The Government is kick-starting projects to increase the resilience of the primary sector, says Nathan Guy.

It's been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for much of the primary sector over the past 12 months, with a range of challenges to deal with. Floods, drought, fluctuating commodity prices and geopolitics have all had an impact.

For most farmers and growers, this is nothing new. They are incredibly resourceful and are used to dealing with the challenges that global markets and Mother Nature can throw up.

It's ironic that the east coast of the South Island is still officially in drought at the same time that the central North Island is cleaning up major storm damage caused last month.

The Government is assisting the recovery with $500,000 for Taskforce Green teams helping with the clean up, and $145,000 in funding for Rural Support Trusts which work closely with local communities.


There are also Rural Assistance payments and the Disaster Relief Fund for those in real need.

The Government has announced $8.8 million in funding grants over four years to help councils tackle hill country erosion, with the majority allocated to Horizons and Taranaki Regional Councils.

In contrast, the worst-hit drought area is North Canterbury where it has barely rained all year and farmers are facing a tough winter. The Government has put in $200,000 towards the local Rural Support Trust in this area.

Longer term, the way to improve our resilience to drought is through more water storage and irrigation projects. Providing a reliable water supply for farmers and growers has massive potential to boost growth, creating jobs and exports in provincial regions.

I have seen what a difference it makes to rural communities -- revitalising schools and entire towns, and creating jobs for locals.

The Government has allocated $120 million to Crown Irrigations Investment Limited to support major projects, and we also have the Irrigation Acceleration Fund to kick-start smaller projects at the planning stage. In this year's Budget we allocated a further $25 million towards the irrigation fund.

The lower dairy payout this year will be another test for dairy farmers, but we need to remember farmers are in it for the long term. The forecast is for dairy prices to recover in 2016 and the medium to long-term outlook is very bright.

Forestry has also had a challenging year but the outlook to 2019 is expected to see growth in exports to China and potentially India, while other key markets remain steady.

We need to remember that other sectors are experiencing very strong returns. Beef exports are up, wine is strong, and horticulture -- especially kiwifruit -- is enjoying a record year.

Longer term, the primary sector knows it needs to keep adding value to what we produce to protect ourselves against commodity fluctuations. As a Government we've set a goal of doubling the value of primary sector exports by 2025.

We produce enough food to feed around 40 million people and there is only limited scope to increase that volume. Therefore we need to be targeting the wealthiest 40 million individuals across the globe with our premium products.

Research and development is crucial in adding value. This is why the Government is working together with the industry through the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP).

There are now 17 PGP programmes under way, covering a broad range of industries with a total of $720 million co-invested into cutting-edge programmes.

One great example is the "Pioneering to Precision" project with Ravensdown. The aim is to improve the use of fertiliser on hill country farms using drones and GPS technology, delivering real economic and environmental benefits.

Precision Seafood Harvesting is developing revolutionary new fishing nets to target fish by exact size and species. And a new technology for developing mozzarella cheese allows it to be produced in one day, instead of months. Other important policies to help boost the primary sector include more free trade deals, new roads, and rural broadband.

We are investing $7.5 million into boosting skills and systems across the primary sector, and are working to encourage more young people into the primary sector. It was pleasing to see a 20 per cent increase in funding for agriculture at tertiary level in this year's Budget.

The world population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and much of this growth will be close to our doorstep, in Asia. As these consumers become wealthier, they will want more and more of the protein we produce.

Some forecasts predict global food demand may increase by 40-45 per cent in the next 10 years.

Our farmers and growers are some of the most efficient in the world because they are so innovative and resourceful.

Though there are a few challenges ahead for the primary sector, there are many opportunities, which means the medium to longer term outlook is very strong.

Nathan Guy is Minister for Primary Industries.