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Australia is a major agricultural producer and exporter. There is a mix of irrigation and dry-land farming. The CSIRO has forecast that climate change will cause decreased precipitation over much of Australia and that this will exacerbate existing challenges to water availability and quality for agriculture.[1].

There are three main zones: the high rainfall zone of Tasmania and a narrow coastal zone (used principally for dairying and beef production); wheat, sheep zone (cropping (principally winter crops), and the grazing of sheep (for wool, lamb and mutton) plus beef cattle) and the pastoral zone (characterised by low rainfall, less fertile soils, and large scale pastoral activities involving the grazing of beef cattle and sheep for wool and mutton).[2] An indicator of viability of agriculture is whether land is within Goyder's Line.[3]

Murray Grey beef cows and calves

Contents

Issues facing Australian agriculture

The major issues facing agriculture in Australia are drought, water security, global warming caused by climate change, biosecurity (biological threats from imported foods and livestock), tariffs on Australian exports in the importing country (particularly in Europe and Japan), subsidies to farmers in other countries, currency fluctuations and price volatility.[4] The wheat industry has also faced the end of the "single desk" marketing system after the Australian Wheat Board was found during the Cole Inquiry to have illegally paid bribes to officials in Iraq.

Importance of irrigation

The total gross value of irrigated agricultural production in 2004-05 was $AUD 9,076 million compared to $AUD 9,618 million in 2000-01. The gross value of irrigated agricultural production represents around a quarter (23%) of the gross value of agricultural commodities produced in Australia in 2004-05, on less than 1% of agricultural land.[5]

Of the 12,191 GL of water consumed by agriculture in 2004-05, dairy farming accounted for 18% (2,276 GL), pasture 16% (1,928 GL), cotton 15% (1,822 GL) and sugar 10% (1,269 GL).[5]

Major agricultural products

Australia produces a large variety of primary products for both export and domestic consumption. The forecast top ten agricultural products by value are listed for year 2006-07, with production figures from previous years.[6].

Value in millions of Australian Dollars:

Commodity 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06(estimated) 2006-07 (forecast)
Cattle and calves 6,617 5,849 6,345 7,331 7,082 6,517
Wheat 6,356 2,692 5,636 4,320 5,905 6,026
Milk 3,717 2,795 2,808 3,194 3,268 3,245
Fruit and nuts 2,333 2,408 2,350 2,640 2,795 2,915
Vegetables 2,269 2,126 2,356 2,490 2,601 2,715
Wool 2,713 3,318 2,397 2,196 2,187 2,138
Barley 1,725 984 1,750 1,240 1,744 1,624
Poultry 1,175 1,273 1,264 1,358 1,416 1,461
Lambs 1,181 1,161 1,318 1,327 1,425 1,348
Sugar cane 989 1,019 854 968 1,037 1,208

Crops

Sunflower crop on the Darling Downs, Queensland

Cereals, oilseeds and grain legumes are produced on a large scale in Australia for human consumption and livestock feed. Wheat is the cereal with the greatest production in terms of area and value to the Australian economy. Sugarcane, grown in tropical Australia, is also an important crop; however, the unsubsidised industry (while lower-cost than heavily subsidised European and American sugar producers) is struggling to compete with low-cost Brazilian product. Listed below is crop production by kilotonnes (five year average) for the largest crops:

Crop (kilotonnes) New South Wales Victoria Queensland Western Australia South Australia Tasmania Total
Wheat 6714 2173 1301 6959 3382 23 20552
Barley 1070 1173 202 1511 2000 25 5981
Sorghum 739 3 1140 3 0 0 1885
Cottonseed 663 0 1140 3 0 0 1806
Canola 637 312 1 530 225 1 1706
Oats 360 420 7 588 137 8 1520
Lupins 140 30 0 1050 103 0 1323
Field peas 20 166 0 47 190 1 424
Maize 190 8 171 6 0 0 375
Chickpeas 86 20 56 29 5 0 196
Lentils 2 68 0 2 56 0 128
Broad beans 42 68 1 0 14 0 125
Sunflower seed 46 0 65 0 0 1 112

Horticulture

Potato farming in rural Victoria.

Australia produces a wide variety of fruit, nuts and vegetables. The largest crops (>300 kilo tonnes, in 2001-2001) include oranges, apples, bananas, chestnuts, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes.

Tropical fruits, including bananas, mangoes and pineapples, fare well in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Australia is one of the few countries that produces licit opium for pharmaceuticals. This industry, centred in Tasmania, is subject to strict controls.

The horticulture industry has traditionally provided Australians with all their fresh fruit and vegetables needs, with a smaller export industry. However, loosened border controls and increasing importers have threatened local industries. Consumer research has repeatedly shown that Australians prefer local produce. However, there is no effective country-of-origin labelling and consumers frequently assume all fresh vegetables and fruit must be Australian.

In 2005 McDonald's Australia Ltd announced it would no longer source all its potatoes for fries from Tasmanian producers and announced a new deal with New Zealand suppliers. As a result Vegetable and Potato Growers Australia Ltd launched the 'fair dinkum' campaign to raise awareness and push for country-of-origin information on all food products. This campaign included a tractor convoy moving from Tasmania to the mainland (by barge) and then a road trip throughout country Victoria and New South Wales culminating at Canberra, the national capital.

Some commodity groups (e.g. bananas, apples) also enjoy a freedom from devastating fruit pests. However, loosened import restrictions may introduce these diseases.

Viticulture

Grape vines in Mildura, Victoria during December, 2006.

Australia has a large wine industry, and the value of wine exports surpassed AUD$2.3 billion in 2002-2003. Wine regions include the Barossa Valley in South Australia, Sunraysia in Victoria, Margaret River in Western Australia and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. The key wine varieties grown in Australia (by area in 2001-2002) are Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the Australian wine industry enjoyed a large period of growth during the 1990s, over planting and over supply have led to a large drop in the value of wine, forcing some wine makers, especially those on contracts to large wine producing companies, out of business. The future for some Australian wine producers is now uncertain.

Livestock

The number of livestock killed for domestic consumption or export, or exported live in 2001-2002 is shown in the following table:

Livestock slaughterings Thousands ('000)
Beef 8,587
Cattle exported live 797
Sheep 14,441
Lambs 17,400
Sheep exported live 6,443
Pigs 5,402
Poultry 416,000

The Beef Industry

The beef industry is the biggest agricultural enterprise in Australia. The Australian beef industry is dependent on export markets, with over 60% of Australian beef production exported, primarily to the United States and Japan. The industry has benefited from the discovery of BSE (also known as mad cow disease) in Canada, Japan and the United States, as Australia is free of the disease.

Prime lamb competition, New South Wales

The Lamb Meat Industry

Lamb has become an increasingly important product as the sheep industry has moved its focus from wool production to the production of prime lamb. The beef meat industry and the lamb industry are represented by Meat and Livestock Australia. Live export of cattle and sheep from Australia to Asia and the Middle East is a large part of Australian meat export. Live export practises came under scrutiny after the carrier Cormo Express carrying 52 000 animals was turned away from Saudi Arabia in 2003 due to suspected cases of scrapie. The sheep were eventually given to Eritrea. Media coverage has led to calls from animal rights activists for the live export trade to cease.

The Pork Industry

There are currently an estimated 2,000 pig producers in Australia, producing 5 million pigs annually (Productivity Commission). Although relatively small on the world stage (0.4% world production), the industry provides a significant positive impact on local, regional, state, and national economies through income generation and employment. The pork industry contributes approximately $970m to Australia’s GDP and the supply chain contributes $2.6billion to the GDP. The industry generates over $1.2b of household income, directly employing 6,500 full time positions, and the supply chain employs 29,000 people. The Australian pork industry is represented by Australian Pork Limited, a producer-run company created by legislation.

Dairy

An 80-stand rotary dairy that is fully computerised and records milk production.

Dairy products are Australia's fourth most valuable agricultural export.

Domestic milk markets were heavily regulated until the 1980s, particularly for milk used for domestic fresh milk sales. This protected smaller producers in the northern states who produced exclusively for their local markets. The Kerin plan began the process of deregulation in 1986, with the final price supports being removed in 2000. [1]

Growth in the Australian dairy industry is dependent on expanding export markets. Exports are expected to continue to grow over time, particularly to Asia and the Middle East.

Fisheries

The gross value of production of Australia's fisheries and aquaculture products was $2.3 billion in 2002-03. The Australian aquaculture industry's share of this value has been steadily rising and now represents around 32 per cent. The value of exports of fisheries products in 2002-03 was $1.84 billion. Australia's main seafood export earners include rock lobsters, prawns, tuna and abalone.

Wool

A sheep being shorn in Western Australia

Wool is still quite an important product of Australian agriculture. The Australian wool industry is widely recognised as producing the finest quality Merino wool. This is largely attributable to selective breeding and a superior genetic line.

As of 2001 Australian wool production accounted for 9% of world production (Australian Bureau of Statistics Data). However, it dominates the fine quality wool sector, producing 50% of the world’s Merino wool.

Although sheep are farmed Australia-wide, 36% of the flock is in New South Wales.

Research and development for the industry is led by Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI), a producer owned company. Australian wool is marketed by the Woolmark company. Both companies are held by Australian Wool Services, a company created by legislation.

The industry is export-oriented. Historically, up to 90% of Australian wool was exported. The industry has suffered from a lowering demand for natural fibres, a stockpiling of product, and a crash in wool prices worldwide.

Animal rights organisations including PETA are currently promoting a boycott of Australian, and all Merino wool, as a protest against the practice of mulesing.[7] Due to the worldwide attention, AWI has proposed to phase out the practice by 2010.[8]

Cotton

Australia also produces considerable amounts of cotton. The majority of the cotton produced is genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup or to actively kill pests through the production of Bt toxin (Bt-cotton). Cotton is generally grown by irrigation.

See also

References

  1. ^ Preston, B.L.; Jones, R.N. (February 2006). "Climate Change Impacts on Australia and the Benefits of Early Action to Reduce Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions". CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research. http://www.csiro.au/files/files/p6fy.pdf. Retrieved 2009-01-25.  
  2. ^ Shaw, John H., “Collins Australian Encyclopedia”, William Collins Pty Ltd., Sydney, 1984, ISBN 0 00 217315-8
  3. ^ http://www.abareconomics.com/interactive/ausNZ_ag/htm/au_overview.htm Retrieved 25-01-2009
  4. ^ http://www.abareconomics.com/interactive/ausNZ_ag/htm/au_change.htm Retrieved 25-01-09
  5. ^ a b "Drought drives down water consumption". Australian Bureau of Statistics. November 28, 2006. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4610.0Media%20Release12004-05?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4610.0&issue=2004-05&num=&view=. Retrieved 2009-01-25.  
  6. ^ "Gross value of farm and fisheries production". Australian Commodities (ABARE economics) 13 (2): 438 and 439. June quarter 2006.  
  7. ^ "Pink angers Australian government". BBC News. 20 December 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6196691.stm. Retrieved 2007-01-09.  
  8. ^ Peter Wilkinson (8 November 2004). "In the News". Australian Wool Growers Association. http://www.australianwoolgrowers.com.au/news2004/news081104.html. Retrieved 2007-01-09.  

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