Setting up for growth

Setting up for growth

New Federal Agriculture Minister, Senator Bridget McKenzie, says she wants to understand the challenges Australia’s agricultural sector is facing “at a regional level”.

After only three days in the job, Senator McKenzie arrived in East Gippsland with Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, who proudly showed her around part of his vast electorate on Monday.

Mr Chester said the Minister’s visit to Gippsland so soon after her appointment “highlights the national importance of our region”.

After visiting the Lakes Entrance Fishermen’ s Co-Operative, Senator McKenzie was whisked to Bulmer Farms in Lindenow where she was led on a tour of the successful salad and vegetable growing business.

Her visit even took Bill Bulmer by surprise, who claimed to have no knowledge of it until informed by the waiting media.

“It’s good she’ s out and about already and getting an understanding of the horticultural sector,” he said.

“It’s a pleasure to have a female in the role and great to see her here in the early days.”

Mr Bulmer said one of the main concerns for businesses like Bulmer Farms was the need for “a reliable workforce”.

He said while the Federal Government’s extension of the seasonal worker program from six to nine months had been helpful, the horticulture and agriculture industries “needed continuity”.

“In the intensified vegetable sector we need a skilled workforce for 12 months each year,” he said.

Mr Bulmer said it was virtually impossible to attract workers from Australia because of a perception “it is seen as mundane, tireless work”.

“Unless we can change that perception and provide career paths in the agriculture and horticulture sector, Australia would be forever reliant on a skilled workforce from overseas,” he said.

Senator McKenzie said she understood the importance of having a skilled workforce for the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors.

“It’s incredibly important that we make sure that it is profitable and sustainable going forward,” she said.

“I see a really bright future for agriculture, forestry and fisheries here in Gippsland and indeed right across the nation.”

As the skies rained on Bulmer Farms, Senator McKenzie said she was keen to hear how those involved in all three sectors wanted to grow their business and employ more people locally.

She said individual producers had taken advantage of Australia’s Free Trade Agreements to export overseas.

“But I know there’s a lot more growth to be realised (here in Gippsland) if we can get the settings right.”

In April this year, Mr Chester was successful in securing $10 million from the Federal Government to help safeguard a reliable water supply for irrigators in the Lindenow Valley.

The fund will help farmers to finance large-scale water storage projects on their farms that will enable them to take advantage of high flows in the Mitchell River during spring.

PICTURED: Bulmer Farms’ Andrew Bulmer, Federal Agriculture Minister, Senator Bridget McKenzie, East Gippsland Shire mayor, Cr Natalie O’Connell, and the Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, during a visit to Bulmer Farms on Monday.