UPDATE: AUSTRALIA is heading in the wrong direction if it does not ensure it gives farmers sustainable farmgate prices.
That's according to chairman, William Scott, of the rapidly expanding Aussie Farmers Direct.
The company today opened a new site, covering almost 10,000 square metres in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton.
Aussie Farmers Direct began with $50,000 and a dream seven years ago. Now it delivers fresh Australian produce direct to 130,000 households, turning over $154 million annually.
It aims to create a community of connection between producers, consumers and the people delivering the produce direct to their homes.
And Mr Scott said the company's was unwavering in its commitment to sustainable farmgate prices.
"One of the major difference we see in our company, versus a lot of other companies we see in our space, is we believe in sustainable farmgate pricing,'' he said.
"If you don't have sustainable farmgate pricing, the country is heading in the wrong direction.''
Mr Scott said the dairy industry had been "decimated' by short-term, greed-focused thinking, alluding to the two major supermarket's milk prices wars.
His has its own dairy and processing plant in Camperdown, but he said Australia's dairy processing industry was now 90 per cent foreign-controlled.
"(But) there is no reason why we can't support Australian (owned) food (companies),'' he said.
Mr Scott said farmers also needed more respect.
"I really want to pay respect to the farmers....and honour the job and commitment they offer to the country,'' he said.
"Too often we forget our food is our survival, and the strength of the nation is definitely attached to our land and our food production capabilities.
"If you have a strong Australia and a resilient farming community, you are ensuring the nation's future prosperity is very, very positive and you will ensure your family and kids have the right and privilege (of access to) to quality food.
"Which is something you might take for granted in a very rich country like Australia, however if you travel around the world you will see that this is indeed a very big privilege.''
Aussie Farmers Direct has grown rapidly. But in the early days, doubters pointed out the difficulties of breaking into a market where two companies controlled about 80 per cent of Australia's food supply, he said.
"We really had no idea what we were heading into; we didn't have a lot of money but we did have some good ideas,'' he said.
"Everything we do is 100 per cent Australian.
"We try to set and create an example for others to follow.''
Buying locally helped create employment opportunities to support Australian families, he said.
Consumers were attracted to the company as some were strongly patriotic, some wanted the story of the food and the farmers' who had produced it, he said.
Others wanted to buy Australian-made food but found it difficult to find it on supermarket shelves.
"Our consumers feel good inside, they want to do something important for our country,'' he said.
AusBuy chief executive officer Lynne Wilkinson and federal Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean also spoke at the opening.
Ms Wilkinson said Australian-owned companies and farms gave Australians hope, purpose and resilience, whilst foreign ownership removed that.
"If you take hope away from our people then you deny the opportunity for young people to have the sort of opportunities we're enjoyed,'' she said.
AusBuy recently took a petition, with 50,000 signatures, calling for a moratorium on foreign ownership of farmland to federal parliament.
She said selling off Australian businesses to foreign interests was "denying our people opportunities'' and hope for the future.
Ms Wilkinson said a recent rapid decline in on-farm income had allowed more foreign investors to buy in.
This was denying opportunity from Australian people to grow and develop their own businesses, she said.
"Anyone who loves this country, has the land in their blood, whether they are city dweller or a farmer,'' she said.
Supporting Australia-owned businesses gave Australians a future, she said.
"We're not giving priority to our Australian-owned companies,'' Ms Wilkinson.
"Only ownership means the decisions are made here, the profits stay here, the jobs, skills and the reinvestment stays here.''
AusBuy aimed to empower and give consumers choice, to buy Australian-made, she said.
"When it comes to Ausbuy we can't tell consumers what they will buy, but we can give them information which empowers them and they will make a choice that we're confident will be in Australia's long-term benefit.''
Aussie Farmers Direct applied a similar, empowering approach, engaging people across the company via a structure with franchises, she said.
It was "an enormous energy boost when you know the sweat from your brow is going to go into your pocket'', she said.
But, Mr Crean said "we can do both'' - have a food bowl for ourselves and for the region.
"It is true that there is foreign investment in a lot of our food industry,'' he said.
"Australia does have not just an opportunity, in my view, but it has an obligation to meet the food security of its neighbours. If we don't there will be strife in the region.
"So I think we can do both, Australia cannot just be a food bowl in what we supply ourselves but a food bowl for the region.''
However, he did not directly address who - Australian or foreign investors - should own the companies and profit from supplying food to the region.
"The strength of our food industry is how we look after the land and harness our water resources,'' he said.
Mr Crean said resource use was the challenges to overcome to ensure the agricultural sector could continue to grow.
Getting the supply chain "right'' was also important, he said.
He later added the Aussie Farmers Direct-type businesses challenged the domination of the two major supermarkets.
But when asked why the federal government did not act to rein in the power of the two supermarkets, Mr Crean said: "what we need is diversification and more alternatives''.
He said Aussie Farmers Direct was a good example of that.
"I just don't think the answer to these things just lies in regulation, I think it relies on different ways in which you compete, obviously the concentration of power is an issue that needs to be addressed, that is why we have the ACCC,'' he said.
"But the best way to counter concentration is through diversification and new entrants.''
When asked if the ACCC was too consumer focused, instead of also looking more closely at margins made along the supply chain, Mr Crean said the ACCC had to have a consumer-focus, "consumers want to know they are not getting ripped off''.
But it also had "strong powers'' for anti-competitive behaviour, he said.
"The market should drive, and this (Aussie Farmers Direct) is a good example of a different market model,'' he said.