Talking to the average Australian, you’d be forgiven for presuming that our economy is fuelled – predominantly – by the mining industry. But it isn’t all about mining; in 2012, Australia celebrates the Australian Year of the Farmer.
The contribution of farming to our economy, society and environment has changed considerably throughout its history. The great news is that the Agriculture sector is back after more than a decade of drought and floods.
We’ve taken a look at some interesting market research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Year of the Farmer Secretariat.
Evolution of Australian industry
In an article on the Evolution of Australian Industry, released by the ABS, we see that: "Following a fall in GDP in volume terms in 1990–91, there have been 20 years of consecutive growth. In 2010–11, GDP increased by 2.1%.
"From an industry perspective, increases were recorded in the value added of most industries in 2010–11, with Agriculture, forestry and fishing (9.2%) recording the largest increase followed by Professional, scientific and technical services (6.9%), Administrative and support services (6.6%), Construction (6.3%) and Transport, postal and warehousing (3.6%).
TOP VALUE-ADDING INDUSTRIES 2010-2011
Market research shows number of industries experienced declines for the year, including Other services (–3.7%), Rental, hiring and real estate services (–1.9%), Wholesale trade (–0.6%) and Mining (–0.6%)."
Australian Bureau of Statistics on agriculture
In a media release disclosed by the ABS in Canberra on the 29th of June 2012, a number of interesting facts about Australian agricultural production were unveiled. Agriculture's on the up-and-up.
Contributing impressively to our economy, the gross value of agricultural production in 2009–10 is estimated at just under $40 billion (Value of Agricultural Commodities Produced, Australia, 2009–10). Australia’s agricultural businesses not only provide for Australia’s population, but the sector is also a significant exporter and contributor to our economy. Our farm exports in 2010–11 were valued at $32.4 billion (ABARES, 2011a).
Agricultural production rebounds in 2010-11
In its official press release, the ABS outlined several key factors of the 2010-11 agricultural changes:
Weather: the lynchpin
Favourable weather conditions and a desirable increase in rainfall resulted in increase crop and horticulture production, and a boom in livestock numbers in 2011.
Wheat, being Australia's largest crop, saw a surge in production by more than a quarter, up to 27 million tonnes in 2010-11. Rice and cotton crops rose significantly due to increased availability of irrigation, with the production of barley, canola and sorghum also increasing. And it doesn’t stop there: mandarin and strawberry crops also thrived in 2011.
Sheep and lamb numbers recovered from the long-term decline experienced up until 2009-10. This can be attributed to the improved seasonal conditions, rebuilding intentions, higher prices and stronger demand.
Meat cattle figures also increased considerably with producers keeping more female cattle for herd rebuilding. Dairy cattle numbers followed suit, increasing probably as a result of improved water availability in the main dairying regions and reports of increased confidence in the industry following falling prices in early 2009-10.
But it's not all good news
While the majority of crops benefited from excellent seasonal conditions and rainfall, sugarcane, bananas, pineapples and pawpaws saw a marked drop in production, being affected by the flooding and tropical cyclone, Yasi. Orange production levels continued the steady decline witnessed over the previous decade.
At the state level, Western Australia actually bucked the national trend, experiencing a decrease in production and livestock for most commodities. This can be attributed to the effects of the driest conditions on record.
The changing nature of the Australian farmer
We’ve seen numerous adaptations in farming methods over the decades, and the image of Australian farmers embodies a strong sense of tradition and resilience born of necessity. But what does the contemporary farmer look like? Well-educated and environmentally-aware, using laptop computers and sophisticated farming equipment to remain as viable players in a acutely competitive international market.
According to the 2006 Census, almost one-third (31%) of those employed in the agriculture industry had achieved post-secondary education levels, predominantly at certificate, diploma or bachelor degree levels (Census of Population and Housing, 2006). This is more than double the 14% recorded 25 years earlier in the 1981 Census (Census of Population and Housing, 1981).
In 2010, over 77, 000 students were enrolled in agriculture, environmental and related studies through Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs across Australia (NCVER, 2011).
Technology, ingenuity and productivity in our farming
The speed of change in Australian agriculture over the past 200 years has been exceptional. And it’s accelerated impressively in the past 60 years. A driving factor is the adoption of information and communication technologies.
Australian farmers today use a range of technologies to continuously adapt and improve their farming practices. For example, in 2007–08, over 92,000 farm businesses (or 66%) used the Internet for their business operations (Use of the Internet on Farms, Australia, 2007-08).
In 2009-10, agricultural businesses spent almost $102 million (of which just under $98 million was self-funded) on research and experimental development (R&D) into agriculture (Research and Experimental Development, Businesses, Australia, 2009–10). And, over the period 2000–01 to 2010–11, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry recorded an average annual growth rate in labour productivity of 5.3% - the highest of all industries (Australian System of National Accounts, 2010–11, 5204.0).
What's next for Australian farmers?
Being the The Australian Year of the Farmer, considerable attention has been given to the future of farming in Australia, sustainable agriculture growth, green production technologies and import-export trends.
For more insight on agricultural movements in Australia, watch the space. And if you would like to conduct Omnibus Research with us, check out our Omnibus Research 2012 Calendar.
photo credit: IRRI Images via photo pin cc