A Future for our Agri-Food Industry

Published 20th November 2010

There was a time where agriculture was the key industry in this region. That's when sugar prices were sweet, tobacco was a cash crop, locally caught fish & chips was the best ‘fast food’, we lapped up the rich milk from our own Tablelands dairy and eating a mango was considered an exotic luxury.

Now the farmer has to contend with being a ‘price taker’ in a market that often doesn’t reach break-even point, the fisher competes with cheap (and sometimes questionable) imported seafood, the dairy farmer is selling out and the exotic fruit farmer is ploughing in his trees.

If all this hasn't sent their motivation into a state on inertia, the amount of red tape and regulations has. So what is the future for our farmers and fishers in a region that is blessed with fabulous soil and clean waters and an abundance of rainfall? It should be the food bowl of the nation?

Last week I attended an Agri-food tourism field day and Food Industry forum held in the Cassowary and Tablelands areas. These four well attended workshops proved that the farmer is interested in the future of the industry.

The field day looked at opportunities to diversify their farming product in a number of ways that included linkages into tourism. Whether it’s selling local food at local farmers markets, processing their product, finding a supply chain to local retail & food services, or opening their property for visitation, these farmers were positively encouraged to take the next step; a series of workshops of mentoring their way through a maze of related business development skills.

The forums were about bringing the industry together; development of a local food supply chain that brings regional produce into the Cairns area, to retailers and restaurants, and developing an accreditation framework that links to the new regional food brand; Taste Paradise.

The sessions provided a great discussion lead by Rose Wright from the Southern Cross University. This lady knows her stuff when working along the supply chain from farmers to the consumer but also works on a political level of compliance support and regulatory reform to address the impediments placed on agribusiness entrepreneurs.

At the end of the forum it was exciting to see a very positive response from farmers, and it goes without saying the more who embrace this framework, the better chance of success. Rose’s work will continue in the region over the next six months.

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