Industry Search Australia Trusted by 600,000+ buyers

National food bowl plans 'unrealistic'

23 July, 2014

The federal and state governments' desire for Australia to become the food bowl of Asia has been ridiculed by a key figure within the agriculture industry.

Colin Bell, part owner of Australian Food and Agriculture Company Limited (AF&A), has been in the game since the 1970s, having run livestock stations, along with rice, wheat, barley and canola farms throughout NSW and South Australia.

Having been asked recently about the grand scheme dreamed up by the then Gillard government in 2012 dubbed the National Food Plan, his response was a terse, "I think it's nuts. Dream on."

The so called "dining boom" argued that Australia could become the food bowl for Asia's affluent middle class – numbering 3.2 billion – invigorating the economy with up to $1.7 billion in additional revenues over the next four decades.

The idea has been propagated in recent times with the commonwealth signing free-trade agreements with Japan and South Korea.

The will, but not the way

Whilst Bell hasn't greeted the plan with disdain, he has been steadfast in his belief that the goal governments have set in place for the nation is an unrealistic one.

"I'm very optimistic about the outlook, but agriculture won't take over from the mining boom," he said.

"Our scarcest resource is water. To produce a whole lot more crop you need more water and that just isn't going to come out of thin air."

Echoing the thoughts of former Graincorp CEO Alison Watkins, Bell also asserted the country's "questionable" infrastructure would inhibit it to take full advantage of valuable export prospects.

"We just haven't got the ability to double production here," he said.

"We can get more efficient and if we are good at it, generate 15-20 per cent more product.

"(The Asian food bowl goal) is a nice ambition to have, but it isn't very realistic."