Angela Cummins reflects on the state of the Australian agricultural industry and believes there is a bright future ahead of us with strong commodity prices, new technology and a new generation coming through.
Recent negative media coverage around drought conditions can fuel public perception about agriculture being a challenging and unprofitable industry. The future of Agriculture in Australia is certainly bright. Shining the spotlight on the factors contributing to future farming prosperity helps increase confidence for investment, growth and jobs, and encourage the non-farm population to find out about where their food comes from and the value of our rural sector.
Although the average age of farmers in Australia is 52, many knowledgeable young people who are excited about agriculture are already working in the sector or returning home to take on the family business.
Despite challenging climatic conditions and consequential destocking, we have also seen higher-than-average commodity prices across lamb, wool, and beef. Challenging conditions in some locations also creates opportunity for others within our industry. Drought creates opportunities within your own business to review your management strategies and move them up a notch via problem solving and continual improvement. Sixth generation farmer, Ben Egan from Warren, NSW, finds that “a good split on income stream” from irrigated cotton, dryland winter crops and beef cattle “spreads the risk over the farm”. He enjoys the problem solving entailed in drought management, “working through the scenarios and coming out with what is hopefully the best solution”.
The high average returns on finished beef and lamb has been in part driven by export demand and the Australian dollar. China and India are currently equivalent to over 19% and 18% of the total world population, and around 83 million people are added to the global population each year, according to the UN department of Social and Economic Affairs. Those people need feeding, and Australian farmers are in the box seat to provide the world’s growing middle class with a ‘clean, green, premium’ product.
Institutional and foreign investment in Australian Agriculture is very significant and this isn’t set to slow down any time soon. Along with high demand for our commodities, this has resulted in unprecedented property prices. The equity on the family farm can be borrowed against to expand the enterprise or upgrade infrastructure such as stockyards, making the operation more efficient, safe, productive and profitable.
Young people in agriculture have grown up with technology and data-gathering at their fingertips, increasingly adopting Electronic Identification (EID) weighing equipment, satellite imagery, drones, robotics and virtual fencing. Data translates into information when it becomes useful in decision making, along with best practice farming strategies, to help reduce time and costs. Previous generations of farmers didn’t have access to this, and it really is exciting as to where these efficiencies could lead.
Young people in agriculture today are both engaging in the conversation around climate and doing what they can to manage droughts. Example include installing water systems and feed storages, not overstocking and educating themselves on farm management practices and strategies that increase sustainability in both a land-use and financial sense.
At the end of the day, farming is one of the most dynamic, varied, and best jobs out there. Here at Atlex Stockyards, we very much enjoy sharing the journey and supporting the transfer of farm management from one generation to the next. Young people taking the reins on the family farms and broader agriculture industry are smart, energetic, enthusiastic and certainly motivated to help lead the way.
Angela Cummins grew up on a large sheep station north of Hay, NSW, with a focus on wool production. She now runs a sheep and cattle operation with her husband, Jeremy, near Somerton in the New England region. Angela provides Sales & Marketing support to Atlex Stockyards.