Aussie food – Available, Affordable, Accessible

By: Harrison Hunkin

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Australia is among the world’s most food-secure countries the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences says

Australia's food is secure during COVID-19
Australia produces more food than it consumes, exporting approximately 70 per cent of production

Despite severe drought, bushfires and the impacts from Covid-19, Australia is one of the most food-secure countries in the world, the latest ABARES Insight report has revealed.

While scenes of empty supermarket shelves here in Australia have raised ‘understandable’ concerns around our country’s food supply,  the report – which was published on April 17 – says Australia ranks alongside Germany, Canada and France as one of the world’s most food secure nations.

In fact, Australia exports roughly 70 per cent of agricultural products according to ABARES, which in layman’s terms means Australia produces considerably more food than it consumes.

According to ABARES executive director Dr Steve Hatfield-DoddsAustralian food production is higher than consumption even during drought years.

"Some of our largest industries, such as beef and wheat, are heavily export-focused," he says.

"Other industries like horticulture, pork and poultry sell most of their production into the domestic market, with an emphasis on the supply of fresh produce," he adds.

"Australian agricultural production and food supply chains are adapted to cope with our very variable climate," Dr Hatfield-Dodds says. "This results in stable supply for domestic consumption, while exports absorb the ups and downs associated with wet and dry periods," he adds.

A break down of exported products - Graph courtesy of ABARES 

Empty supermarket shelves, therefore, suggest not an indication of food shortages, but instead a result of ‘logistics taking time to adapt to the large unexpected surge in purchasing’ the report says.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has taken Australia and the world by surprise. Coming after severe drought conditions in eastern Australia, concerns have been raised about Australian food security. These concerns are understandable but misplaced," Dr Hatfield-Dodds says.

Statistics supplied in the ABARES report illustrates that since 2006 Australia has never consumed more than it has produced in four key food products – wheat, beef, fruit and nuts and rice. Interestingly, through this time the country has seen a financial crisis, bushfires, severe floods and widespread drought.

Encouragingly, the Bureau of Meteorology’s recent seasonal forecast is predicting higher than average rainfall across Australia during Autumn and Winter. ABARES says this could potentially provide the "best agricultural production in several years".

"Recent rain and a positive seasonal forecast make it more likely that production volumes will increase, providing the best outlook in several years. Global grains stocks are also abundant," Dr Hatfield-Dodds says.

The International Grains Council is forecasting that world wheat, rice, maize (corn), and soybean production will all reach record levels in 2020–21."

The BOM seasonal forecast is predicting above average rainfall
The BOM seasonal forecast is predicting above average rainfall - Courtesy of ABARES

EXPORT ISSUES

But could we see issues arise around export and imports? As mentioned, Australia exports approximately 70 per cent of its agricultural products and imports approximately 11 per cent of our food value. (Prominent imported products include frozen vegetables, seafood products and beverages.)

"These imports play an important role in meeting consumer preferences for taste and variety," Dr Hatfield-Dodds says. 

"While action is already in train to address key issues, it will be important for business and government to continue to actively monitor and manage these emerging risks."

ABARES states that any potential restrictions or disruptions on imported food products would be unlikely to have any impact on the food security of Australia, but rather disappoint or inconvenience some consumers.

Imported food products account for roughly 11 per cent – imported fresh food and beverages account to 1.6 per cent - Graph courtesy of ABARES

It isn’t quite the same for export. Australia’s agricultural export equates to $48 billion (2018-19), and the industry has shortages and disruptions impacting on profitability.

However, the Federal Government’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism should provide some assistance to agricultural exporters.

The $110 million initiative will see export flights to key export regions opened. Eligible products include seafood, premium red meat (including beef and pork), dairy (including fresh milk and yoghurt) and premium fruits and packaged salad or vegetables.

Return flights will arrive with vital medical supplies such as medicines and equipment. 

The initiative is targeting key export nations such as China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Araba Emirates.

The Federal Government says that the initiative will help Australian producers to protect the jobs of those who rely upon Australia’s export of safe, quality and premium food to the world.

KEY STATS:

  • Australia ranks among Germany, Canada and France as one of the most food-secure countries in the world.
  • Australia produces more food than it consumes, exporting approximately 70 per cent of production.
  • Imported food products account for roughly 11 per cent – imported fresh food and beverages account to 1.6 per cent.
  • New International Freight Assistance Mechanism from the Federal Government implemented to assist Australian ag export business.

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