THE BEEF industry needs a boost in overseas market access, production costs reduced and investment in new areas of production.
This was what the North Australia Beef Research Council conference heard in Rockhampton today.
In a speech to the conference, Senator-elect for Queensland, Matthew Canavan, said a strong beef industry was imperative in plans to develop northern Australia.
"If we don't have a strong beef industry, we won't effectively develop the north," Mr Canavan said.
"Beef is the biggest industry in the north and it will be at the centre of the Coalition's northern development agenda.
"It's been a tough time for beef in the past year, but there are great opportunities ahead in Asia. But they won't just fall into our lap, and that's why the Coalition is focused on getting better returns to beef producers at the farm gate."
Mr Canavan said to achieve this the industry needs a boost to get better access to overseas markets, bring down the costs of production and invest in new areas of production.
"The Coalition is doing that by signing trade agreements with Japan and Korea, scrapping the carbon tax and other regulations and developing a northern Australia agenda that can spur investment in beef," he said.
Federal Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry said the importance of the beef industry to Capricornia was recognised by the Federal Government's announcement to provide $2.5 million towards funding Beef Australia 2015 in Rockhampton.
"This is a significant event that not only puts our local northern beef sector onto the world stage, but highlights the nation's entire beef industry as well," Ms Landry said.
The MP has recently returned from a tour with the parliamentary standing committee on Northern Australia which examined the potential for increased food production north of the Tropic of Capricorn.
She said there was potential scope to increase 'value adding' of beef through the expansion of the meat processing sector.
"There are three million cattle in the greater Fitzroy, equivalent to about 10% of our national herd," Ms Landry said.
"The 80:20 rule is alive and well for the beef industry of the north. At least 80% of cattle are born in the north but only 20% are processed here. There is no reason why we can't cut transport costs by having a bigger meat works industry in the north, including in Rockhampton - especially now we have new free trade deals with Asia and the hope of a deal with China."
Mr Canavan said that more investment in the north would require a 'different' research and development approach.
"Development of the north will see investment in different types of agriculture, including cotton and sugar. Research that is focused on how beef can best partner with new industries to get new efficiencies is needed," he said.
"Effective R&D is going to key and that is why the Coalition Government is devoting $100 million to increase agricultural R&D. This is the first time that a government is increasing the overall R&D spend in agriculture for over a decade.
"We must avoid having agricultural R&D operate in industry-based silos. The by-products like trash from cotton ginning can be used as cattle feed and sugar molasses can be used in feed supplements. A bigger farming sector in the north can mean lower costs for all."
Mr Canavan warned the nation needs to avoid being 'pessimistic' about the future of the north.
"There will be lots of naysayers. There will be lots of people seeing the glass 'half-empty' on Northern Australia. We need to be critical, but not dismissive of developments in the north," he said.
"There are plenty that will jump on any barrier to stop all development. We should not pander to these groups that never think we can build a new dam, a new port or a new farm.
"If we took that attitude 200 years ago we wouldn't be here today."
Mr Canavan was elected a Senator for Queensland at last-year's election.He takes up his Senate seat on July 1. Until then, he works for Stanbroke Beef - the world's largest, vertically-integrated beef producer.