Each Australian farmer produces enough food to feed 600 people per year; this amounts to 150 people in Australia and 450 people overseas. In total, Aussie farmers produce enough food to feed 60 million people each year.
Australia’s top three agricultural exports are wheat, beef and wool. Australian farmers are leaders in efficiency of production, we do it well and it is something to be proud of. We are also leading in agriculture innovation. In 2008-09 alone, Aussie farmers invested $244 million for research and development through Research and Development Corporations.
Over the past decade however, productivity has declined. This can be attributed to extended drought conditions, higher input costs and long-term reduction in public investment in research and development. The industry is also facing a high demand for skilled professionals. Estimates indicate a potential demand of 6000 tertiary qualified graduates per sector every year. Additionally, the average age of the Australian farmer in 2006 was 52 years old. Who is going to fill all of these empty places in the agricultural industry and ensure we remain competitive in the international market?
In 2012 I was lucky to spend seven months on an agriculture research project in Tibet as an Australian Volunteer for International Development, funded by the Australian Government. The project looked at integrating dairy and grain production, and investigating new and improved ways of producing and storing grains. The project was a collaboration between local and Australian scientists – a productive way of sharing capabilities and increasing the scientific knowledge of both parties. This experience in Tibet showed me the amazing opportunities there are in agriculture, and pushed me to pursue a career as a research scientist.
The continuation of innovation is now more critical than ever to our rural industry’s growth, profitability and sustainability.We need more investment in research to ensure that Australia can adapt farming practices in a changing climate, and we need to recruit more young people to implement this change. Address these two issues, and Australia can continue to feed both the local Australian people, and the greater global population.”
Bonnie Flohr is presenting at the Oxfam Eat Local Feed Global event in Sydney on September 18.