Despite being arid land, agriculture is one of the crucial factors that impact the country’s economy (approx. 3% of GDP). Agriculture accounts for 55% of the country’s land use and 24% of water extractions. Agricultural activity in the country is determined by climate, availability of water, type of soil, and proximity to markets. Cropping and horticulture are primarily concentrated in coastal areas whereas livestock grazing takes place in most areas of the country.
Australia is sparsely populated, has a strong knowledge base and a stable economy, and is hence one of the reliable food sources for other countries across the globe. Even though this generates a scope of employment for the natives, there are certain substantial challenges involved too.
The country faced catastrophic bushfires at the onset of 2021, disruptions due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the collateral damage caused due to geopolitical events, and the constant threat of drought over the years. Nonetheless, Australian farmers have kept Australia well-fed and maintained the country’s stature as a leading exporter of high-end produce.
Challenges Faced by Australia’s Agriculture Sector
Water is the most limiting constraint in Australian agriculture. The future of Australian agriculture depends on smart water usage and innovations that enhance the efficient use of water.
Australian agriculture has always been impacted by climate change. Ever-changing rainfall patterns, warmer temperatures and an increase in the frequency and severity of adverse weather conditions are inevitable and hence, would require special attention.
Ageing Farmers and Diversity:
The average age of an Australian farmer is 56 as per the Australia Bureau of Statistics and the average age of workers is 39, the gap of 17 years shows a significantly ageing workforce. Due to persistent drought over the years and farms running in debt and the consequent impact on families, the country’s youth are less inclined toward farming and rural life.
Australian agriculture needs a fearless government that would spend on advanced technological innovations in the agricultural sector. Agriculture in Australia is among the least digitised industries in the world. There are numerous issues that cannot be resolved by traditional methods. This requires huge investment and government initiatives to promote technological advancement in the country. Farmers need access to several data points generated daily on the farms to enhance productivity and efficiency, thereby helping them make data-led decisions.
Solutions for Agricultural Problems in Australia
Educating the Farmers:
Initiatives should be taken towards providing free or affordable primary-level education to both urban and rural citizens. This will help them learn about the advanced farming practices that boost efficiency. Training seminars, workshops, and learning through agriculture extension services are essential for farmers in the agriculture sector as these ensure that the farmers eventually deploy the best practices on their farms.
Providing Large Areas of Land for Agriculture:
Australian government should make land accessibility easier for farmers so that they can initiate and expand their farms for commercial purposes by producing an ample quantity of farm products to serve on a global level. At the same time, efficient farmers should be provided with lands to rent at reduced costs with the option of procuring the lands at reduced costs over a certain period of time. Also, organisations or other residents who have unused lands should partner with farmers to farm the lands.
Reducing the Cost of Farm Inputs:
The Australian government should distribute basic farming tools and equipment like seeds, fertilisers, herbicides, etc. at reduced costs to the farmers. It should be ensured that these items reach the farmers directly without the interference of any middlemen or brokers. This step will successfully boost the country’s economy. Also, Australians need to focus on farming innovations and creating advanced technologies to help farmers locally and export food globally.
Non-discrimination based on Age and Gender:
Like any other industry, citizens regardless of their gender and age should be encouraged to participate in the agricultural sector to enhance overall production for commercial usage. Sensitisation campaigns to encourage both rural and urban women to pursue agricultural ventures, offering special grants, and other financial incentives to female agricultural enterprises can make an enormous contribution to the country’s economy.
Strategic Water Usage:
It is essential to re-consider Australia’s water management if you wish to become a nation of sustainable food production. Implementing drip irrigation, water recycling, desalination, and enhanced water network management and measurement practices can prove to be beneficial.
Forming Co-operative Societies:
Farmers should gather and form co-operative groups to discuss their issues and resolve them efficiently with inputs from experienced farmers. This increases the farming know-how of the farmers. This will also make increase accessibility to farming inputs, training, equipment, and capital which will help the farmers take their operations to a higher level.
Enhanced weather forecasts will help farmers make informed decisions about which crops to grow, when and where to grow them, and the type of infrastructural investment it would entail. However, with the implementation of high-end technology and operational practices, the agricultural sector of the country can become sustainably carbon negative.
Australian government’s initiative- Clean Energy Finance Corporation is designated to invest in carbon-conscious innovations in this sector. At the same time, CSIRO has commercialised some of the exhilarating innovations on greenhouse gas emissions globally. Animal feed supplements that contain red seaweed can diminish bovine methane emissions by 80%, which is a major contribution on a global level. Feeding less than 30 grams of red seaweed to just 10% of the global herd each day can reduce the greenhouse effect in the same amount as removing 50 million cars from the road would do. The South Australian state government introduced Livestock AgTech Adoption Rebate in 2020 which encouraged livestock producers in the state to invest in the latest technologies.
Increase Farm Labour:
Australia has been dependent on foreign labourers for its shrinking and aging workforce. The government confirmed offering agricultural visas to overseas labourers over the coming three years. Also, the Australian government has attempted to attract backpackers who need to complete a minimum of three months of agricultural work for a two-year working-holiday stay, with a visa extension on the completion of a longer farm engagement.
The Australian government aims to pull the agriculture industry to A$ 100 billion in the coming nine years. Experts say that with the latest and most advanced technological backup and constant support from the government, this is realistically achievable.
For more information on agriculture in Australia, get in touch with an expert at KG2, an experienced provider of independent research and marketing services with an extensive independent farmer database.