Article – Barnaby Joyce’s beef about ‘ridiculous’ food bowl

4 August 2014
Jared Owens and Rachel Baxendale
The Australian

AUSTRALIA must abandon illogical rhetoric about becoming the food bowl of Asia because it is ridiculous and “read as a threat overseas’’, says Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Tony Abbott has long championed such rhetoric, often repeated by his frontbenchers, but Mr Joyce yesterday warned that plans to become an agricultural superpower were unrealistic.
“We feed right now about 60 million people. If we doubled our production … we couldn’t even feed half of Indonesia. Let’s stop talking (that) we are going to feed the whole of Southeast Asia with four billion people,” Mr Joyce told Sky News’s Australian Agenda.
“We’re not going to be the food basket of Asia. We have to dispense with that rhetoric. It is ridiculous. It is read as a threat overseas.
“We are going to be selling a premium product to a premium market that is not going to be a threat to the … other farmers (in our region).”
Mr Joyce’s shift in rhetoric, endorsed yesterday by the National Farmers Federation and the Labor opposition, comes as the government seals lucrative trade deals with Japan and South Korea and works towards agreement with China. The move also comes as the government this fortnight delivers its overdue green paper on agriculture policy. A white paper is due later this year.
NFF president Brent Finlay said Australia could never compete on ­average-quality, average-priced food because production costs were too high. “Politicians like to grab on to phrases, and the ‘food bowl to Asia’ got a good run,” Mr Finlay told The Australian.
“What will distinguish Australian agricultural produce is it is high quality, it’s clean and — this is a very key thing — it’s safe.”
Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said he had spurned the “food bowl of Asia” rhetoric as Kevin Rudd’s agriculture minister, instead emphasising what he termed the middle-class Asian dining boom. He said the industry had been gripped by inertia by the stalled white paper, which Mr Joyce said had been held up by the 675 public submissions ­received.
Both Labor and Coalition figures have championed Australia as a future food bowl for Asia in ­recent years.
Harry Lawson, 46, is the managing director of Lawsons Angus, the largest Angus breeder in Australia, which supplies genetics to global markets including Indo­nesia, China and Russia.
Mr Lawson agreed that Aus­tralia’s role was in supplying the premium market and leading ­innovation and technological development in Asian agriculture.
“I understand where Barnaby’s coming from, having travelled a lot.
“It’s often misconstrued in ­Indonesia that we’re going to compete with their farmers,” he said.
“We’re not going to be able to supply all the beef and lamb, but we can have a much bigger in­fluence in supplying breeding stock, technology and management systems.”
Mr Abbott, in campaigning for the prime ministership last year, emphasised the potential for farming in northern Australia.
In December, as Prime Min­ister, he pledged to build “a strong agriculture sector by fulfilling its potential as the food bowl of Asia”.
Courtesy of The Australian