By Stephen Hannan - General Manager Agribusiness at Westpac
You’ve seen, heard or read about it multiple times each day, the world is in the midst of a pandemic and society is struggling with the info-demic it has created. We’re being bombarded by differing opinions and, at times, misinformation. During times of crisis it seems that the instinct of many would be to withdraw and find a safer ground, after panic buying at the supermarket. Whilst that may be one of the strange characteristics of human nature, it’s not the case for our farmers.
I see this current period as a renewed opportunity for our ag industry to shine and to amplify the messages about the incredible work taking place in regional, rural and remote Australia. I’ve said it before and I still see it in the output our agribusiness customers deliver – Australia’s agricultural industry is resilient and no stranger to the challenging times. The Australian agricultural sector is reliable. Our domestic supply chain is secure. We’re all in this for the long haul.
The government, media and the National Farmers Federation have said what the sector has known for a while – our farmers grow more than enough food to feed the nation. They’ve been doing this and ‘working remotely’ for centuries, all whilst weathering cycles of drought, floods, fires and insect plagues. Credit must also be given to other essential services such as the logistics companies transporting our commodities, meat processors, wholesalers and the food outlets who complete the supply chain. These essential services have the vital ability to move across borders to keep us fed and our economy running during such times.
Despite the terrible circumstances currently impacting us all, it’s been encouraging to see more people have taken an interest in food production and origins. People are choosing to get back to the basics and become more self-sufficient at home. In Australia, 70 per cent of us live in a city and this shift in growing some of our own food at home further cements my sentiment that everyone plays a role in ag. The focus on food is important because whilst scientists try to eradicate the coronavirus, agribusinesses will still be working to innovate and generate much needed food and fibre outputs, to meet the growing demand that we will all be under when the global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050.
Whilst agricultural production is essential to keep industries and communities functioning, we shouldn’t forget to help our peers too. In times of need, Australians are generally fantastic at coming together and supporting each other, as was evident during the recent bushfire crisis.
As this pandemic creates history, Westpac is there for our customers and rural communities. We have released our COVID-19 Customer Support, which is a range of support measures for personal and business banking customers. The bank’s support also extends to customers who’ve been impacted by drought and bushfires. Where there is the need, our Agribusiness bankers are working with our customers to assist impacted farmers with their recovery.
We are all doing our best to navigate these uncertain times and I am confident that the world we will ‘re-emerge’ in can be better. I have found young people in agriculture are passionate and are bringing a new approach to business. Many are from multi-generational farming families, are tertiary qualified and more than half are women. Whilst the hunger for change is inevitable and society adapts to the lessons learnt from the coronavirus, Australian agriculture will continue to be a trusted quality food supplier able to meet our needs well into the future.
When the social distancing measures are lifted and COVID-19 is under control, I hope many of you will join me in doing a good deed. If you can afford to do so, holiday in Australia, spend a weekend in a regional or rural city impacted by fire or drought, eat at restaurants in Australia and buy local Australian produce and products. If we can support all the small businesses that have suffered during this terrible time, we’re doing our part in helping our great country bounce back on its feet.