Farmer numbers fall, productivity grows

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The number of Australian farmers has fallen by 40 per cent in the last 30 years, yet the value of agricultural exports in this time has grown from $8.2 to $32.5 billion, a new Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report has revealed.

Farmer numbers fall, productivity grows
NFF President Jock Laurie. Image: NFF

(View the report here)

National Farmers' Federation (NFF) President Jock Laurie credited farmers' adaptability for the good results.

"While the number of farmers has fallen in Australia over the last 30 years, at the same time, our industry has become more technologically-savvy, more innovative, more efficient and ultimately more productive at what we do: growing food and fibre," Mr Laurie said.

"As the Prime Minister said in her address to an industry dinner in Canberra only a few months ago, agriculture has been the sector with the largest productivity growth since 2007-08," he said.

"And, as the Opposition Leader said in his address to the NFF's National Congress recently, it was only because of the growth in the agricultural sector that we avoided going into recession during the global financial crisis."

Mr Laurie said if some challenges can be overcome, the outlook for Australia's agricultural industry seems positive.

"One of these challenges is to maintain this productivity growth, which needs to be addressed via a continued, strong commitment from government to agricultural research and development," he said.

"Another of these is the skilled labour shortage that the agricultural industry is currently facing."

According to the ABS statistics, the average farmer is aged 53 and working an average of 49 hours a week.

Mr Laurie said there is an urgent need to invest in manpower in order for the agricultural industry to reach its full potential. 

"That's why the NFF has convened a National Agribusiness Education, Skills and Labour Taskforce - a meeting of which was held in Canberra yesterday as the ABS statistics were released - bringing together the sector to work collaboratively towards solutions that will build a strong and resilient agricultural workforce," Mr Laurie said.

Mr Laurie's comments come as the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) released its primary industries exports forecast for 2012-13 on the 11 December.

The report predicts that agricultural export earnings will be around $36 billion, up from $32.5 billion in 2010-11 but slightly lower than the $36.4 billion achieved in 2011-12.

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