Nestle Australia Chairman Elizabeth Proust has called for more investment to be given to food manufacturing and food production, saying Australia is in danger of exporting raw materials rather than being a country that exports goods with added value.
The Australian has reported that a roundtable forum has taken place wherein leading directors of various companies were asked to identify the sectors with the most potential for future growth. While several directors pointed to the agricultural sector as the one which has the unique opportunity to be marketed using the term “Brand Australia”, Ms. Proust raised the issue of not having value added to produce.
“If you use the analogy of the mining industry, where all we did was largely export the raw product, we’re in danger of just doing that with agriculture, wheat, milk, etc, and the real challenge is can we find ways to value/add to all of our superb natural products and farm produce,” she said.
“There’s almost no new investment in food production, in food manufacture and, in fact, if you look at what’s happening in the Goulburn Valley, fruit rotting on the ground because of closures of factories there.”
Ms. Proust said she would be very cautious about Australia’s image as an exporter of raw materials rather than be a country that ships out the final or the almost final product.
Meanwhile, Nicole Birrell, SMS Management director and former ANZ executive, says Australia has the potential to be the food bowl for many parts of the world.
Ms. Birrell says China’s interest in Australian wheat is very encouraging and is something that’s probably been coming for a long time.
“There’s a lot of innovation happening in that sector. The challenge is always to actually get people to go and live in the more rural areas as opposed to, you know, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, but I think that’s one sector that could have a very bright future.”
Michaela Healey, group executive at NAB, echoed Ms. Birrell’s view that there is a real challenge to motivate people to move to the regions.
“One of the other challenges is how do we create viable farming communities, and the willingness of Australians to go and live in remote areas, work in abattoirs, pick fruit, harvest,” she said.
“I think it’s not just the foreign investment; it’s so many elements to do with our country gravitating towards living on the coast rather than being willing to invest time in agriculture across our big brown land.”