10 January 2023

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

Australia’s annual agricultural report card has just been released and once again it provides some interesting reading around where the industry is currently placed, as well as an appreciation of just how far we’ve come. From a broader, overall perspective, the ABARES Snapshot of Australian Agriculture 2022 – follow the link here – reveals Australian ag accounts for 55 per cent of the nation’s land use, while on a more focused level, we learn horticultural exports have increased in the past 20 years by more than 30 per cent.

The data contained in the report is so valuable for the industry – and our broader national interests – and there are many important takeaways, such as the impact of COVID on our ag sector, which this latest snapshot is able to analyse in a bit more detail. It noted the type of food we consumed during the pandemic changed, with the scales tipping more heavily in favour of foods more typically eaten at home, as opposed to ‘higher end’ products more commonly associated with restaurants and cafes. Not surprising given the circumstances, but interesting none-the-less, and now that restrictions have eased, it will be interesting to see if the balance is tipping back? Stay tuned for the 2023 Snapshot!

In terms of the impacts of COVID, while agriculture was one of the more fortunate industries in terms of minimal impact of restrictions, what this year’s Snapshot detailed was the lingering impact of border closures that reduced the availability of farm workers from overseas, including young backpackers who have traditionally been a valuable source of labour for Australian farm businesses. With borders now open, overseas workers are starting to return but it will take some time of course for numbers to build back up, and there is obviously competition from other nations facing similar labour shortages.

What I find fascinating, too, is the current figures compared with stats from decades past, such as the figure around horticultural exports, which underlines the changing dynamics of our export markets over time, and the changing face of our own ag sector. Go back 50 years and wheat and wool assumed the leading roles on the global trade stage for Australia, but now our range of exports is as vast as the number of countries we now trade with. Wool retains top billing, but wheat has now been overtaken by the likes of barley, canola, beef and even wine.

In the past 50 years, our major trading partners have changed, too, moving more to Asia – again not a surprise – but what is eye-opening is the extent to which this relationship has evolved, with exports to our eight largest Asian markets growing by 27 per cent to $28 billion in the past two decades. China is our largest export market and its business has tripled since 2001/02, to $12 billion. And demand from this part of the world is only going to grow into the future.

This valuable annual insight emphasises another aspect of the industry, too: its resilience and the ability of our farmers to adapt, innovate and pivot as the circumstances demand. This year has been tough for many in the rain- and flood-affected regions of the eastern states and they’ve had to call on every bit of that resilience and endurance. As we celebrate the arrival of the new year, I wish all our farmers, and everyone who’s part of the ag industry, a safe and prosperous 2023, particularly those who have done it so tough through 2022, and may better times be ahead for you.

To read this article in The Land Newspaper, go to https://www.theland.com.au/story/8028837/annual-report-speaks-to-innovation-of-farmers/