The Demographics Group managing director Bernard Salt talks at the Future Northern Rivers event at SCU.
The Demographics Group managing director Bernard Salt talks at the Future Northern Rivers event at SCU. Marc Stapelberg

Adding a little Salt to our Future Food opportunities

THE agricultural sector of the Northern Rivers is ideally placed to take advantage of post-COVID-19 times, Australia's leading demographer Bernard Salt has said.

With a surname like Salt, you just know this man loves his food, and is excited to be crunching the numbers as part of The Northern Star's Future Food campaign.

Although readily acknowledging that Australia's agricultural industry has been "knocked for six" by the triple ravages of drought, bushfires and now the coronavirus, Mr Salt believes when the all-clear is sounded, this sector is paused to bounce back quicker than most.

"There is no place to hide from this (coronavirus) and every industry is affected," Mr Salt said.

"With Australia and Australian agribusiness there is an opportunity presented by the coronavirus.

"If you live in China, it can become apparent that proximity of wild animals, or whatever, in the Wuhan market, caused this.

"So clean, green, hygienic, sanitary, good provenance produce is something Australia can leverage and increase our market share as a consequence of the coronavirus.

"I think China will be predisposed to Australian product because of the clean and green and hygiene factor.

"We have good governance and you can trust it more than you can trust your own product.

"And maybe that is something the Northern Rivers could take up and market. This is what we have and you can feel safe with engaging with our product."

The Future Food campaign, which will come to fruition with a series of articles and appearance by Mr Salt later in the year, is an extension of the successful running of Future Northern Rivers in 2019.

Mr Salt will take a closer look at the food economy: agri tech, agri tourism and hospitality, and how we compare to other food regions like Orange and Mudgee.

"Northern Rivers food is definitely a topic and category I am interested in and excited about," Mr Salt said.

"I really want to benchmark the Northern Rivers with other regions, Mudgee in particular, maybe Orange, even the Huon Valley south of Hobart and parts of New Zealand."

Mr Salt said one of the unique features of the Northern Rivers was it did not have a single, major city that dominated it the way you get everywhere else.

"It's almost like these businesses are happening but there is no big overarching narrative that can bring it all together or no single person who can go in there and crunch heads to make this happen," he said.

"It's a loose confederation of independent tribes all very successful in their own way but does this region need to be picked up, branded, packaged, presented and developed in that umbrella sense?"

Mr Salt said there had been so much "anxiety" about the agricultural sector he was planning to look at what was happening at a broader national level and what might be applicable to the Northern Rivers. In other words, the opportunity for growth.

"We need to find where the growth is at a national level and ask the question as to why those sort of agri businesses are not evolving on the Northern Rivers," he said.

"Then I think it would be worthwhile looking at corporate structures and asking whether this region is perfect for this type of agriculture.

"I'd like to look at this from a broad Australian perspective to say here is what is developing rapidly in Australia, and here is where we think we should be expanding in the Northern Rivers, and here is some of the corporate structure, infrastructure and marketing positions we need to be taking in order to take that further.

"In my ideal world we would do something here on the Northern Rivers that would make places like Townsville and western Victoria sit up and take notice and say 'we should be doing what they are doing'.

"You need to go in there and give it a shake up and refocus it, re-energise it and galvanise it with big, bold, gutsy thinking and say 'What about that?'."

Mr Salt said effort was needed to engage local entrepreneurs, "people of means", that must be "patriotic and have the capacity to get behind local businesses".

He said educational institutions like Southern Cross University or TAFE could also look at becoming centres of excellence for the maintenance of advanced agricultural machinery, for example.

Almost a year ago, at The Northern Star's Future Northern Rivers, Mr Salt encouraged the communities of the Northern Rivers to pursue a big and outrageously ambitious agenda for the future of the region.

This has led to a collaborative partnership of regional businesses, industry bodies and government representatives taking up the challenge and the Northern Rivers NSW brand

has been unveiled at the Ballina BP Travel Centre, arguably a gateway to the region.

"We all know that the Northern Rivers is a region gifted with beautiful, world renowned

natural assets, an amazing climate, delicious fresh produce, entrepreneurial and creative flair and a history of strong community connectivity. Now its time to share our secret with the world," said Tim Williamson, director of Regional Development Australia - Northern Rivers.

The new Northern Rivers NSW brand reflects the connected unified identity of our

communities, and provides a basis for our shared vision to foster sustainable and

innovative economic growth.

A Steering Group - Northern Rivers Together - comprising regional businesses,

local industry bodies and government representatives at all levels has developed the

Northern Rivers NSW brand, based on extensive consultation across the region.

Underpinning the new Northern Rivers NSW Brand is a strategy based on four key

pillars: visitation, provenance, liveability and investment.

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