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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."

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Owen Tucker | Friday, July 25, 2014, 11:40 AM
I respect the experience of Bell and Watkins, we would be foolish not hear their word but don't let it paralyse us into in-action. Great achievement comes first from a grand vision. When America decided to put a rocket on the moon they had no idea how to do it, the technology wasn't even invented, it was developed from a vision with drive to move forward. Look at Las Vegas now, once an isolated desert, now a thriving metropolis needing lots of water. It started from a vision of one casino, now look at it ......without their continual efforts it would revert to a desert area. Plenty of water falls in QLD that we don't use yet. We are an able bodied nation, We did the Snowy Mountain scheme a massive success. We can make ourselves the food bowl of Australasia with Belief, Vision, Commitment & unthinkable Determination. The way will develop, we just have to start at the beginning to reach the tipping point to reality. P.S. Just imagine how different parliament might be if their efforts were focused towards galvanising the nation towards something every individual can take ownership of and be proud of.
Rod Harris | Friday, July 25, 2014, 1:05 PM
Hear, hear! We can do it and should do it.
Bob Rendell | Friday, July 25, 2014, 3:28 PM
In response to Owen Tucker, I agree 100%. Where there is no vision the people suffer. Don't we know that. The mining boom has plateaued, and now it is agricultures turn, and what more better than to feed starving millions. Re Snowy Scheme, this is an excellent example of fore sight and vision. withy out it there would be NO agriculture in the Murray and Murrumbidgee Valleys. The MDB plan while now settled had an enormous detrimental effect on the economy of the area. And the towns and villages are still smarting from this radical plan. So lets move forward, get behind the scheme and push the government to get on with the infrastructure plan and as a nation we will prosper.
ceirano | Monday, July 28, 2014, 3:52 PM
Owen is positive. Without a vision the people perish. Not only can we help to feed Asia we can also produce more homegrown where we know whats been used to produce it.