Northern Tasmania boasts some of the richest farming land in Australia - great for dairy, vegetable growing, and increasingly also for high value non-food crops such as poppies and pyrethrum.
Unlike some other farming regions of Australia that are likely to be adversely affected by global warming, Tasmania has abundant water and, as we approach the mid-21st century, Tasmanian farmers should be well-placed to benefit from what is sure to be a steadily increasing global demand for food.
So why is it that so many of Tasmania’s small farmers - particularly in dairy and vegetable growing - are experiencing such an uphill struggle to remain viable?
In recent years, these two industries have been in deep crisis.
Increasingly our small farmers - not just in Tasmania, but all over Australia - are being ground down by their lack of market power, and by the might of the big two supermarkets, multinational operators who are increasingly taking over the supply chain in Australia, and by the demand by Australian consumers for ever-cheaper food.
An important warning of the possible future that lies ahead if we’re not prepared to support Australian-grown food came late last year when the vegetable processing company McCain’s closed its plant in northern Tasmania and moved offshore. The brand remains on our supermarket shelves, but the vegetables under the McCain’s label are now imported.
Last year when the Senate Select Committee on Agriculture held an inquiry into food production in Australia, the committee’s chairman, Senator Bill Heffernan, asked the following question: "How do we produce food that is affordable, from an environment that is sustainable and a farmer that is viable?" That in a nutshell is the theme of tonight’s community forum.
Radio National host Phillip Adams took his "Late Night Live" team to Burnie to try and find out why the future for farmers supplying Australia’s new upmarket "bread basket" looks more like a "basket case".
Richard Bovill is farmer activist who grows vegetables.
In 2005, he led the Fair Dinkum Food campaign which saw a convoy of tractor-driving farmers converge on Parliament House in Canberra. Bovill is a member of a Tasmanian Government committee set up to promote the marketing of Tasmanian vegetables.
Angelique Abbott represents a new generation of Tasmanian farmers.
She and her husband run a dairy farmer in the Circular Head region, west of Burnie, while also juggling a veterinarian practice. Abbott wrote a very moving submission on behalf of local dairy farmers to the Senate inquiry into food production in 2009, based on stories of hardship that she gathered.
Bryan Green is the Deputy Premier and Primary Industries Minister in Tasmania.
He has been the Labor member for the state seat of Braddon since 1998, which makes him the local member in Burnie.
He’s also Tasmania’s Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Minister for Energy and Resources, Planning, Racing and Veterans Affairs.
Neil Armstrong is the co-owner and managing director of Tasmanian fresh vegetable company Harvest Moon, based in the Forth Valley.
He is a major vegetable farmer who doesn’t need to rely on multinational food processors to get his goods to market on the mainland.