There’s been some good news around in recent weeks and maybe we should be banging the drum a bit louder to let the rest of the community know that farmers are upbeat about the prospects.
The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) has found that our dairy farmers are achieving a return of almost 10 per cent on their assets while also increasing the average size of their herds (we have the biggest average herds in the country).
Tasmanian dairy farmers are now producing more than 800 million litres of milk a year, which is about eight per cent of national production. That is a fair achievement for a state with one per cent of the land mass and about two per cent of the population. It promises to get better as the dairy industry intensifies with major investments proposed.
Dairy is a major beneficiary of irrigation expansion; it is often the target area for farmers seeking to diversify out of their normal operations, particularly prime lambs and poppies.
We have seen a rise of almost 15 per cent in production in the first quarter of 2015 and there is every indication that world demand for our milk products is not diminishing as we improve our processing facilities.
There is a definite feeling of optimism in agriculture at the moment. This month OneHarvest at Richmond opened a new cooling facility for its 38 ha trial plot of salad leaves that uses water from the second stage of the South East Irrigation Scheme. It is smaller and less intensive than Houston’s but they are both succeeding in similar markets and both have expansion plans.
Eighteen months ago the OneHarvest plot was a dry sheep paddock. OneHarvest managing director Sam Robson says Tasmania’s climate and growing conditions are ideal for salad leaves. We don’t get the heatwaves that can savage crops just to our north in Victoria.
“Access to land, water and intellectual property give Tasmania a strategic supply advantage,” he says.
We must be doing something right because the latest rankings of the world’s universities places our tertiary agriculture science institution in the top five per cent in the world.
This is really critical for the future of farming in Tasmania. A prestige teaching institution will bring Tasmania into focus for potential young farmers and agribusiness professionals, in other words, the future of our industry. That is vital. We look to our educational institutions to help educate people coming back on the land.
I believe the message is getting out there now that Tasmanian agriculture is, literally, a growth industry for the state and it will continue to be an economic strength for us into the future.
We are seeing more and more public forums debating the future of our primary industries, examining the economies of scale that we need to remain viable, analysing the market opportunities that exist.
The focus today is on China but we have to keep our minds open to the potential elsewhere.