Head, School of Agriculture, Charles Sturt University. Wagga Wagga. NSW 2678
This is the 21st Riverina Outlook Conference, continuing a series which began in 1973.
The purpose of this regional forum is to bring together farmers, scientists, students and concerned persons, to share information on controversial issues, and to make sense of some of the conflicting messages which bombard us as individuals.
Each Riverina Outlook Conference follows a tried and true format, comprising the conference itself, the extension of the conference to the community by way of media reports, and the publication and sale of the proceedings. Hence, each of the eminent speakers who are here today are passing on their thoughts to a wide audience, extending beyond the focus group of men and women who have pleased the organisers by attending "in person".
Today's symposium is aimed at bridging the gap between the philosophies of organic farming and conservation farming. We each have our own view of the importance of the current issues which are part of the food and agriculture chain (see Table).
Farmers are most concerned about profitability, and they know that profitable production is linked with productivity and sustainability.
Scientists share some of the concerns of farmers but they rate profitability somewhat lower, basically because they do not share the same pocket.
On the other hand, the groups of commerce/government and consumers/
environmentalists have a different set of priorities, placing more emphasis on the marketability and desirability of produce as well as sustainability.
The 5-year plan of the GRDC, of which I am a member, has a strong market emphasis, and the GRDC is spending several thousand dollars on comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems.
Students are making up their minds about values and priorities and media people (who don't have priorities as a group) keep the discussion moving.
The interesting thing is that, from a total community perspective, all of these issues are important. The organisation of today's conference reflects that total view. The day is not about promoting an argument between the proponents of organic farming versus conventional farming for food production - it is about bridging the gap, of finding common ground.
Today's speakers will provide some thoughts on and answers to a number of questions, such as:
1. What is the future direction of farming?
2. Are moderate inputs of chemicals acceptable?
3. Do consumers want organic food, or clean food, or both, and what are the marketing opportunities?
At the end of the day, we may not reach consensus, but we will gain an understanding of possible pathways to future satisfaction, health and prosperity.