The Australian government unveiled its Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper on Saturday, promising to introduce tax reforms on farmers, committing funds to provide water safety, transport and communication infrastructure, strengthening approaches to drought and risk management, and more investment in rural research and development.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said in a joint press release that the white paper "is an investment in our farmers and our competitive strengths in agriculture".
"This is a vital part of our plan to build a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia," the release said.
The white paper sets out real actions for the agricultural sector in five priority areas. Minister Joyce said the white paper is a 4 billion AU dollar (3 billion U.S. dollar) investment in the Australian farmers.
"Our vision is to build a more profitable, more resilient and more sustainable agriculture sector to help drive a stronger Australian economy," he said.
The first priority is the tax and regulation reforms.
The government commits 11.4 million AU dollars (8.5 million U.S. dollars) to boost the engagement of Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the country's competition regulator and national consumer law champion, with the agricultural sector including a new Commissioner dedicated to agriculture. A more farm- savvy and proactive ACCC will encourage fair-trading and strengthen competition in agricultural supply chains.
The government also dedicates 13.8 million dollars (10.3 million U.S. dollars) in a two year pilot program to provide knowledge and materials on cooperatives, collective bargaining and innovative business models. This will help farmers to establish alternative business models (including cooperatives) and manage contract negotiations.
The government promises better regulation and a better tax system for farm businesses.
The second priority is agricultural infrastructure including those in water, transport and communications.
The government initiates a 500 million (375.3 million U.S. dollar) National Water Infrastructure Fund for farmers' future water security.
In terms of communications infrastructure, an additional 60 million (45 million U.S. dollars) will be invested on top of the 100 million (75 million U.S. dollars) Mobile Black Spot Program to improve mobile coverage across regional Australia.
Preparation for drought and risk management is another priority listed in the white paper.
The white paper adds 3.3 million dollars (2.47 million U.S. dollars) to ensure farmers can get more accurate, more local and more frequent seasonal forecasts.
The government will allocate 250 million (187.6 million U.S. dollars) in Drought Concessional Loans each year for 11 years. Some 35 million dollars (26 million dollars) will be allocated for local infrastructure projects to help communities suffering due to drought and 25.8 million (19.3 million U.S. dollars) will be used over four years to manage pest animals and weeds in drought- affected areas.
The white paper recognizes that the agriculture sector needs access to the most advanced technologies and practices to continue to 'farm smarter.'
The White Paper includes an additional 100 million (75 million U.S. dollars) to extend the Rural R&D For Profit program out to 2021-22, bringing the government's total commitment to that program to 200 million dollars (150 million U.S. dollars) over eight years.
The program was launched in 2014, and funding announced in the White Paper will continue the program between 2018-19 and 2021-22.
Improving international trade is the fifth priority the white paper has listed to grow farm businesses and increase financial returns for farmers.
Some 30.8 million dollars (23 million U.S. dollars) will be added to break down technical barriers to trade and appointing five new Agriculture Counsellors.
The government will also give 200 million dollars (150 million U.S. dollars) to improve biosecurity surveillance and analysis nationally, including in northern Australia.
The government also promises to allocate 12.4 million dollars ( 9.3 million U.S. dollars) to modernize Australia's food export traceability systems to further enhance our food safety credentials.