THE gross value of Australian agriculture increased by $3.1 billion over 2015-16 to a total of $56 billion, according to new data released last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Agricultural Census for 2015-16 is one of the largest statistical collections undertaken by the ABS. The five-yearly survey is a snapshot of who grew what, where, and with how much water. Data was collected from about 104,000 businesses across Australia, ranging from beef cattle production to broadacre farming and vineyards.
Variable regional climatic conditions have proved both a boon and a burden to agricultural production and stocking rates over the period.
Animal numbers fell slightly over the year. The national beef herd numbered just over 22 million; there were 2.6 million dairy cows; and 67.5 million sheep. The top three crops nationally were: wheat, valued at $6.2 billion; fruit, nuts, and grapes ($5.6 billion); and vegetables ($3.6 billion).
This year, the minimum size for a farming business to be included in the survey was increased from $5000 to an average annual turnover of at least $40,000. This is a much more realistic figure, as a farm with turnover under $40,000 is unlikely to be a commercial operation. It does, however, mean that it will be difficult to undertake time series comparison.
Australian farmers are getting older, with the survey finding the average farmer is 56 years old. That’s up from 54 less than a decade ago, and is 17 years older than average Australian worker who is 39 years old. The average farmer is likely to have been farming for 35 years and be a man, raising livestock or growing wheat. Men continue to make up the bulk of farmers, with 78 per cent of respondents being male.
On June 30 last year, there was 371 million hectares of agricultural land in Australia – a one per cent increase compared with the previous year. There were 85,681 agricultural businesses across Australia, 952 more than the year before. The average farm size was 4331ha, which is up 0.3 per cent since 2014-15. The majority of business income for agricultural producers was from agricultural production (84 per cent) which remained essentially stable over the period.
So what does the Tasmanian industry look like?
Tasmania accounted for 3 per cent of Australia’s agricultural production by value in 2015-16, even though we occupy only around 1 per cent of the nation’s land mass. Around 1.5 million hectares (just under 22 per cent of the state’s area) is under some form of agricultural production.
The state’s 2330 farm businesses generated a gross value of agricultural production of $1.485 billion – up from $1.438 billion in 2014-15. This is an outstanding result, especially considering the extreme weather events experienced across the state during the year, including drought and floods. Although some of the state’s traditional products (dairy, potato and poppy production) were affected by the challenging weather conditions, most still continued to perform strongly, highlighting the ongoing value of these industries to Tasmania’s economy.
Investment in irrigation played a key role in mitigating the impact of the dry conditions, particularly for fruit growers and the wine industry which increased their combined value of production by $81 million (69 per cent) to $199 million. The survey showed that irrigated agriculture in Tasmania increased from 222,316 megalitres in 2014-15 to 308,689ML in 2015-16, an increase of 39 per cent. That has brought more employment and economic activity to many areas across the state.
The ABS data also showed:
- DAIRY remains Tasmania’s highest value commodity, with production valued at $386 million.
- THE traditional beef sector also continued to perform strongly, with production increasing in value by $67 million (27 per cent) to $314 million.
- WOOL also performed strongly, increasing in value by $4 million (4 per cent) to $95 million.
- CHERRIES recorded the greatest growth in the value of product, with a 103 per cent increase in value to $64 million.
- THE value of apple production increased by 28 per cent to $45 million.
- POTATOES were the state’s fourth most valuable commodity, although production decreased from 292,911 tonnes in 2014-15 to 251,439 tonnes in 2015-16.
These figures clearly confirm the importance of the sector as an economic driver for the state’s economy. With this in mind, it is clear that Tasmania needs to ensure that the agricultural base of the state remains competitive and profitable if we are all to benefit from the growth forecast for the sector.