Better rural roads can lift agricultural capacity

Stock photo of the Thunderbolts Way
Stock photo of the Thunderbolts Way

A new AgriFutures Australia funded study shines a spotlight on the need for a national framework to assess agricultural road use, taking into consideration the implications of road use by farmers and how it is valued.

According to the report research activities on rural roads, the current way new rural and regional roads and upgrades are evaluated and prioritised does not adequately capture the real value of agricultural use.

The case study on the Moree Plains and Gwydir Shire Councils in northern NSW shows that a national approach or framework to assess agricultural road use is needed to effectively evaluate small and large-scale road infrastructure projects.

Principal researcher Professor Derek Baker, Director of University of New England’s Centre for Agribusiness, worked in collaboration with UNE Business School’s Dr David Hadley to complete the report. The team explained road use prioritisation is calculated on a per use basis, irrespective of the value of production that vehicle is carrying.

“Increased reliability and quality of freight infrastructure can yield big benefits for agriculture. For example, simple logistics like getting a product to market on a sealed road vs. unsealed could mean the difference between taking advantage of export opportunities and premium prices,” Professor Baker said.

“The study suggests there are substantial market benefits to be gained from rural road upgrades and new variables should be considered as part of future cost-benefit analysis.”

While the study is exploratory, AgriFutures Australia Research and Innovation Program Manager, Jennifer Medway said it highlights there is more work to be done to examine alternative approaches to cost-benefit analysis when improving rural roads.

“Freight and roads are big ticket issues for Australian agriculture. The ability to freight input onto farms and production out is critical to growing our nation’s agricultural capacity,” Ms Medway said..

“Farmers need to understand the implications of road use and how it should be valued, but action is likely to come from local, state and federal levels. We hope this study will contribute to discussions when making investment decisions about road upgrades in rural and regional Australia.”

The report Research activities on rural roads is funded by the AgriFutures National Rural Issues program which forms part of the AgriFutures Australia National Challenges and Opportunities arena.