Posted by Joy McCaffrey on May 19, 2018

Club Member Bruce Moy introduced our guest speaker for the night, Deborah Willis, who has been a primary producer for 36 years, farming in dairy, beef cattle, Australian Stock Horses and Private Native Forestry.

She is also an Industry Representative on the NSW Farmers Association Cattle and Welfare Committees, Cattle Council of Australia and past Dairy Farmers Association being involved for approximately 20 years.  She is now a Board Member of the Hunter Local Land Services and a Regional Weed Committee Representative.

Deborah studied at Tocal Agricultural College at Paterson near Maitland and as one of the first intake of girls in 1972 obtained her Diploma in Agriculture after attending school in both Sydney and Taree.

Deborah’s topic for discussion being “What is the importance of agriculture in Australia today”

In Deborah’s view there are many aspects of why agriculture is important in Australia today, just touching on a few aspects, namely statistics…...

1.    Ag contributes about $47 billion to the National Australian Gross Domestic Product of $432 billion annually.

2.    Exports $41 billion worth of Ag product-13% export revenue.

3.    Employs 301,000 people in Australia.

4.    While the 135,000 farmers in Australia feed 80 m people worldwide.

5.    Major agricultural commodities are firstly Grains and Oilseeds then Meat, Sugar Cotton Wine and Wool then Dairy and Horticulture.

To drive all this hive of activity we have in place both Government and Industry organizations protecting our shores from disease and protecting the way of life for farming families.

Government bodies include AQUIS our National biosecurity watchdog, Department of Primary Production responsible for Research & Development, ESCAS (Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme) for the live export market, Local Land Services 11 Regions in NSW, Animal Health Australia and more.
Industry Representatives include, National Farmers Federation representing the State Farming Organizations such as NSW Farmers, Cattle Council of Australia representing grass fed cattle producers, Dairy Australia, Wool Producers etc.
Funding bodies for Research & Development and marketing are Government and the producers themselves through levies on milk and livestock sold. For example, The Red Meat Industry has Meat Livestock Association.
However, let’s look at Local Land Services and our particular Region- being the Hunter Region-covering the areas of Manning Great Lakes and the Lower and Upper Hunter area. The NSW Parliament passed the Local Land Services Bill 2013 on the 27th June paving the way for 11 Regional LLS organizations, to act as an agency to liaise between government and farmers. The Local Land Services Act became fully functional in Jan 2014, repealing the Rural Lands Protection Board and the Catchment Management Authorities Act, thus replacing the old previously known LHPA and before that the Rural Lands Protection Board.
Local Land Services is virtually a combination of the RLPB, LHPA and the CMA with the aim to operate profitably while delivering services to the landholders. In the first 3 years LLS did receive funding to help with early development and delivery, however we are expected to operate as a viable business
The Hunter LLS is made up of a Board of 7 including the Chair with both govt appointed and elected board members, working with our own staff from Tocal, to effectively contribute to the production, protection and health of our farming families, our environment and our social communities. Hunter Board committees cover Audit and Governance, Healthy Landscapes and Production and Protection.
The Regional Strategic Management Plans have been formed and the Board have formed committees to direct attention to detail to our Strategic Planning covering Pest Animal Management, Regional Weed Management, all being signed off by the minister.
These plans are living documents, to allow flexibility within the management of weeds and animal pests. As the committees are made up of both the private and public sector we aim to get an accurate picture of the environment, landholders and local communities to allow us to allocate our funding and priorities accordingly.
The old Native Veg Act is now the new Biodiversity Act and we have the Biosecurity Act protecting the environment against the spread of disease and weeds.
Funding for the operation of HLLS comes from both Fed and State Govt and rate payers.
Federal Funding $2,416,000
Hunter Catchment Contribution levy $4,923,000
Landholder Rates $3,177,000
Catchment Action NSW Govt $11,275,000
National Landcare Funding still in bidding progress for this year.

The highlights of the Hunter LLS Annual Business Plan for 17/18 are:

# $1.22M to support primary producers implement sustainable and profitable management practices.

# $1.5M to maintain flood mitigation structures and floodgate management for the Lower Hunter communities with most of this funding coming from the Hunter Catchment Contribution Levy.

# $2.89M for arrange of initiatives to improve our natural environment.

# $321,000 in priority weeds and pests with 40 targeted baiting and control programs for wild dogs in 2018.

# $124,000 to increase the participation of aboriginal groups in natural resource management.

Looking at our State body the NSW Farmers Association and my involvement over the last 20 years.

I have found it interesting, challenging and growthful to be connected at the grass roots level through to the policy making and farmer lobbying group that we are.

I have seen many changes of president, each developing and contributing to agriculture in the best way they know how, some making their presence felt through the halls of parliament, others quietly maintaining their connection with the Branches and Regions delivering answers to the many situations and issues that face farmers. Many members come and go, however the passion for agriculture is at their core. Through floods and drought, low commodity prices, crippling regulations they endeavour to keep the family farm viable.

The risks for agriculture and farming in Australia are many and these effect farmers locally. The greatest risk being climate change and water availability, also red tape and the rising costs of production to farmers, electricity prices crippling high end users such as farmers in the dairy industry, increasing price of land making expansion difficult and the greater choice given to consumers regarding real or fake proteins for example, meat and eggs.

While many lament the Australian Government’s approach to “fortress Australia”, biosecurity must prevail to protect Australia’s clean, green image and our reputation for producing clean, safe nutritious food.

Mark Drury gave the Vote of Thanks to Debbie on behalf of our Club for an informative and insightful presentation.  Thank you Debbie.