“We just need to continue refining and improving our capabilities,” he says. “By design, we need to become more efficient and more competitive. We have good systems in place in terms of food safety and environment regulations that make our products very competitive in the global market.”
“But we are a high cost producer so we have to balance the cost of production with the market requirements and do the things we are good at. This is an ongoing challenge. The industry has improved and it will continue to do so.”
Productivity is a challenge. To meet demand Australian agriculture needs an increase in efficiency. That in turn should lead to opportunities in products and services such as fertiliser and irrigation.
For example, for Australia to produce 15 billion litres of milk by 2025, up from nine billion today, ANZ calculates an investment of $A8.6 billion is needed. Productivity must be gained from non-productive land.
Thomas says investment will help aggregate farms and provide some leverage to increase production.
“Because we are too slow and the government isn’t leading, smart Chinese investors and entrepreneurs see the potential and are buying our farms,” he says.
“It starts with a fundamental discussion about the importance of our farming capability. It needs the government to set a vision and a plan and it needs the best minds to work together to build a platform to enable us to bring investment in and raise production and build the sector.”
Mahar agrees more investment is necessary and believes community concerns about foreign investment can be overcome with more information and an awareness of what it means.
Australian producers also have to be realistic about their capabilities and to work together.
“We aren’t the hugest supplier. Some of the cities and markets in Asia consist of millions of people,” Mahar says. “As a country, we won’t be able to supply all those growing markets. We have to pick the markets that suit us and focus on these and not try to be everything to every market.”
Thomas agrees. “Two years ago, I took a mission of citrus growers to China,” he says. “At the beginning, growers were trying to compete with each other. By the end, they realised there was no way they could meet all the demand and they had to work together.”