Interview with Kristy Reading, ABC New England

11 March 2021

KRISTY READING: Also, the Northern Tablelands has been chosen as one of a handful of places across the nation to host two new agriculture pilot programs. The first is a new tool to enable farmers to assess their personal resilience and work through a farm scale assessment of their exposure to drought and other climate risks based on economic social and also environmental indicators. The second is a climate services program which will provide farmers with access to digital platforms for historical climate information and projects. The Federal Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, joins me on the line now to talk more about these opportunities.

Good morning to you Minister.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh, good morning. Thanks for having me.

KRISTY READING: Thanks for your time today. Tell us a little bit more about these programs and how they can help farmers.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, this is part of the Drought Future Fund, the $5 billion fund we announced and Brent Finlay the chair of that, this committee has gone around, spoken to farmers. And what they're asking for is more real-time data to help them make decisions and to collate it and put it one spot. So, as you said, there's two legs to this. The first leg is around bringing together your financial information into a self-assessment tool that Deloitte's are actually piloting and working up now and working with farmers, and we'll be looking for more farmers to come with that. But to do that, we also want to see it in climatic conditions and get more granular because we all know that we rely heavily on the Bureau of Meteorology, the BoM, and sometimes that's not as granular data as we'd like. So, we're reducing the resolution down to around five kilometres for historical data for your region, and down to one kilometre for this season.

So, trying to give you more real-time climatic data on the ground that you can then work and help in your decision-making process so that it's real time. So whether that means in terms of planning or in terms of lighting off stock loads, because we're getting better forecasts and data, historical data that gives us the trends. And then a decision tool process that isn't there to make the decision for you, but just to collate all the information and also make sure you're okay.

So, it's not a perfect science but to make it a perfect science, we're just asking farmers to participate and be part of the armoury, one piece of the armoury, it's not the silver bullet, but it's one of the pieces in the armoury to help farmers prepare and get through droughts better.

KRISTY READING: Why was the Northern Tablelands chosen?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, the Northern Tablelands also is in with Condamine, which is in Queensland which is in my part of the world. And we've got a region from Queensland to Northern Tablelands primarily because of the variance in climate between Condamine and the Northern Tablelands, but also the variance in the industries. From horticulture, to sheep, to cattle, to cotton, to wheat, to sorghum. So, we looked at trying to get these regions so that when we are able to go out nationally, we can get as much data across as many climatic conditions, which varies quite much from the Northern Tablelands to Condamine and on the Darling Down. And also, the number of Commodities so that we have better data to be able to roll this out further. So, the Northern Tablelands was unique. It's very rich in agriculture but has a diverse climatic conditions as well.

KRISTY READING: How many farmers are likely- or how many would you like to be involved in these programs?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, as many as we can. We just ask them to go into the Drought Future Fund website and they're able to register. It's important we do get farmers to participate in this because I think technology will not be the total answer but it'll start to equip us with some of the tools. And if we can collate this data and start to present it to farmers in a meaningful way, then I think you'll help them in the decision-making processes into the future. So, we're encouraging as many farmers as possible to prepare to do this to come forward. It's about giving your advice, your insights as to what you're looking for in these tools as well. So, it's very important. We didn't want it to be a bureaucratic led program, we wanted to be farmer led because ultimately, we want farmers to use it.

KRISTY READING: Do you see any challenges in rolling out a program that involves digital means as well given not everyone has adequate access?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, exactly and this is one of the challenges that we'll work through. We've got to work through with our telcos and NBN to improve the telecommunications. I think that's the bottom line. I've actually seen, representing about 10% of the Australian landmass and 43 per cent of Queensland, that our telecommunications in fact has declined over the last, particularly over the last 18 months, whether that be through land and mobile or particularly through the NBN. We as a government have got to do more work on that, particularly holding Telstra to account. But also making sure that NBN get their house in order as well, particularly around satellites - the Sky Muster, we're seeing a diminishing amount of that. But another satellite has gone up I'm advised and that will obviously help in getting capacity, but the drain on our internet is being greater because of this type of data that we're trying to use, along with Netflix and all those types of things.

So, we've got to continue to invest in that and we're just saying we will continue to invest in telecommunications, but these types of tools will be pivotal to us once we get the comms up and going to the stage that we should expect in the bush.

KRISTY READING: David Littleproud, thanks for joining us on our Breakfast program today.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.

KRISTY READING: Thank you. That is David Littleproud, Federal Minister for Agriculture talking to me there about a couple of opportunities for local farmers on the Northern Tablelands to get involved in a couple of projects, pilot programs being held across the region.