Tree-mendous opportunity

DEPUTY Prime Minister and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce joined Gippsland MHR and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester on the election campaign trail in Heyfield on Thursday announcing $520,000 in funding to bring trees back onto farming land.

During a visit to the ASH Heyfield Mill, Mr Joyce siad Forest and Wood Products Australia  would use the agro-forestry research and development project would put more dollars in the pockets of farmers and benefit small businesses through the strategic use of trees in agriculture.

“The Coalition’s understanding of, and commitment to, the agricultural sector is unmatched,” he said. 

“The Coalition is investing serious dollars to get serious returns for our farmers, whether it’s through our sharply focused $4 billion Ag White Paper, the three Free Trade Agreements we’ve secured with China, Korea and Japan, or doubling our investment in research and development,” Mr Joyce said.

“It is money well spent. ABARES estimates for every dollar the government invests in rural R&D, broadacre farmers generate a $12 return over 10 years. That’s long-term money flowing into households and businesses throughout regional Australia.

“This project is a classic example of smart investment in R&D. Tree coverage can have all manner of benefits for farmers, ranging from greater animal productivity because of improved shelter for stock, better soil management and direct sales of timber off-property.

This grant will be matched by more than $890,000 in cash and in-kind contributions by Forest Wood Product Australia and its partner organisations.”

Mr Chester said the research results could produce real results for farmers and businesses in the local area. 

“Gippsland is home to some of the best farmers in the world who know the importance of good land management and the value of looking after their livestock,” Mr Chester said.

“The knowledge gleaned from this project is going to build on their achievements and lock in better returns for them and their communities for years to come. It can also be applied across the nation.

“On-farm timber is a great across-the-board asset for primary producers. The right management plan can lead to a boost in milk production and improved weight gain in cattle, protect our fragile soils, create a better environment for honeybees, act as a source of income if it is harvested and even help with carbon sequestration.

“The more we can learn about getting the best out of existing and new stands of timber, the better off our landholders will be in terms of income and looking after their greatest asset — their land.”

FWPA managing director Ric Sinclair welcomed the announcement and noted that commercial trees on farms could help income diversification and deliver proven environmental benefits. 

“This research will provide decision support tools to help farmers make better decisions about trees on farms and it builds upon more than 20 years of world-leading research by the CSIRO,” Mr Sinclair said. 

The funding comes from the government’s $52 million Rural R&D for Profit Program for a range of projects focusing on soil, water and natural resource management, advanced technology, biosecurity and on-farm adoption of R&D.

Funding is provided to Research and Development Corporations, who partner with one or more research agencies, universities, funding bodies, businesses, producer groups, or not-for-profit organisations on projects that aim to deliver benefits on the farm.

FWPA will partner with Dairy Australia, the CSIRO, Private Forests Tasmania, the Rural Industries RDC, the University of Tasmania, Greening Australia, Forico and the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association on this project. 

DEPUTY Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce met young farmers and dairy leaders in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley on Wednesday, and again yesterday behind closed doors in Heyfield.

He told the farmers in Tongala the turmoil in the dairy industry would be short-term and that global demand for dairy products would remain strong.

“We need a sense of resilience. But ultimately . . . once the issues in Europe go through the system, then the long-term trend of the increase in consumption of dairy products globally will continue,” he said.

“It’s not a case that the industry is in a systemic downturn, it’s got a short-term problem. And we’ll find our way through this and we’ll continue on.

Mr Joyce also denied there was a need for “exit packages” for dairy farmers.

The nation’s dairy farmers have been rocked in recent weeks as major dairy processors Murray Goulburn and Fonterra slashed the prices they pay farmers for their milk.

Fonterra then did a partial backflip for May and June payments.

 Mr Joyce stepped around questions about whether he was about to announce a package of measures for the industry. “We are already delivering right now,” he said.

“Well it’s great to be given the opportunity to catch up with the dairy farmers and with key representatives from the dairy industry,” he said.

“We had I believe an effective meeting. There are some key things there that we can basically start on immediately. 

“As I’ve stated before, we have Farm Household Allowance that is available,” Mr Joyce said. 

“People said that they wanted a more expeditious rollout of that. We’ll see what we can do to get further resources into that space to assist people to get through the paperwork that is essential to get access to Farm Household Allowance.” 

In addition, Mr Joyce suggested farmers might be able to borrow at concessional rates to carry them through the crisis.

“We have access to a quarter of a billion dollars a year which we got through the (Agriculture) White Paper in concessional loans, so let’s see if we can make more of that available for people in the dairy industry,” he said.

In response to the crisis, dairy farmers on Wednesday called for $20,000 in cash grants.

Australian Dairy Farmers lobby group president Simone Jolliffe said farmers proposed a one-off $15,000 cash grant to help with expenses, and a $5000 ‘professional advice grant’ that would help farmers make informed business decisions.

Mr Joyce said he would ask for a change in eligibility criteria for drought recovery loans so  they were available to dairy farmers hit by plummeting milk payments.