THE word is that Australian agriculture is about to experience another golden age.
Certainly there are great prospects for continuing success in the sheep industry, with increased market access and a rapidly increasing middle class in Asia, combined with the outstanding quality of our sheep producers and processors and a dollar not overinflated because of a mining boom.
Recently there has been talk of governments mandating the use of RFID tags in sheep. The reasons put forward are to improve traceability for biosecurity and for productivity gains.
The last thing the sheep industry needs is a massive cost base increase imposed on us by our governments. The RFID tags will only be a small part of the cost with massive changes to delivery and transport systems required.
From now on agriculture must do everything from a productivity and profitability perspective. No longer can we tolerate government-imposed schemes that increase the cost of doing business, for no gain.
The current mob-based system has outstanding traceability when the National Business Rules are implemented. All states signed up to these years ago, but few are entirely implementing or enforcing them – a bad tradesman blames his tools. For traceability, the current system is outstanding, with NSW DPI trials continually show that traceability is approaching 98 percent.
Recently, the Victorian Auditor-General found many areas of risk for an emergency animal disease outbreak. Most of these were where government had reduced resources over many years, or areas they never attempted to address, such as the massive risks of the peri-urban spread. The Beale Review into Australia’s Quarantine and Biosecurity Arrangements commented that traceability is only part of the biosecurity continuum.
There are other key issues around national consistency, supply of information and disease prevention more broadly. Mandating RFIDs in sheep will not address these concerns, and the suggestion of a piecemeal approach to mandating RFIDs in some states and not others, would lead to enormous confusion and will do nothing to enhance national traceability.
On the issue of productivity, it simply is not for the government to decide how individual businesses should manage their productivity and profitability. Individual producers will use technology as and when they see fit for their own profitability. If governments start to mandate such a change it reduces the competitive pressure on manufacturers of such technology to innovate and develop a cheaper more efficient product that is demanded by the market place, particularly if government subsidies are involved a as a sweetener in the initial stages of compulsion.
There are currently no regulations preventing the use of RFIDs by producers in their flock. Producers are quite free to do so. Recently, Prime Minister Turnbull spoke of innovation, being flexible and adaptable and responding to the market to drive growth and employment. This is perhaps even truer in regional Australia than ever before.
Sheep producers must be allowed to decide how to run their own businesses. Governments must do their bit to provide a profitable framework over the long term. Mandating a massive fixed cost impost onto sheep producers is not one of them.