Diversity and Harmony of Agricultural Production

It is important that the diversity of agricultural production systems, the blend of technology with traditional know-how, and the harmony of these systems working side-by-side remain a key part of our agricultural heritage.

It is farmers working side-by-side that is often referred to using the term ’coexistence’. It has been a characteristic that has proven over the decades to be important to the sustainability and competitiveness of Australia’s agricultural economy. The freedom of farmers like Mick Baxter to choose genetically modified (GM) canola to meet the weed pressures on his farm, or Steve Marsh to choose organic methods to aim for higher premiums for his crops and livestock, is critical to the success of rural economies and farming families, and to the Australian economy.

Australia’s farmers, like Mick Baxter and Steve Marsh, produce the high quality food, feed and fibre that Australians have come to expect. The systems and approaches to this difficult task, on a scale very often not appreciated outside of rural Australia, vary considerably, depending upon the marketplace demands and trends, and also on the agronomic circumstances that each farm faces.

Regulating for coexistence

State and federal governments have been careful to consider how all of these systems can fit together as part of a natural ecosystem. They have considered how to judiciously regulate the system, as new technologies such as GM crops have been introduced. Regulation based on scientific evidence means that coexistence is a reality for Australian agriculture. The judgment in this landmark case only reaffirms that coexistence works for the benefit of all.

Through these means the regulatory system has been carefully designed to facilitate the coexistence of different agricultural production systems. The system has been able to maintain product integrity in the Australian seed and grain supply chain to ensure that consumers get exactly what they want. From farm to fork, Australian agriculture has delivered.

The future of coexistence

The emergence of organic farming and GM seeds in agriculture need not impact the harmony that has allowed farmers to work side-by-side. Organic, conventional and farming systems using GM technology coexist in Australia as they do in the rest of the world—this has been happening since GM crops were first introduced in 1996.

As in any sector, continual progress may result in changes that can have both positive and negative effects. Continual review of policies and regulations is essential to the smooth functioning of any system, particularly one as intricate and competitive as Australian agriculture. Outside of the regulated system, commercial rules and marketing criteria may play a role in shaping the equilibrium of this system.

The Marsh v Baxter case occurred in Australia for a reason. Australia’s organic criteria are inconsistent and incompatible with those in the European Union, the United States and the rest of the world. Such policies threaten the diversity of production systems and complicate what farmers already face in the field.

One positive outcome will be a move towards a discussion on coexistence. Agricultural harmony that has been enjoyed for so long should not be upset by a drive towards inconsistent and unrealistic marketing demands, far away from the pressures of the farm.