Farm crisis is looming
ONE of the Gympie Region’s major economic foundations – agriculture – faces a grim present and an uncertain future, according to Westpac and the Gympie Region agribusiness sector.
Goomboorian pineapple and small crops grower Peter Buchanan agreed, saying many farmers were only just hanging on, with profit margins squeezed between rising costs and a competitive world market for produce.
Mayor Ron Dyne said farming input costs seemed set to keep rising, as a result of international price trends and expenses linked to the coming carbon tax.
Product development was one bright spot yesterday, with local products on display at this weekend’s Flavourfest and Flavourfeast events.
Playing their role in revitalising the sector by creating new customers, Flavourfest and Capelli chef Michael Hehir yesterday demonstrated that the industry’s problems were nothing to do with the region’s produce.
He showed the fine dining products that could be created from “Benedale duck (from Kilkivan), Widgee pumpkin, Wilson’s Pkt zucchini flowers, Mary Valley beans and Capelli’s own special jus”.
But with many farmers dependent on bulk markets, Mr Buchanan said there was a real danger all our finest produce may not be around forever. “Australians will wake up one morning and find no more Australian farmers,” he said.
Cr Dyne said farming costs often involved inputs like fertiliser, electricity and goods that farm businesses could not do without and feared cost effects of the carbon tax would hit farmers indirectly.
“Many believe the Reserve Bank has gone one flange too high on interest rates and that this has affected people’s confidence,” he said.
Westpac this week announced results from its 18th Agribusiness Index survey.
The survey includes agricultural producers, suppliers, wholesale and retail outlets and the transport and manufacturing sectors.
Results showed that Gympie’s agribusiness performance had weakened.
“Agribusinesses in the Wide Bay-Burnett region are feeling less confident about the next 12 months than at this time last year, with business confidence at 48%, compared with 56% for Queensland,” Westpac regional manager Frank Heath said.
“Queensland agribusinesses and in particular the producer sector are feeling the pinch from rising costs and the residual impact of adverse weather,” he said.
“This has caused business confidence to fall and the overall economic performance of agribusiness in Queensland to remain negative,” he said.
Mr Buchanan said the wages paid by Australian farmers made it hard to compete.
Fertiliser had gone from $600 a tonne to nearly $2000, then had dropped back to $900 and was now “on the way back up”, he said.
“Then there’s fuel levies affecting freight costs and basically we’re all being ground down with compliance and regulations.
“People had better get used to the idea of no farmers in Australia, because it’s coming very fast.
“We haven’t seen it because people are just hanging on and hoping, but it’s just about to blow up.”