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Agri-Food value hits $2.39b

Edition 189_cows

The gross value of Tasmania’s agriculture and seafood sectors increased by 5.9 per cent to $2.39 billion in 2015-2016, according to the latest State Government figures.

Agriculture contributed $1.48 billion, growing by 3.3 per cent in a year.

Dairy remained the State’s highest value agricultural sector, worth $386 million, according to an Agri-Food Plan update.

The Tasmanian Agri-Food ScoreCard 2015-2016 reported that the value of seafood grew by 10.4 per cent to $910 million, with salmon worth $704 million.

The increase in value of the agriculture and seafood industries came in a year that was affected by abnormally dry conditions before devastating June floods.

Meanwhile, respected economist Saul Eslake told a Grains Research and Development Corporation Farm Business Update in Launceston that agriculture was one of the major pathways to lifting Tasmania’s economy.

Mr Eslake said farming was more important to Tasmania’s economy than was the case in any other State or Territory.

“It’s almost three times as important to us as it is to the rest of the country, and agriculture is something that we are good at,” Mr Eslake said.

He said Tasmania’s agricultural productivity was higher than the national average.

“In Tasmania our agricultural industry is efficient, it’s smart and, increasingly over the last 15 years, it has moved towards the production of differentiated products which command high prices,” Mr Eslake said.

However, he noted the State’s reputation for being a leading agricultural region was not a recent accomplishment.

“Wool producers in Tasmania have been doing this for 150 years. Since the middle of the 19th century the finest, highest-priced wool in Australia has come from the central and northern midlands of Tasmania,” he said.

Returning to a favourite theme, Mr Eslake warned that Tasmania would not realise its full potential unless its education system changed.

“[Agricultural science is] an area where our university is a leader … it would be even better if there was better articulation between what is taught at high schools and then what is followed up in university,” he said.

Agricultural analyst Peter Gooday told the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) conference in Devonport that Tasmanians needed to stay ahead of their competitors and differentiate their products.

He said Tasmanian farmers had been quick to adopt new technologies, but they needed to continue to "work smart" to increase productivity and stay competitive in an international market.

“Most crop producers are not expecting prices to rise, so any [advances] need to come from productivity,” Mr Gooday said.

“We need research and development systems to be as efficient as possible for long-term gain and to make sure we’re not restricting growth.”

Mr Gooday said agricultural production and exports were expected to stay at high levels over the next few years, underpinned by growth in the Chinese economy.

Tasmania’s biosecurity status and consistent rainfall were positives for the sector, with cherry, beef and dairy production among examples of producers capitalising on island conditions.

Footnote: Innovative dairy farmer and value-adding manufacturer John Bennett has won the Kondinin Group and ABC Rural 2017 Farming Legend of the Year Award. Mr Bennett is a founding partner of Ashgrove Farms at Elizabeth Town and was Chairman of Ashgrove Cheese Pty Ltd until his retirement in 2012.

Image courtesy of The Mercury

3 November 2017, Edition 189

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