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Mixed Farming

Monday, August 15, 2011
I took a long drive from Dubbo to Temora last week to open the Riverina Mixed Farm Forum as part of my role as Parliamentary Secretary for Natural Resources. Driving through Dubbo, Peak Hill, Parkes, Forbes and onto Temora gave me a good chance to see for myself how the year’s winter crop is progressing following the initial good start to the season and since then, the relatively dry winter. The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) estimates that 5.1 million hectares of winter crops have been planted in NSW this season, the largest area sown in more than 10 years. But, the crop is a long way from the silo yet. More rain is obviously required. And mice will place pressure on the crop, with numbers at their highest in the Central West, Riverina, Lachlan and Hume cropping areas. We need to continue to monitor them because they may become even a bigger issue as spring comes on. Hopefully the season will pan out well and provide scope for recovery from a decade of drought. Food security is one of the bigger issues facing the globe, and it is a complex issue that is being discussed in the media and in scientific and humanitarian forum. Food security involves more than just the production of sufficient quantities of food. It also needs to be consistently accessible, affordable, good quality and of sufficient variety. Currently one billion people suffer chronic food hunger, and the United Nations estimates that the need for food will increase by 70% from 2007 levels to feed a population of 9.3 billion in 2050. The United States Food and Agriculture Organisation say this means that global food output must double by 2050. If we look at national food security, Australia is fortunate to have an abundant supply of food. Australia has only around 0.3% of the world’s population. We produce a lot more food than we consume, so we play an important role globally as a net exporter. The NSW Government has a plan to underpin and grow agriculture in productivity through research, development, extension and education programs. The Government will continue to focus on the public good areas for investment, including enabling farmers to respond to changing international drivers. The DPI has a key role in securing food production capacity through improving productivity, promoting the sustainable management of natural resources including land use planning. The NSW Government believes we can play our part and contribute to a global solution to the Food Security issue. And to address this issue directly, we will be establishing The Office of Agricultural Sustainability and Food Security, within Primary Industries. This unit will have a number of functions including identifying strategic agricultural lands, developing agricultural sustainability and food security plans for key industries and developing a NSW food strategy. The DPI is one of the biggest ag-research bodies in Australia. It collaborates with all eleven NSW universities and works with more than 50 major partners finding practical solutions for NSW landholders. They’re also striving to help us get more from the food we eat. For example, Researchers at DPI are currently investigating ways to put pulses and bioactive pulse ingredients into pasta, because pulses such as chickpeas are ideal foods to help us prevent diseases which are associated with our western lifestyles, such as bowel cancer. As part of the Climate Smart Agriculture Program the DPI and Lachlan Valley Catchment Management Authority are piloting arrangements to incentivise the adoption of conservation tillage or introduce perennial pastures as part of the Lachlan Market Based Instrument Pilot. Based around Canowindra, Cudal and Manildra, this project aims to find the best way to pay farmers to store carbon in their soil, but not at the cost of lost profitability. The pilot is all about unlocking the potential of soil to reduce carbon emissions and allows farmers to participate – and benefit – from broader market-based systems. Initially, around 300 farmers in the trial area will be welcome to participate in the pilot. Both crop and livestock producers will be given the opportunity to bid competitively with other farmers to have their soil carbon sequestration activities funded. We also have DPI and researchers at Armidale who are leading efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. They have conducted over 5,000 measurements to assess methane production in sheep and cattle, and the next stage is a targeted breeding program to identify heritability factors that may be exploited.

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