The declining number of farmers in Australia may imply a downward trend in output from the industry but the opposite is true: a smaller number of farmers have managed to achieve a steady 5 per cent per annum increase in both the quantity and value of production over the past 10 years.
"Tasmania may represent to mainland Australia what Australia represents to international markets.”
A new report from ANZ’s Agri InFocus series, Treasured Island’ recaps the trend of consolidation in Australian agriculture, documenting the number of farming businesses has reduced by around 5 per cent per annum over the past 10 years, with no signs of slowing.
According to the report, Australia continues to see a relatively small proportion of farms, being those farms that turn over greater than $A1 million per annum, contributing to the majority of output from agriculture. The Tasmanian agricultural industry is part of that national trend, with some variations.
Nationally, large farmers were responsible for around 60 per cent of agricultural output value in 2016-17, a figure that has grown from just 25 per cent 40 years ago. Large turnover farms are also increasing in their representation within the industry, accounting for 16 per cent of the total farming population, increasing from just 3 per cent over the same period.
Achieving gains in production and value has not been easy for our farmers, with an array of challenges including droughts, floods, increasing costs and a rise in global competition for key export commodities among the list of things to contend with. While the industry finds a new normal through continued consolidation, the impact of this trend on regional communities must also be considered.
The Island State
Tasmania, the island state responsible for around 2 per cent of Australian agricultural production value, represents a unique and diverse agricultural landscape.
In some ways we see that Tasmania may represent to mainland Australia what Australia represents to international markets, whose own perception of us as a food producing nation are so vitally important.
Farming was once the backbone of many of Australia’s regional towns but a reduction of farming businesses points to real and justified concern for the demographics and futures of these localities.
The employment profile of agriculture, explored through ANZ’s analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) census and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) farm survey data, demonstrates a declining overall trend in the number of direct agricultural employees and also change in composition of those employees that remain in the industry. It also highlights a clear trend in the average age of farmers across different sized farming operations.
As farms become larger, and arguably more corporatised in their structure, there is a clear reduction it the contribution from family members and an increase in the relative proportion of employees.