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Nation's food bowl -

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Nation's food bowl

Broadcast: 28/09/2010

Reporter: Martin Cuddihy

Experts are gathering tonight for a three day forum contemplating Australia's food security with
the growing global population. Steps are already being made to turn Tasmania into the nation's food
bowl.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Experts are gathering in Brisbane tonight to contemplate the nation's
food security.

The three day forum hopes to pinpoint Australia's role in feeding a rapidly rising global
population.

With the Murray Darling Basin scaling back production, and some experts predicting food prices will
rise by as much as 50 per cent in the next decade the question is, who will make up the shortfall?

With one tenth of Australia's rainfall and only one per cent of its landmass, Tasmania is being
offered up as part of the solution and already steps are being made to turn the Apple Isle into an
important new food bowl.

Martin Cuddihy reports.

MARTIN CUDDIHY, REPORTER: The Murray Darling System has been the country's traditional food bowl
for decades.

It produces everything from red meat to fruit, rice and wool.

This regional heartland is home to three quarters of Australia's irrigated land and provides 40 per
cent of our rural income.

JONATHAN WEST, INNOVATION RESEARCH CENTRE: If you take out five billion dollars worth of production
from the Murray Darling Basin, we will become a net importer of food. That will shock many
Australians.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: But over development coupled with years of drought is choking the country's biggest
river system.

And what could shock even more is the suggestion that the Murray Darling's days as the food bowl
are numbered.

JONATHAN WEST: We need to increase production of food if we're going to be self sufficient or an
exporter of food.

The only two places you can do that are Tasmania - which has a surplus of water - or the northwest
of Western Australia which also has a surplus of water.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The founding director of the Australian Innovation Research Centre believes the
focus needs to move away from the Murray Darling system.

Professsor Jonathan West is an expert in agribusiness and has worked for Governments in France, New
Zealand and Japan.

Now he's turned his attention to the island state.

JONATHAN WEST: Tasmania can take up the slack and can fill the hole that's been created in our food
system from the Murray Darling Basin.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The plan is for a 400 million-dollar network of irrigation projects to turn
Tasmania into the food bowl of the nation.

Here's how it's meant to work:

A series of pipelines pump abundant fresh water from the saturated western part of Tasmania down
from the Central Highlands and into drier areas. Some of the water will be stored in dams and
reservoirs and some will be pumped straight onto crops and pasture.

DAVID BARTLETT, TASMANIAN PREMIER: Twelve per cent of all of Australia's rainfall falls on one and
a half per cent of its landmass - that is, Tasmania.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: It's hoped the water will add a billion dollars each to the dairy, horticulture,
red meat, aquaculture and wine industries.

The idea's been embraced and taken to the national stage by Tasmania's Premier, David Bartlett

DAVID BARTLETT: We have good rainfall - good consistent rainfall - and we have a hundred years of
experience in managing, moving and utilising - exploiting -that water.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: One of the places earmarked for development is Tunbridge - half way between
Launceston and Hobart. This is Tasmania's dry heart.

All too often rain clings to the mountains, not falling where it's needed.

But Richard Gardener is a farmer who's one step ahead. He built a dam ten years ago.

RICHARD GARDENER, FARMER: Tasmania's agricultural production will never really flourish until we
can consistently produce produce of a good quality - but more, just being able to consistently
produce it.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The land in central Tasmania has been worked for more than 150 years.

Now many of the region's farmers are now throwing their support behind a pipeline to supply the
community.

RICHARD GARDENER: It's all about being able to control your production. So in a dryland system
you're reliant on rainfall from day to day.

This season, when you look at the water we've got here now, we know going into a crop of poppies
that we've got the water to grow the crop so we know that we can make an income out of it.

And that's what it's all about. It's about reliable production.

CHRIS OLDFIELD: The aim of doubling agricultural production in this state is an aim that we think
is achievalble. We think the demand for food, both locally, nationally, internationally will only
grow.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The head of Tasmania's irrigation development board is Chris Oldfield. He's
responsible for the tens of millions of dollars that's being spent on pipelines and dams.

CHRIS OLDFIELD: Reliability of summer water has been a problem for some years in Tasmania. It's
held back our agricultural production. And by providing now sustainable water during the summer and
drier months, it gives farmers the opportunity to grow their businesses with confidence and to
enter into long term contracts with companies knowing they can supply.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Another region that will have irrigation for the dry summer months is north west
Tasmania.

RICHARD BOVILL: Plants require moisture, and they require constant moisture. You have to have
plenty of water. If you've got an irrigation system and plenty of water, you can grow anything.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Farming can be a fickle business. There's droughts and flooding rains, not to
mention variable commodity prices. By adding water, this scheme aims to bring some certainty to an
uncertain pursuit, which means guaranteed financial returns.

And that has attracted interest from the big end of town.

Victoria based Frank Delahunty and Arthur Apted founded the Sustainable Agricultural Fund, a
domestic institutional investor. The duo is buying some of the best farms in the country - from New
South Wales to King Island.

ARTHUR APTED: The key thing that separates the top 25 per cent of farmers from rest is that the top
25 per cent of farmers make money.

They're very likely every year to make profit.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Tens of millions have been invested on behalf of massive clients like Australian
Super, AMP and Auscoal Super.

And because of the foodbowl vision, they're eyeing off parts of Tasmania.

ARTHUR APTED: We think it's a good place to be in terms of its standing. Some of the threats
associated wiht Climate Change. And we also believe that there's a range of different types of
farming opportunities available to us in Tasmania which meet our investment criteria.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The brain behind the food bowl is not surprised by the interest and and Jonathon
West is expecting institutional investors will drive the next economic boom.

The only difference, this time it will be fuelled by water.

JONATHON WEST: We've had a hard commodities boom in Australia - iron ore and coal. We're on the
edge of a soft commodities boom and the smart money is seeing that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Martin Cuddihy reporting from Tasmania.