Accessing the North East

20 June 2024

The North-East is often seen as a leader in Tasmanian agriculture. With the possible exception of superfine wool and broad acre barley, the North-East produces nearly every commodity that this state is renowned for – food, fibre and pharmaceuticals. Dairy production is often benchmarked by the milk production here, this is the original potato growing region in Tasmania, onions, carrots, peas, beetroot, rhubarb and pretty much everything else that belongs on a well-rounded dinner plate is best grown in the North-East.

But for a region with soils so good you could throw nails in and get crowbars, access to market still lags behind what should be expected. Despite the region being incredibly fertile and farmed by some of the most efficient farmers in the country, it is still an exercise to get farm produce to processors or to fresh food markets.

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The wise people who recognised this issue back in the 1880’s built the North-East rail line, which while taking a very long time to build, was the answer to the North-East’s access to market problems. While it wasn’t fully built all the way through to Herrick until well after the first world war, the North-East had a reliable rail service for the mining, vegetables and sawn timber into Launceston for well over 70 years. While primary production grew and heavy vehicle technology improved through the 60s, 70s and 80s, the quality of road access either over the Sideling or through Golconda and Lilydale didn’t match that level of expansion. 

Eventually the inevitable happened and the rail corridor that was no longer fit for purpose and closed, leaving producers in the North-East to go by roads that were out of date in the 1970s. At the same time, vegetable production in the North-East increased exponentially, despite the vegetable processing works in Scottsdale also closing, leaving the only option to truck everything out. 

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In the past five years many millions of dollars have been spent on the Sideling and on the Golconda roads, yet few in the farming and heavy transport sector will have noticed any real positive difference for the prime economic generator of the North-East. From the Sideling Lookout to the bottom of the hill, the road is certainly better, but it still has the same numbers of corners and Saliers Hill is still far too narrow.

Tasmania will always rely upon its vibrant and efficient agricultural sector for regional economic development. The North-East is a critical part of this but could be so much better and deliver so much more for Tasmania if there was a proper freight route in and out of the North-East that would encourage new investment and development. 

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To be added for discussion at another time is also sea freight for the Furneaux group, which highlights the obvious need for efficient freight solutions to overcome the isolated nature of the Islands. By prioritising robust sea freight infrastructure, we can foster sustainable development and ensure these smaller islands thrive within Tasmania's broader economic landscape.

Some say that talk is cheap, but talk is actually very expensive, as talk and no real long-term action is costing North-East farmers very dearly indeed.