Government policy, funding and decision making, commodity prices and the Australian dollar, and the perception of agriculture among the community are the three key issues facing Australian agriculture, according to the nation’s farmers and the wider supply chain. The initial findings of the Blueprint for Australian Agriculture were released at the National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF’s) 2012 National Congress in Canberra this morning – and the NFF is now seeking further input on the early findings. “More than 3,700 people had their say on the key issues, challenges, opportunities and risks for the Australian agricultural sector as part of the Blueprint, and overwhelmingly, the issues of Government policy, commodity prices and the image of agriculture emerged,” NFF CEO Mr Linnegar said. “All three have the potential to significantly impact on the profitability, productivity and sustainability of the agricultural sector. Yet importantly, as well as identifying issues, the Blueprint is also about looking at solutions and opportunities, helping to set the direction that we wish the industry to go. “Blueprint respondees agreed that government decisions are the biggest issue facing the sector – decisions that threaten to severely impact our productivity at a time when we need to produce more with less in order to feed the growing world population. This is a topic we have heard much about over the past day at Congress. One suggested solution from a Blueprint participant? Ensuring the government always considers the impact on agriculture in developing its policies. “Commodity prices and the strength of the Australian dollar also remain fundamental issues for Australia’s export-reliant agricultural sector. We know that every one percent appreciation in the dollar pushes our farm income down by around $220 million in raw terms – the current strength of the dollar, combined with fluctuating commodity prices, means additional challenges for our sector. “While this remains outside the sector’s control, small steps like encouraging Australian consumers to buy Australian grown wherever possible is a step in the right direction. “And the perception of agriculture has become of critical importance for the future of agriculture as we know it. Building a relationship with consumers, and giving them information on the clean, healthy, fresh produce that our farmers provide is one small step in ensuring farmers can retain their position as among the most trusted professions in Australia,” Mr Linnegar said. Other issues that emerged as priorities include climate variability and drought; industry representation; fuel and energy costs; land use change; rural community support; land and input prices; innovation, research, development and extension; trade and market access; and skills development, workforce flexibility and the attraction of new entrants to the sector. The full list of issues and key suggested solutions are available in the Blueprint: Initial Findings report, which can be downloaded from the http://www.nff.org.au/Blueprint[Blueprint webpage]. Feedback is being sought on the initial findings from now until 20 November.