Agriculture in Australia | Many a challenge 

Agriculture in Australia generates close to $50 billion annually from around 135,000 farm businesses. 

Most of these operations are small and yet a small proportion of larger operations account for most of the production. The Pareto Principle or the 'law of the vital few' applies to agriculture with roughly 20% of farms producing 80% of the yield.

Wool, beef, lamb and grains dominated in Australia for a long time until intensive agriculture systems and methods added eggs, pigs, dairy and wine to the list of significant commodities. 

Although agriculture accounts for 12% of Australian exports and just 3% of GDP. ask most Australians about the importance of agriculture and they will laud it.

“Very important” they will say even though less than 350,000 people work on farms [3% of the total workforce] for mostly below average wages.

After shaky beginnings with problems of water access, heat, drought, and access to markets, the adoption of technologies and improved practices increased both yield and productivity for most crops. 

Year to year yields are volatile mostly because the climate is severe and prone to dry years that are often compounded year on year over vast areas. When drought breaks it often does so with a flood, or two or three. And much of the time it is hot — too hot often for man, crop and beast. 

Water supplies are critical with groundwater the only reliable source in many parts of the country.

Australian farmers must also cope with pests, diseases and weeds. If the rabbits, feral goats and the occasional camel were not trouble enough, then locust swarms can just be scary.

Then there are the weeds — over 30 species registered as Weeds of National Significance — that already cost more than $4 billion annually in control efforts.

Livestock productivity has been flat for a while as most cattle and sheep production relies on rangeland rather than improved pasture or feedlots. Recently problems with live export to Asia have hit cattle production hard in the vast cattle stations in the north.

It is quite something to fly over northern Australia at night just to try and comprehend the distances between the isolated homesteads. You need to be at 30,000 ft to be able to see it.

cattle production in New South Wales

Issues for Agriculture in Australian

The list of issues facing farms and farmers in Australia is long:

  • drought
  • flood
  • unpredictable yields
  • weeds 
  • pest control
  • soil salinity
  • soil degradation
  • cost of inputs
  • declining workforce
  • challenging terms of trade
  • tight supply chains

Most issues on this list are environment related. Farming is tough when the soil is old, rainfall unpredictable and growing season temperatures extreme.

Despite the challenges the history of agriculture in Australia is of success. Tenacity and courage flavours the stories and the country songbook and economic measures show that long-term annual growth in agricultural output has averaged over 2% for the last 50 years.

This production has come from 410 million ha of agricultural land [with 32 million ha planted to crops] a declined of over 50 million ha in the last decade.

Although the trend is for less land under agriculture there is an expectation that more land could be cultivated, especially in the tropical north where there are more reliable sources of water.

Exactly how this unexploited natural capital can be made useful without degrading it as an asset is a huge opportunity. But not without risk.

agriculture has a very large footprint | arable fields on the NSW Tablelands

More ask alloporus pages that cover food production issues... soil carbon | soil degradation | natural capital | resource depletion | food insecurity | food recycling ...and more on the sitemap

› agriculture in Australia

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Confused Confucius spurned the monastic life for the world of work, moral conundrums and mobile devices. His sayings and incongruous idioms on the environment and modern life bring delight and bafflement in equal measure...  check out more Confused Confucius sayings.

agriculture in Australia | mixed arable and pasture country on the NSW tablelands

mixed arable and pasture country on the NSW tablelands

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