Australian Young Farmer of the Year, Jan Vydra has serious concerns for the future of farming.
Jan has returned from a national trip, inspecting current and potential herb growing properties from the Northern Territory to Tasmania for his company Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs.
Jan has been making these trips for the past three years to search for quality growers and new business opportunities, but it was his latest travels that have him worried.
Farmers around Australia raised many concerns with Jan: urban growth boundaries swallowing up fertile hectares in Victoria; rises in input costs but no increase in end-price, with some farmers getting the same prices they were getting 10-20 years ago.
The Government’s lack of action on freight facilities in Darwin Harbour; the monitoring of foreign labour; and the deregistering of chemicals by the DPI were also concerns raised by the 40 farmers Jan spoke with.
Jan believes that if action is taken sooner rather than later Australia has the potential to be a key player in meeting the needs of the global market for fresh food.
“Some experts talk about a fresh food crisis for Australia and with what I have seen recently I think that it is a real concern. The average age of farmers is 55 years old and with sales of fertile farmland to foreign interests it does not bode well for Australian fresh food production,” Jan said.
Jan is also concerned that young people seem reluctant to choose farming as a career option. At 29, and after only three years as a farmer, he and his business partner William Pham have developed Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs into a multi-million dollar agribusiness.
“I’m just an ordinary Australian and I believe that if I can do it anyone can,” Jan said.
Jan believes our Governments should support primary production with investment for start-ups and they should encourage the use of innovative practices aimed at reducing production costs. The Government needs to facilitate export opportunities into Asia and beyond, and tighten the laws controlling increasing foreign ownership of Australia’s farmland.
Jan also supports a national agribusiness development fund; Government support for young people considering farming as a career; and the development of a consolidated export portal for the industry which would allow effective access to international markets.
At the United Nations global food security is a top priority and if President Obama’s comments during his recent visit are to be accepted then Asia will be a major player in the future for many reasons including food production.
Jan says: “I believe that with the right framework and support structure Australia can meet the challenges of climate change and population increases which are among the central issues in the food security debate that faces our region and beyond.”