The road to food supremacy

RELATED COVERAGE: Gippsland’s ‘holding all the right cards’

Position Gippsland for its national food bowl destiny now, or risk being overrun by the competition.

That’s the clear strategy of the final Gippsland Food Plan, a policy blueprint strategy released on Friday, mapping the region’s pathway to national food production prominence.

Coined as a “call to arms” for farming and agribusiness stakeholders to capitalise on Gippsland’s high rainfall fertile soil in an ever increasing global demand for food, the Regional Development Australia Gippsland document is the first of its kind in regional Australia.

“Food and agriculture is a clear area of strength for Gippsland, but if we don’t create the policy framework to guide us in realising that we risk being overrun by other regions,” RDAG chair Richard Elkington said.

Listing the region’s success stories, such as dairying powerhouse the Macalister Irrigation District, Flavorite Tomatoes in Warragul, and Lion Foods – Australia’s largest fresh dairy production facility on Morwell’s eastern fringe, Mr Elkington said momentum was already on the region’s side.

Identifying four main priorities – promoting growth, enabling infrastructure, innovation and advocacy – the plan sets down the parameters by which future industry and government investment decisions can be made to boost the sector.

Mr Elkington said while the Latrobe Valley’s plan to transition and diversify its economy away from power generation was still a high priority, it had lost some urgency since the former Federal Government dropped its plans to close a Valley power station, exacerbated by pending moves to repeal the carbon tax.

“Without that driver for change there – what is going to happen to jobs in the region? We need that strong driver in place to ensure we don’t drop the ball on diversification, and this is one way to do that,” he said.

“So this plan now is first about a marketing exercise – about getting the public and stakeholders excited about what we can do here with our farming sector.”

Mr Elkington said one key to creating a successful regional economy was identifying opportunities 10 years in advance, such as increased food processing, before ensuring the education and training prospects were in place to feed into the emerging industries.

He pointed to Gippsland’s natural competitor in the dairying sector – South West Victoria – which he said had already audited its workforce capacity.

“If we don’t understand the growth of our own region, we risk being overrun – these are the things we need to start doing now.”

Expressions of interest are now being sought from business and industry groups for projects which “clearly demonstrate economic or community benefit” and align with the food plan’s priorities, with a total of $250,000 set aside by the State Government for successful projects.