TFGA presidents highlight key issues facing agriculture's future

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Immediate former president David Gatenby, president Wayne Johnston and former president Roger Swain. Picture: Scott Gelston
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Immediate former president David Gatenby, president Wayne Johnston and former president Roger Swain. Picture: Scott Gelston

This week the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association celebrates its 70th anniversary, but in marking that milestone the body’s work does not stop – it is just beginning on some key issues.

When three presidents – Roger Swain, David Gatenby and Wayne Johnston – sat down at TFGA House to talk through what the association had achieved in 70 years last week, the conversation turned to those challenges that their successors would have to face, along with the opportunities for the state.

In their view, the big issues facing Tasmania’s agricultural industry in the near future were biosecurity, international freight to Asia and beyond, labelling and hemp as a food product, while our farmers’ ability to manage diverse crops within one operation was a prime opportunity.

The diversity of our farmers is just enormous.

David Gatenby

Mr Johnston highlighted the need to strengthen the state’s biosecurity and said the association would soon present the Tasmanian government with its ideas to make the state safer.

“Our niche markets are sold on clean, green and safe. That’s the image we have, yet we are a bulk commodity provider – we grow 500,000 tonnes of potatoes, we grow hundreds of thousands of sheep, we grow hundreds of thousands of cattle,” he said.

“What we’ve got in the state, we’ve got to protect against diseases and flora and fauna that come in.”

Thirteen years ago Tasmanian farmers drove a tractor fleet to Canberra to campaign for stronger labelling laws so consumers knew where their produce came from.

Mr Swain said this campaign showed how slowly things moved, because the labelling laws had only recently come into effect.

“We wanted packages to be clearly labelled so that when the customer goes into the supermarket they can look and say, yes it’s Tasmanian, or yes it’s Australian,” he said.

“For 10 years [that campaign] sat and it never went anywhere, but right now all the packaging in the supermarket is going to tell you the percentage of how much Australian content there is.

“That $100,000 we spent driving tractors to Canberra is beneficial, in the long run, to all Australia farmers,” Mr Swain said.

It has taken a similar amount of time and campaigning as food labelling, but the approval of hemp seed as a food has opened up possibilities for the state.

Hemp is a great opportunity for Tasmania’s industry, Mr Gatenby said.

“Phillip Reader has probably spent 15 years getting [hemp] to where it is now as a food, and we can’t get enough of it,” he said.

“To see it come from a fledgling industry, a trial industry, to 1500 hectares now is a huge win – and it can only go one way.”

Hemp is just one sector within the Tasmanian agricultural industry, with our farmers’ ability to juggle many different operations setting them apart from their mainland counterparts, Mr Gatenby believes.

“The diversity of our farmers is just enormous. Our farmers are probably producing four or five different enterprises.”