SOUTH-WEST Victoria is barely a dot on the globe, but Warrnambool’s mayor Cr Jacinta Ermacora has told a national audience it has potential to be a clean, green food bowl for Asia.
Speaking at last week’s Global Foundation Australia Summit as the only local government representative, Cr Ermacora used the opportunity to promote the region’s potential as a major food producer and supplier of clean energy.
Now she wants to host a Great South Coast round table conference to develop a food manufacturing strategy aiming to expand the region’s output.
However, Cr Ermacora and Moyne Shire mayor Jim Doukas said profitability and sustainability of existing farming enterprises must first be improved before major expansion.
“Profitability and maintaining industry passion are vital,” she told The Standard yesterday.
“If we don’t have viable farms then nothing will happen on expansion.
“We need to find ways of making farming attractive to younger generations.”
Cr Doukas said profitability, not big production increase dreams, should be the first focus.
“Otherwise we’ll end up burning out the agricultural land and farmers wanting to retire will struggle to cover what they owe the banks,” he said.
“It’s all about sustainability.”
Along with other speakers at the recent summit in Melbourne, Cr Ermacora focussed on Australia’s potential to provide fresh food for the expanding Asian market.
“We must organise ourselves to ensure our future is as much as it can be,” she said. “There is no doubt the great south coast region of Victoria has all the ingredients to become the clean green food bowl for Asia.
“We need to decide to be that, identify the barriers and develop an action plan
“The agricultural output of western Victoria is bigger than Tasmania’s, producing 25 per cent of the nation’s dairy product of which 93 per cent is already exported, mostly to Asia.”
Cr Ermacora said if the region wanted to add $1 billion to its economy it could either treble tourism or increase dairying by 25 per cent.
“What do we have to offer the billions of Asians who are moving to cities no longer growing their own food, urbanising and developing middle-class tastes?” she asked.
Cr Ermacora’s list of south-west assets included fertile land, good rainfall, a good regional water corporation, renewable energy, research, skill development and education capacity, existing supply chain relationship into Asia, logistic infrastructure and a peak regional dairy body with a productivity plan.
“There is no doubt we will need to get better at what we do if our region is to successfully take up the opportunities on offer,” she said.
Her suggested options were: substantial expansion in dairying and meat production; diversify food manufacturing to reflect Asian demand and tastes; use untapped recycled water to develop intensive vegetable production; increase high-tech farming knowledge.