Farmers hopeful of inland rail deal in federal budget

The apple harvest is in full swing, and Ashley Green is reaping the rewards of a year’s hard work.

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The Adelaide Hills grower hopes agriculture will receive a fair slice of the budget pie in a state where investment in defence has received widespread attention.

“We’ve got 60 people working here today,” he said. 

“I’ve got a friend down the road who has a cherry orchard, in harvest he has 1000 people employed.

“That’s only two farms, there’s a lot of other employment and businesses in the hills, and that could double with the right economic stimulus.”

Mr Green wants to see more money set aside to help his sector develop export markets.

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While other horticulture producers, including orange growers, have seen a massive bump in exports because of the China Free Trade Agreement, apple farmers do not yet have access.

“The Free Trade Agreement isn’t necessarily a green light, it is just an agreement,” he said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in market access, negotiations, and on import protocols around pests and diseases.”

Access to foreign markets is negotiated commodity by commodity.  

“I believe it would be the biggest thing to happen to our industry if we could sell to China and some of the other Asian countries,” he said.

“We would see investment like never before.”

National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said other items on the rural wishlist included money to fix mobile black spots and changes that would improve access to seasonal workers. 

He said farmers in the eastern states would also be listening for a commitment to the building and upgrading of inland rail infrastructure.

“We’ll be listening for things that really make a difference to farmers to reduce their costs across the supply chain, but also to provide them with improved market access,” Mr Mahar said.

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“Things like a commitment to inland rail, which we know will significantly reduce costs and increase opportunities for the Australian farm sector.”

A freight corridor from Brisbane to Melbourne via the NSW town of Parkes would cost an estimated $10 billion and take about 10 years to complete.

NSW Farmers Association chief executive Matt Brand said it would make a critical difference to farmers living across the state.

“The inland rail [project] is very important,” he said.

“If you look at what we’re seeing in other markets around the world, getting product to port quickly when you’re an export-oriented business is very important, and that’s why we’re really encouraged by the noise we’re hearing around inland rail.”

Last year’s budget delivered a number of small gains for farmers, but the biggest wins came later, with the delivery of the $4 billion agriculture competitiveness white paper.

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