Agribusiness Lawyers Australia
Kingfisher Law’s agribusiness specialists combine decades of practical experience with commercial acumen to deliver a steadfast commitment to the protection and enhancement of your business. When you choose Kingfisher Law, you can be confident that we fully appreciate the unique set of circumstances and challenges within your industry. It is our role to formulate effective strategies and negate the potentially damaging impact of statutory changes, compliance regimes, land disputes, corporate finance concerns and other serious issues affecting Australian agricultural businesses.
We understand that farmers are environmental stewards of the land, constantly balancing the demands of government regulation and change with important farming decisions and the need for increased productivity. At Kingfisher Law we aim to support our clients in all aspects of their endeavours, while promoting sustainability and respect for the environment.
Clients Across Various Agribusiness Sectors
Kingfisher Law’s extensive client portfolio encompasses Australian food and fibre producers across numerous agricultural sub-sectors, co-operatives and businesses involved in marketing and exporting either natural produce or finished products. We have experience in horticulture, dairy, livestock, grains and poultry. We are irrigation specialists with particular capabilities around all aspects of water and land management. We can assist with legal issues involving transportation and in exporting.
Whether you grow livestock in New South Wales or run an irrigation scheme in Western Australia, Kingfisher Law guarantees exceptional and informed legal service. Our lawyers listen intently to your concerns and forge a strong partnership with you; thus ensuring your farming enterprise thrives and prospers in today’s challenging environment.
Kingfisher Law’s Main Areas of Legal Expertise
We provide sound, ethical, professional legal advice on commercial contracts, business structuring, asset funding, property law, business operations, supply-chain and business management.
The nature of government means that these things are in a constant state of flux, but at Kingfisher Law we keep abreast of all new legislative developments to protect your profit margins.
Common Legal Issues Kingfisher Law Resolve
Issues Kingfisher Law are most regularly hired to address in the farming sector concern water rights and land tenure. Our experienced legal teams frequently work at resolving often complex disputes in these areas. We have specific expertise in water entitlements, including licensing, trading and regulatory reform. We also advise on leases, horticultural licences, share farming agreements, management and consultancy, and collaboration and co-operatives.
Acting Decisively on Behalf of Landowners
Kingfisher Law frequently act for Australian landowners, whose interests often conflict with those of multinational corporations involved in mining, energy and other commercial operations that demand access to private land, water and other vital resources. Our team know how to leverage the law, to give small agribusinesses the best possible chance of protecting their livelihoods against even the largest and most insistent corporations.
With a huge increase in overseas investment in Australian land, the demand for advice in this area will expand significantly over the coming years.
Working with Indigenous Communities
A large proportion of Australian land and waters is subject to Indigenous interests, including the direct involvement of Australian First Nations and Traditional Owners and the impact of Native Title determinations, Indigenous Land Use Agreements and Aboriginal Heritage legislation in the development of Northern Australia and areas of the South. At Kingfisher Law, we have extensive experience working under the terms of the various Native Title Acts and their amendments. We negotiate with and for the indigenous Australian community in land tenure conversion and Native Title mediation, often operating in extremely remote parts of the country.
Constant Monitoring of Worldwide Trends in Agriculture
At Kingfisher Law, we recognise the importance to business of examining trends in the agricultural industry both at home and abroad, and analysing how they may potentially affect our clients in both positive and negative ways.
We appreciate that the agricultural industry is in a continuous state of flux. Huge strides in information technology have increased the inter connective nature of agribusinesses around the globe. New production methods are constantly launched and shared between producers, in an effort to increase production and profit margins. However, many emerging trends in agricultural production hark back to more traditional farming methods – promotion of good soil health; avoidance of mono-cultures; restricted use of fertilizers and herbicides; vertical stacking of enterprises; greater control of the supply chain and development of collaborative farming and marketing and a renewed emphasis on localized, community-based farming and resource management.
This is, in part, a response to greater consumer awareness of emotive subjects like GM foods and environmental protection. Social media campaigns launched on platforms like Facebook and Twitter (such as those highlighting the negative effect of chemicals on honey bees) have led to more informed customer choices and a strong demand for organic, free-range and environmentally-friendly products. Many consumers insist on knowing the provenance of their food and fibre products and are prepared to pay a premium for ethically produced, nutritious produce.
- Land conversion and habitat loss.
- Wasteful water consumption.
- Soil erosion.
- Pollution of land and water.
- Climate change.
- Genetic erosion.
The Impact of Price Wars on Producers
The huge combined power of the ‘Big Two‘ Australian supermarkets has resulted in aggressive ‘price wars’, with the contenders constantly undercutting each other in the amounts they charge for certain basic foods and drinks.
Initially seen as a bonus for consumers, a war over milk in 2011 led to the retail price of a one-litre bottle falling to just one-dollar. Milk was last valued at $1-a-litre in 1992, so the new price became unsustainable for dairy farmers and even triggered many to quit the industry. Kingfisher Law sees it as a positive development for our clients that there have been recent calls from the dairy industry and consumers themselves for Government to introduce legislation that maintains milk prices at a fair and profitable level for farmers. This is something that could be rolled-out across many farming sectors. If smaller producers fall by the wayside, it will result in decreased consumer choice and a likely fall in quality.
Australian government policy targets in agricultural competitiveness for export and domestic markets.
The White Paper on Agricultural Competitiveness identified priorities for Australian agriculture: a fairer go for farm businesses, better regulation, systems for farm businesses, infrastructure, drought and risk management, smarter farming and access to premium markets.
The Development of Northern Australia is central to Australia’s prosperity. The Developing Northern Australia White Paper targets agricultural development around access to agricultural water and adapting land tenure for diversification and opportunity.
Kingfisher Law advice reflects lessons from the North. Key principles for successful Northern Agribusiness Development include market-driven development, engaging local expertise, start small, grow big, maintain cash flow, and factor in cost of learning.
There are five business models proven for Northern Agribusiness Development.
These include development by Traditional Owners based on the partnership of strategic and practical knowledge; investment tapping local farming expertise and Indigenous participation; ‘Start small, scale up’ projects using propagation and funding innovation; seasonal cropping targeting demand when sources cannot consumer markets. Production of Asian vegetables and fruits is an example of this kind of innovation.
Also pastoral lease diversification which involves maintaining livestock businesses while modifying land tenure and water access for cultivation of crops such as fodder and silage for beef production, table grapes, melons and similar produce.
At Kingfisher Law we understand regulatory and cost constraints on agriculture that slow farm development. These include complexity in land use, water access and environmental compliance, labour supply constraints, State demands for financial security and indemnification from developers, and freight costs and regulations.
The Rise of Consumer Awareness
When eggs, milk, pork or beef, for example, are sold at low prices that do not cover true farm costs of production, it prompts the concerns of increasingly well-informed, Australian consumers and producers alike. Budget-priced milk and other farm products often raise questions about farm practices, industry sustainability, nutritional value, animal welfare and truth in advertising. The social license to operate of agriculture is not just valuable but critical to strengthening and expanding food and fibre production in Australia. It is essential that farmers and their industry peak bodies and producer associations are supported by skilled legal advice to ensure that the negative impacts of business practices and economic interests beyond the farm gate are managed and minimised.
As agriculturalists in Australia embrace social media, these issues are receiving new and increasingly better-informed attention from consumers and professional advocates. At Kingfisher Law we monitor trends in public discussion of farm practices and issues confronting people in regional communities so that our legal advice is well-informed and targets relevant issues and our clients’ immediate and emerging interests.
A Brighter Future for Agribusiness
Key-thinkers exist in Australia and worldwide, who are busy practising and refining farming methodologies and land management techniques, often in quite different ways and in very different spheres, yet with the shared aim of working in harmony with our precious farm ecosystems and not against them.
Great examples of enlightened thinkers making significant contributions to agricultural theory include Wendell Berry, Colin Seis, Gabe Brown, Joel Salatin and James Rebanks. They appreciate the interconnectivity of living organisms and the soil and recognise that farming is more than simply getting produce to market fast, regardless of the toll on the environment. Encouragingly, some of these farmers have featured in TV shows that have garnered high viewing figures and loyal audiences. They also appear as keynote speakers at global farming and sustainability events, and some have popular Youtube channels.
In Australia, these concepts have crystalized into groups such as Landcare, Soils for Life and Colin Seis’s Pasture Cropping business. They represent the antithesis of what is promoted internationally as ‘best practice agriculture’, simply a euphemism for intensive farming based on chemical interventions – insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and soil fertilisers – which are responsible for the worldwide destruction of grasslands and other irreplaceable wildlife habitats.
The Revival of Farmer-Owned Enterprises
The harsh realities of farming and the pursuit of profit meant that farmers who were previously part of producer / marketing co-operatives or associations were encouraged into signing supply contracts with large Australian or multinational companies, who were accountable to shareholders not just producers. This inevitably led to farmers’ profits being squeezed, as big distributors sought to nail them down on wholesale prices. A relatively small investment in our agribusiness knowledge and legal expertise could well end up saving you significant amounts of your hard-earned money in the long-term.
Kingfisher Law are fully aware of the pitfalls of supplying farm produce to large companies, like Fonterra and Devondale Murray Goulburn (Australia’s largest dairy foods company) and we are experienced in mitigating the risks to our clients. The priorities of big corporations and the fact that they have largely lost touch with farmers were both clearly illustrated when they elected to pass on lower ‘farm gate’ milk price, rather than absorb the costs themselves. The stock market flotation of GrainCorp Ltd (eastern Australia’s largest grain storage and distribution network, the largest supplier of flour in the country) was a familiar example of farmers losing out to the competing interests of third-party shareholders. Big, profitable businesses are not a bad thing in themselves, but there is a very clear ethical and business case for them showing increased empathy for their producers and farmer members. If they waive these responsibilities and put profit before people, farms will inevitably go bankrupt and the current agricultural model will effectively be broken.
On the upside, Kingfisher Law welcome the fact that the concerned Federal Government finally responded by publishing the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper in 2015 that sought to recognise the value of farming co-operatives and related collaborations, giving them more weight at the negotiating table.
Call to Improve Animal Welfare
The Productivity Commission inquiry into regulation of Australian agriculture (2016) found:
- Animal welfare regulations seek to achieve welfare outcomes that (among other things) meet community expectations. However, the current process for setting standards for farm animal welfare does not adequately value the benefits of animal welfare to the community.
- The process for setting standards would be improved through the creation of a statutory agency responsible for developing national farm animal welfare standards using rigorous science and evidence of community values for farm animal welfare.
Pasture Cropping Reaps Rewards
Pioneered in 1993, the practice of pasture cropping has since been adopted by over 2,000 Australian farmers across every state, including plenty of Kingfisher Law’s clients. This innovative method allows for crops and pasture to exist simultaneously in the same space, and creates year-round ground cover, resulting in reduced wind and rain erosion, improved soil structure, less weeds, greater availability of nutrients and increased levels of soil organic carbon. This is all great for growing crops and gentle on the environment. The system can be used to propagate single or multiple species in the same field with impressive crop yields.
What Does the Future Hold for Australian Agribusiness?
The future is impossible to predict with certainty, but indicators can suggest how it might unfold.
Across Australia governments and industry are working to bring new land into agricultural production and make existing irrigation and dry land farming more productive. Each of Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland and the Commonwealth are actively implementing policies, programs and plans to expand food and fibre production and achieve economic development.
Internationally, great opportunities exist for Australian food and fibre produce to supply into Asian and other overseas markets. Grasping these opportunities depends not only on investment capital, but on streamlining, modernising and creating better regulations for land tenure; water access and entitlements; labour and employment rules; environmental assessment, management and compliance; construction, ownership and operation of agricultural infrastructure; and improved biosecurity and market and distribution logistics. Amendment of land use rules, water-sharing plans; freight regulation and access to roads, rail and port facilities are all required to achieve these goals.
Domestically, increase in urban population and the sophistication of food consumer demand, as well as climate change across productive areas of Australia will require adaptation of farming rules and practices to meet a variety of emerging objectives.
Organic farming most closely resembles the innovative farming systems discussed above, and its Australian market performance could be an indicator of how the businesses might develop in the long-term. It is worth noting that many farmers choose to adopt organic-style methods of production but choose not to burden themselves with the expense and administration process of becoming officially certified as an organic producer, yet they remain successful and have loyal customers.
In October 2016, market research company IBISWorld published the findings of its in-depth research into the performance of Australia’s organic farming industry. The results were impressive, with the headline statistic revealing that industry revenue had inexorably grown from $250.1 million in 2004-05 to $919.2 million in 2016-17. While this represents a small percentage of total Australian food sales, it certainly reflects consumer concern over how and where their food is produced, and the effect its production has on the environment. With increased media coverage and frequent food scare stories, Kingfisher Law expect the organic sector to continue to make significant strides over the next few years.
Producers and their customers are uniting to drive change to a more sustainable, healthy and responsible use of Australian farmland. That farmer-owned agribusinesses are returning should come as no surprise,as it further indicates the desire for a closer connection between farmer and consumer. At Kingfisher Law, we seek to provide guidance, professional support and legal expertise to all types and sizes of agricultural business. In this way, we hope to take the journey with you and celebrate together as your venture grows.