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Agriculture: Rising to the Challenges of Future Population Growth

In our series on the rise of the Agriculture sector we profile farming as an industry and share some high level data you may find useful if you plan to work with or sell to the Agriculture sector in Australia. Check out Part 1 of our blog on the Agriculture segment if you're interested in reading further.

Australian Agriculture trends

Australian agricultural activities are broad ranging; they include everything from extensive pastoral and cropping to intensive livestock and horticultural production. And our agricultural industry uses a significant proportion of natural resources, including 52% of national water use and 52% of Australia’s landmass (2009–10), according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

In 2010, there were an estimated 134,000 agricultural businesses across Australia operating on 400 million hectares, comprising 26 million hectares under crop (Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2009–10).

Most of Australia’s agricultural businesses are engaged in beef cattle farming, sheep farming, dairy cattle farming, grain growing, or a combination of these. More recently, the agricultural commodities with the highest value of production by Australian farmers include:

  • cattle and calf slaughter
  • wheat
  • milk
  • vegetables
  • fruit and nuts
  • sheep and lamb slaughter
  • wool

Food exports: A valuable contributor to the Aussie economy

Agricultural business helps clothe and nourish over 22 million Australians. Although imports are playing a larger role in Australia’s food supply – particularly of processed and frozen fruit and vegetables – we remain predominantly a net exporter of food. Australia’s net food exports were valued at $16 billion in 2010–11, with grains and oilseeds, meat, wool and dairy the main food types, by value, exported.

In 2010–11, 67% of our wheat production, 70% of our sugar production and 57% of the nation’s barley production were exported (ABARES, 2011b).

Our main food export partners, in terms of value, over 2010-11 were:

  • Japan
  • Indonesia
  • The United States of America
  • and China (ABARES, 2011)

Increasing disposable income in developing countries is stimulating a different pattern of food consumption in these countries, with higher demand for livestock products (meat, milk and eggs), vegetable oils and to a lesser extent, sugar (ABARES, 2011c).

Future sector growth drivers: Food security and population growth

The Agriculture sector is well placed for continued growth as concern about food security and population growth will drive an increased need for produce.

Information and opinion about food security has become increasingly rife and accessible. A pressing concern for our planet, food security “refers to availability of, and access to, suitable food”, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food security as existing:

"... when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life." (FAO, 2009)

So, our globe’s food security status has an intimate relationship with population size. And the simple question is this: Does our planet have the food resources to sufficiently power our growing population?

More importantly, are we efficiently distributing our food, in a way that maximises the use of available supply?

It’s a complex, multi-layered arena for debate and research. Let’s take a look at facts about Australia’s food resources and population growth…

Population growth provides opportunities for growth in the agricultural sector - especially considering an impressive demand for Australian produce exports. The challenge is to match the rising demand that will come with a fast-growing population. Just how fast is our population growing? Let's take a look at the facts:

Australia's estimated resident population (ERP) at 30 June 2007 of 21.0 million people is projected to increase to between 30.9 and 42.5 million people by 2056, and to between 33.7 and 62.2 million people by 2101.

Our resident population is estimated to increase to 35.5 million by the year 2056, based on present fertility trends, life expectancy at birth and net overseas migration (Population Projections, Australia, 2006 to 2101). 

Series A projects the highest growth, while Series C projects the lowest growth.


Pop Growth Chart 

In Series C, a state of natural decrease, in which deaths outnumber births, is reached in 2048. However, net overseas migration more than compensates for losses due to natural decrease and Australia's population continues to increase, albeit slowly, throughout the projection period. A state of natural decrease is also reached in Series B, but only in the last year of the projection (2101).

In the last 2 years, Australia's population has grown by 1.5% per year, with net overseas migration (NOM) contributing more to population growth than natural increase in the year ended 30 June 2007. In contrast to the 2004-based set of ABS population projections released in November 2005, no series shows population decline for Australia before the end of the century.

Continued adoption of technical change, improvements in technical efficiency, and structural adjustment within the farming sector will be critically important to the ability of humankind to feed itself in the future.

For Australian farmers and those who participate in the sector, this presents an opportunity for sustained growth over the coming decades in both domestic and export markets.

ACA Research conduct market research across a wide range of Australia industry sectors, including the Agriculture and Natural Resources industries. If you would like to find out more about our research schedule for our omnibus surveys in particular, please download the calendar.


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Topics: Market Research Animal Health Research