By CAITLIN CROWLEY
THE Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) has welcomed a focus on mitigating biosecurity risks and helping farmers prepare for drought as part of the $550 million agriculture spend in the 2023-24 state budget handed down this week.
However QFF CEO Jo Sheppard said it was important to unpack funding commitments across a range of budget areas including transport, energy, health and housing with farmers facing complex challenges.
“We focus a lot on the DAF allocation, but really we need to look across portfolios because most of them are really relevant to ag,” Sheppard said.
“I’m interested in unpacking the investments in health, particularly around regional hospitals and mental health support.
“Recent studies have shown that overall mental health for farmers and people living in rural and remote communities is actually declining, so this is something we really need to get together and work collaboratively to shift the dial on that.”
“I think that has been exacerbated by the workforce shortage – it’s putting people under significant pressure.
“The workforce crisis affecting agriculture but really affecting most sectors is very real and having a real impact on farm.
“We’re seeing farmers working seven days a week, really struggling to do business as usual, let alone capitalise on some of the growth opportunities and the housing crisis is certainly exacerbating the problem.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Tony Perrett said Labor’s budget had put Queensland’s “agriculture, tourism and lifestyle” at risk, by cutting the overall biosecurity investment from $231 million in 2022-23 to $151 million in 2023-24.
“This budget has left rural and regional communities behind at a time when they have never needed more support,” Perrett said.
“A failure to fund biosecurity year after year has left Queensland at the mercy of fire ants, with the pests continuing to spread across the state.
“To make matters worse Minister Furner is closing down the Cape York Biosecurity Facility in Coen, at a time biosecurity threats to our state have never been so serious.”
Jo Sheppard said she’d been asked by various media outlets whether the biosecurity spend was enough and that in her opinion, “it’s never enough”.
“It’s not always just about the amount of money – we get very fixated on the big numbers,” she said.
“It’s often about how government then delivers on these announcements. So it’s about how closely they work with industry and communities to make sure that it’s effectively delivered on-ground.”
$21.7 million will be spent over 5 years on action against current and emerging plant pests and diseases, on top of $22 million over 5 years already announced to tackle increasing animal biosecurity risks.
Jo Sheppard said with threats like lumpy skin disease and Japanese encephalitis on producers’ radar, funding for both animal and plant risks was very important.
“Investing in biosecurity is ultimately an investment in all Queenslanders and we welcome funding allocations to further uplift our biosecurity preparedness and capability,” Sheppard said.
“The actual number of potential threats to plants and broad acre intensive cropping are phenomenal.”
The budget also allocated $61 million over four years to support the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, which discovered and destroyed fire ant nests on the Darling Downs this week.
Sheppard told the Caller, while biosecurity was often seen as a national issue and responsibility, she thinks it’s equally important to build state, regional and local capability to respond to threats.
“I think where we need to get to is that we skip the hysteria step and go straight to the identification, preparedness, response step and that will only come through practice,” she said.
“Through building really strong systems, through building really strong processes and relationships between all levels of government industry and community. So I think that’s where we really need to focus our energies.”
Helping primary producers prepare for the next big drought was another key budget focus, with up to $48.5 million over three years to be invested in programs and grants and $100 million over two years allocated for loans under the Palaszczuk government’s Drought Assistance and Reform Package.
“We have had significant rainfall in the past few years, but with drier conditions on the horizon we are investing heavily through the budget in ensuring primary producers and the agriculture supply chain are drought resilient,” Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said.
Jo Sheppard said it was pleasing to see the ongoing focus on building preparedness for weather risks, but there were still enormous gaps, particularly around insurance.
“QFF is currently doing a significant project around identifying gaps for farmers growing particular crops in particular areas and in many cases farmers either aren’t able to get insurance because it’s completely cost prohibitive or actually not available,” Sheppard said.