Growers face crisis

Ed Biel of Wanaka Orchard, Oakdale
Ed Biel of Wanaka Orchard, Oakdale

Urban sprawl, smaller profit margins and major super markets have made it tougher for those involved in the agricultural industry to survive. The federal government released a report this week in the hope of ensuring the viability and sustainability of the industry. But is it too late for Wollondilly-based producers? Ben Chenoweth writes.

THE sustainability and viability of future generations of farmers remains cloudy, Oakdale producer Ed Biel believes.

   Last week the federal government released its Agricultural Green Paper — aimed at trying to ensure the survival of the Australian agricultural industry.

   The paper identified several key areas to be addressed including competition.

   Mr Biel of Wanaka Orchard — a stone fruit, nashi, cut flower and citrus farm in Oakdale — said while the government’s intentions were appreciated, too much damage had been done to the industry and the ‘‘horse has bottled’’.

   ‘‘It’s not sustainable when farmers are getting below the cost of production sometimes,’’ he said.

   ‘‘Unfortunately in the agricultural sector, particularly horticulture, competition is virtually non-existent because it’s driven by a duopoly — Woolworths and Coles.

John Nixon of Nixon Eggs, Wilton

John Nixon of Nixon Eggs, Wilton

   ‘‘Labour costs have gone up, fuel prices have gone up and electricity prices have dramatically gone up.

   ‘‘It’s not reflected in the retail price but farmers don’t get a fair share of retail price.

‘'The retail providers, they are the people that don’t take any risk really yet they receive the lion’s share and the price we achieve is abysmal,’’ Mr Biel said.

   ‘‘In a nutshell, if any farming is to survive it needs to be profitable ... if you can’t make a profit you can’t sustain the enterprise.

   ‘‘I hope I’m wrong and farmers in the Sydney basin are sustainable.’’

Earlier this year a pilot program called Sydney Harvest was established with the aim of encouraging consumers to purchase produce sourced from the Sydney basin.

John Meredith of Thirlmere Poultry, Thirlmere

John Meredith of Thirlmere Poultry, Thirlmere

   The project manager Allan Roberts told the Advertiser: ‘‘Unless farmers can find a way to take produce and make a reasonable profit, over the next five or 10 years most will disappear.’’

   A proposal to establish an agricultural business park in Wollondilly came before the council in July. While planning is still in the early stages, councillors voted unanimously to support the concept.

Dr John Troughton, the brains behind the proposal, said it would meet the needs of both urban and rural focused residents.

"It would consolidate the agricultural [industry's] interests into an area that would complement urban areas."

Discussions with the council and interested parties are continuing.

Wollondilly Council responded to the paper and identified five areas of priority including the loss of agricultural land; a subsidised insurance scheme; regulation of supermarkets; education and research; and unifying regulations enforced by state and federal governments.

Mayor Col Mitchell said it was "important that apart from zoning agricultural land, that farming is a financially worthwhile activity for the use of the land".

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Georgie Kennett and Jamie McLaughlin of Wellington Park Beef, Picton

Georgie Kennett and Jamie McLaughlin of Wellington Park Beef, Picton