Agriculture and farming in Australia main information
Commonwealth of Australia is a country comprising of the mainland of the Australian continent and surrounding islands, such as Tasmania and many other smaller islands. It is the sixth-largest country in the world and the largest one in Oceania. Undeniably, the development of Australia was highly influenced by agriculture. Its traditional wheat and sheep production continues into modern times with a large income to Australia’s economy. It is one of the coldest and driest continents in the world, characterized by the least fertile soils. Being a mega-diverse country, Australia is characterized by a huge variety of climates and landscapes. It is a mixture of tropical rainforests in the northeast, mountains in the southeast, and large deserts in the center. It is a highly developed country whose economy is marked as the world’s twelfth-largest economy. Australia generates its incomes from various sources such as mining exports, manufacturing, banking, telecommunications, and many other economic sectors.
Australian agriculture has been significantly diversified throughout the years. It was mainly achieved thanks to the expanses of the arable land, which led Australia to become a leading exporter of crops such as meat, grains, or wool. The world’s wool and grains market is mostly dominated by Australian exports. Another important sector of agriculture in Australia is the cattle market, which is slowly transformed from local to global production. This sector is a prominent option for many farmers bearing in mind that only 6% of Australian land is suitable for crops and pasture.
Around 3% of the GDP is contributed by agriculture. This economic sector also provides work for almost 4 percent of the Australian population. Even if the sector’s contribution to the GDP is not high, raw and unprocessed crops contribute up to a quarter of the total country’s export earnings annually. An interesting fact about the agriculture sector in Australia is that the total amount of exports is significantly higher than the number of imports. The total amount of imports was established at $15.14 billion. Main crops cultivated in Australia are oats, sorghum, maize, barley, rice, canola, soybeans, sunflowers, peanuts, chickpeas, lupines, cotton, fruit and vegetables, tobacco, and sugarcane. Australia also has quite differentiated livestock production. Livestock production mostly deals with the production of sheep, both for meat and wool, pork, poultry, beef as well as eggs and dairy products. Australian exports are predominated by the wool and cotton production (up to 90% of the total crop being exported), wheat (80%), barley and rice (50%), beef and legumes (40%), dairy products (30%) as well as fruit (20%).
The production of various crops in Australia is highly dependent on climate and the physical environment. Traditional large farms are located between the areas of Western and South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. These regions are mainly dominated by the excessive production of grains (wheat) and sheep. Other key areas for the production of beef are located in Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales. Large farms specialized in poultry production are located in New South Wales. The tropical part of Queensland is characterized by large-scale vegetable and sugarcane production. Cotton is mostly produced in both Queensland and New South Wales. Some regions of Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and New South Wales are known for their production of tropical fruits such as bananas or mangoes.
Climate and Weather ConditionsA characteristic feature of Australian agriculture, which significantly differentiates it from other countries, is the fact that the amount of crops cultivated yearly is highly affected by the weather conditions and vary from year to year. Australia’s climate and weather conditions make it extremely hard to predict the crop size, and ultimately the farm income. With the ending of drought, the value of farm production has significantly increased in the last years. Climate changes and weather conditions have great effects on some commodities. For example, rice and cotton production is expected to increase by 50% due to heavy rains.
Farm Sizes and Farming ConditionsAustralian farming is also differentiated in terms of farm sizes. Farm sizes depend on the scale of production that is why both small part-time farms and large (up to 5000 hectares) ones can be found across the country. All in all, Australian farming is characterized by its high modernized technologies, efficient operation as well as a large scale of crops. Due to the high specialization and modern technologies, only a small part of the total Australian workforce is employed in this sector. Farmers tend to ignore the environmental factors because crops and agricultural commodities production has an important value for the country’s economy. The tendency to ignore environmental factors has slightly changed in the 21st century, that is why more stress is being put on the level of degradation caused by excessive farming. There is also political tension put on the farming sector. In the past, the agriculture sector was represented by the Labor and National political parties and had considerable political weight. With changing tendencies in the Australian social structure, urban residents demand the removal of subsidies and other protections provided to farmers. Comparing to farmers in the USA or Europe, Australian farmers already do not receive many of the subsidies.
CottonCotton production is one of the most valuable farming industries in Australia. It is mostly grown in the regions of Queensland and New South Wales. Major production takes place in Gwydir, Macquarie, and Namoi valleys. The growing season lasts six months. It begins in September/October with planting and ends in March/April with picking. It is highly dependent on irrigation water, which is also a main limiting factor for cotton production. It is believed that cotton farming is the most water-use efficient in the world. Australia is one of the largest exporters of cotton worldwide. It exports mostly raw cotton. Up to 90% of the production is exported, mainly to Asian customers. The biggest buyers being China, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Pakistan, and Taiwan. Australian cotton is also exported to Europe, mostly to Italy.
CropsThere are several reasons why crops are important for Australian agriculture. Most importantly, they are produced for human consumption as well as livestock feed. The main crops produced on a large scale are grain legumes, oilseeds, and cereals. The most economic value and the largest production area is devoted to the production of wheat. Another important crop is sugarcane, which is mostly grown in the tropical regions of the country, however, this industry has a hard time competing with more efficient and larger industries such as the Brazilian sugarcane industry, even if comparing to sugar producers from Europe and American it still generates lower-cost.
ViticultureIn the 20th-century wine production in Australia was one of the most prominent agricultural industries and had huge growth. The popularity resulted in oversupply and overplanting what resulted in a large drop in wine value, especially for winemakers who partied with large wine-producing companies. The researches from 2015 showed that this sector is slowly recovering and the combined output of winemaking and grape growing were the main contributors to the country’s economic output. This growth of sector resulted also in the development of other industries such as wine tourism. Other reports from 2019 have shown that the industry is still growing and becoming more valuable, making wine the fifth-largest agricultural export industry in Australia. The domestic and international sales of wine are established to contribute AU$45.5 billion to the total economic output.
Beef industryUndeniably the largest sector of Australian agriculture is the beef industry, which is also the second-largest beef industry in the world. Thanks to the climate, all states, and territories of Australia support cattle breeding. Production of cattle is a major industry, conducted on a large scale (almost 200 million hectares). This economic sector of agriculture in Australia is strongly dependent on export markets. Up to 60% of Australian beef is exported, mostly to the United States, Japan, and Korea. The most common breeds of cattle in Australia are British and European breeds – Bos taurus and in the hotter regions, the more resistant to high temperatures Bos indicus breed as well as their crosses. The beef industry is facing strong public opposition because of cruelty. Special petitions, as well as opposition from the RSPCA, did not stop the export of living cattle.
DairyThe dairy industry was strongly regulated until the 1980s to ensure the safety of small local milk producers for their local markets. The process of deregulation began in 1986 by a politician John Kerin and The Kerin Plan. The supports were fully removed in 2000. With the growth of the dairy industry, feedlot systems are gaining more popularity.
Technology and scienceThe most important feature of Australian agriculture is a high level of science and technology used in crop and livestock production. Almost all industries of Australian agriculture rely on developments and knowledge provided by scientists and technicians. The key factor of successful farming is the proper implementation of technologies and the integration of knowledge with information technologies and economics. According to data provided by ABARES each $1 of public investment generates $12 benefits by farming. The modernization of farming successfully boosted the efficiency of farms and crops production. Thanks to that, the Australian agriculture industry stays a step ahead of international competitors.
The future of Australian agricultureDespite the hard times and difficulties that farmers have to face, farming in Australia is expected to grow further. The demand for crops is getting bigger with a growing world population and corresponding food requirements. Australia, thanks to its technology, agriculture structures, geography, climate, and weather condition is ready to undertake new challenges and to capture opportunities.