliver food, even in the face of
drought, and we believe we have a strong role to play to assure the community
that it’s business as usual for many of us. One thing is for certain, our
farmers can and will continue to, ensure Australians have access to the fresh
produce they need, now and into the future.
Ms Fiona Simson