Scanning beyond the horizon

Thinking about the forces likely to shape the future helps us make decisions for our industries to prosper as the world around us changes.

Recent analysis by the Australian Bureau for Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) found that five key factors will shape the future of Australia’s farming sector: markets, technology, society’s expectations, climate change and structural adjustment.

Markets for agricultural products will change as demand increases, particularly in the developed world, and as new competitors emerge. More trade will mean the risk of biosecurity incursions will grow, and we will need to adapt accordingly. Domestically, production will be affected by increased competition for land, water, labour and capital.

New technologies will transform the nature of farming. Improved genetics, machinery and chemicals will be critical, and the importance of tools for collecting and analysing data will grow.

Changing social views around issues such as animal welfare, use of chemicals and genetic modification will continue to drive changes in production practices and technology.

Climate change will alter the environment faced by Australian farmers and this will lead to changes in how and where agriculture happens. Climate change may also heighten the risk of pests and diseases entering Australia which will affect how we manage biosecurity.

The structure of Australian agriculture is predicted to continue changing in the direction of fewer and larger farms. Nonetheless, small and medium-sized farms will remain common in many regions, just as they are now.

So, what do these trends mean for Australian farmers and governments?

“For farmers, the key will be to keep improving productivity, since this is the main way they will remain competitive in global markets. This will mean adopting new technologies, changing practices and learning new skills,” explained Lyn O’Connell, deputy secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

“Governments can assist the sector by facilitating incremental productivity improvement, most importantly by investing in research and development and ensuring that regulation creates as few restrictions and costs as possible, and by maintaining a strong biosecurity system. Our department will continue to track trends in the agriculture sector and will make its predictions available to the agricultural industry through articles, such as this story, seminars and panel discussions,” Ms O’Connell said.

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