Talk recent history with regional Australians and they’ll reflect on the highs and lows of farming, quickly pointing to the great rains that seeded local prosperity or severe drought that undid everything that was good.
They’ll leap to times when high commodity prices brought great return for effort or when market demands put stress on the usual farm business mix, forcing a move to diversify.
The issue here though is that none of these conditions are all that controllable. These environmental and macro-economic factors are the things that put primary industry through good times and bad and make it such a fascinating, if not frustrating, industry.
Talk about the future with regional Australians and they’ll sit forward and suggest there might be a resurgence in farming, observing that agribusiness has a bright outlook that will contribute significantly to the nation’s strong broader economic performance.
If they have had opportunity to appreciate the bigger picture they’ll tell you that the gross value of farm production is forecast to increase by 8.3 per cent to a record $63.8 billion in 2016-17 while export earnings from farm commodities are forecast to sit at $48.7 billion in 2017-18, higher than the forecasted $47.7 billion in 2016-17 (ABARES, March 2017 Outlook).
This latest surge in production and success, while influenced by good seasons and global trends, is far from a blip on the radar. It’s a representation of an industry constantly looking to improve and innovate.
It also comes at a time when new ideas, technologies, investment and most importantly new talent, are starting to trickle into the sector. It will be interesting to see what technology in particular will do to attract people from different backgrounds and industries, given the potential for it to revolutionise the sector as recently outlined by ANZ’s Mark Bennett.
Over the coming decades that trickle will need to become a steady stream, if we’re to realise the opportunity that our agri-excellence provides.
And as the average age of Australia’s farmers continues to rise, thankfully the recent success of the agri sector and its strong outlook is helping our next generation fall back in love with the farm. The old stereotypes of hardship and isolation are beginning to break down. Instead, many are coming to realise the lifestyle and professional opportunities presented by a modern agriculture sector that has a thirst for innovation and tech integration.
A look at the number of students commencing studies in agriculture and environment in 2016 shows an encouraging rise – reaching more than 5,000 enrolments nationally – according to the Commonwealth’s own Department of Education and Training statistics. Admittedly, it’s still low overall but it’s a step in the right direction following the decreases seen between 2003-2008.
This data perhaps reinforces a momentum shift towards agriculture becoming a more significant sector in Australia’s economic mix post the mining boom era.
Whether you’re an industry veteran or new to the fold, it’s hard not to be excited by what’s on the horizon for an industry that’s been an economic cornerstone for Australia. With continued encouragement for new talent to join the mix, bringing with them new ideas, there’s no reason our historic love affair with agriculture can’t continue to flourish