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Published: 30 November 2018   •   Opinion pieces

There's no surer sign that the search for innovation in our country is alive and well than the continued popularity of field days, among locals and city visitors alike. People turn up to these fantastic events across rural Australia because they're curious about finding better ways of doing things and keen to keep pace with rest of the farming community.

In a complete vote of confidence in the sector's capacity to innovate, the National Farmers Federation this year announced a farm gate value production target of $100 billion over the next decade. The 2030 Roadmap demonstrates the real confidence in a community that is among the most adaptable and forward thinking of Australia's industry sectors.

Applying continuous innovation to the way farms are run has already led to an industry worth about $60 billion a year. Machinery has become smarter, with drones to monitor crops and fences, computers to accurately determine irrigation demand, infra-red equipment that distinguishes pest plants, and precision cropping enabled by satellite-linked global positioning. There are more efficient fertilisers and herbicides, more selective pesticides and more drought tolerant and higher yielding plant varieties. Farm business is supported by more sophisticated transport options, supply chains and marketing advice.

By adopting these innovations, farmers have improved their production, found new markets and protected their future.

These more efficient ways of working have of course had an impact on local communities—effecting skill requirements, employment patterns and regional economies.

Another area that can drive profitability into farm businesses is the adoption of water efficiencies. As drought puts pressure on the Basin's finite water resources, now more than ever, many farmers are considering the opportunities and risks relating to water.

Just as river managers need to run the river efficiently to meet multiple demands, the strong uptake of opportunities funded under the Basin Plan in the past 10 years has demonstrated the desire among many irrigators to prepare for the future by modernising their water infrastructure.

Individual farmers have been motivated by a range of reasons to be more water efficient: to support them through drought, to improve their crop production, to free-up water for sale or to prepare for the forecast impacts of climate change—a future with less water.

While some of the water they have saved has improved the river's health—itself a community asset—the remainder has added to farm productivity.

These publicly supported innovations have been available alongside the more efficient tractor, the laser technology, mechanised storage facilities and so on. Water efficiency should continue to be one of the areas for investment that farmers consider when looking to improve their business.

Under discussion in communities at the moment are opportunities for irrigation networks, industry, communities and farmers to modernise through water efficiency projects to increase by 450 gigalitres the amount of water available for a healthy river environment. Efficiency projects to deliver water savings for the environment also include urban, industrial, off-farm and metering initiatives.

This requirement of the Basin Plan is the other side of the coin that has reduced by 605 gigalitres the amount of water that irrigators need to return to the river, thanks to environmental efficiencies agreed by state governments.

Innovations that have arisen under the Basin Plan are all about ensuring the river system as a whole is fit and healthy to support sustainable industries, communities and the environment for future generations. I encourage all people in the Basin to seriously look at water efficiency opportunities and consider ways those innovations could work for them.

Flexibility and adaptability are the strength of the farming community. I applaud the forward thinking that continues to underpin the optimism and collective inventiveness that will help this sector become a $100 billion sector by 2030.

The principle behind achieving that goal today remains the same as ever: helping each other to find better ways of doing things.

Neil Andrew, Chair, Murray–Darling Basin Authority

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