FARMERS must act now to improve soil conditions and increase agricultural production by up to $2.1 billion per year, a report has found.

The Centre for Policy Development released the Farming Smarter, Not Harder report yesterday, finding Australia will lose soils faster than they can be replaced if current practices are maintained.

The report concluded that in order to meet rising global demand, remain sustainable and preserve the environment, a number of actions needed to be taken.

These include increasing government investment in research and development by up to 7% a year, setting up Rural Research Australia and funding the national soil health strategy.

It also recommended federal and state governments commit to a 10-year plan to fund Natural Resource Management bodies and enable accountable community governance of land and soil management.

Lead author Laura Eadie said winners of the food boom would be countries with less fossil fuel-intensive agriculture, more reliable production and access to healthy land and soils.

“How we manage our land and soils will be key to whether Australia sees more of the upsides or downsides of rising global food demand,” she said.

“Recent projections indicate the potential doubling of exports by 2050, according to the National Food Plan and ANZ-commissioned Greener Pastures report.

“Our work looks at how to support farmers dealing with the practical challenges of seizing this opportunity, in the context of soil degradation and rising input costs.”

National Farmers Federation chief executive Matt Linnegar said the report supported the NFF’s call for government to deliver a long-term strategic focus for Australia’s agricultural sector.

He said supporting Australian farmers to diversify their revenue sources to reduce financial risk and prepare for future risks, particularly more frequent droughts, were all key priorities for the NFF, as outlined in the report.

“Today’s report is another in a long line of recent discussions, including the NFF’s own National Congress last week, that say agriculture has a bright future, if we can overcome the challenges,” Linnegar said.

“It is important to note that we do not agree with all of this report’s recommendations re policies and their implications, yet we do support a push for a greater discussion regarding agricultural policy and the overarching need to improve agriculture’s productivity, profitability and competitive advantage.”