Matt Linnegar.A LOOMING food security crisis will be exacerbated unless the Murray Darling Basin debate is reframed to protect Australia’s vital agricultural base, according to newly-appointed National Farmers Federation chief executive Matt Linnegar.
A new Institute of Labor Studies report states that Australia will be a net importer of key staples including dairy, lamb, fruit and vegetables by 2050 with the loss of productive land slashing agricultural output if current immigration levels are sustained.
Mr Linnegar said that scenario would be worsened unless the Federal Government threw out the Murray Darling Basin Plan in its current form and looked at new alternatives for water reform that supported regional communities.
“If you add these predictions on to the impact of cutbacks proposed in the basin plan, then that equation could be much worse,” Mr Linnegar told The Land.
“The issues of food security and a growing population – the broader issue is really about understanding the place of farmers and the rural sector and where it stands in Australian society,” he said.
“I very much see the NFF, and my role within the NFF, as being to improve the standing of farmers and rural communities in terms of the psyche of Australian society. That’s the headline stuff for me, and then there’s a set of sub-issues extending from that.”
Mr Linnegar agreed his appointment, which takes effect on March 14, came at a critical time for agriculture.
“With the issues on the table at the moment, you can only see this time as a critical juncture in agriculture, and NFF history as well,” he said.
Mr Linnegar said it was important for the Government to demonstrate that farmers could have faith in the Windsor inquiry into the Murray Darling Basin impacts, set up in the wake of a series of angry protests in Basin communities.
Last December, Opposition Water spokesman Barnaby Joyce foreshadowed farmers marching on Parliament to protest the botched water reforms.
“I think if farmers believe that the basin plan and government handling of it are moving in the right direction, and continue to move in the right direction, by bringing balance into the debate, the question is – will there be a need for that action? If farmers believe it is not moving in right direction, this action might be something they’ll consider,” Mr Linnegar said.
Mr Linnegar, 40, has 17 years representing agriculture, most recently as Corporate and Customer Operations general manager with Murrumbidgee Irrigation.
His resume includes stints as Ricegrowers’ Association executive director, and Marketing Co-ordinator for the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation (now Meat and Livestock Australia).
“My previous roles have given me a good understanding of not just the agriculture and farming sector but of the broader regional community and agribusiness more broadly, while I have direct experience in meat, rice and irrigation,” he said.
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