2020 has dealt unparalleled challenges across all areas of our community and the world, including Australia’s agricultural community, who have faced devastating bushfires, drought and a world-wide pandemic. With 2021 around the corner, now is the perfect time to reflect on the challenges of 2020, and to look hopefully ahead to next year.
The agricultural community’s most significant challenge over the last three years has been the severe drought conditions, with significant reductions in livestock and crop production. Farming output fell by 8%, cutting the GDP by between 0.5% and 0.75% (or between $9.5 billion and $14 billion). 2019 holds the record as the hottest and driest year ever.
On top of the drought, COVID-19 has brought further challenges, most notably a lack of available labour. The agriculture industry typically relies on a large number of seasonal and overseas workers, particularly in the horticulture and the grain industries. Australia’s horticulture industry alone is projecting a shortfall of 26,000 fruit and vegetable pickers this harvest season due to the closure of international borders.
Travel restrictions are also impacting the import and export of goods. With increased biosecurity regulations, including stricter inspections and export protocols, the cost of exporting a product and the time it takes to do so has increased.
However, despite these challenges the financial wellbeing of farmers and farm managers improved by 4.3% compared to the national average which declined 6.4%. This has occurred thanks to many innovative solutions, including online livestock auctions, accommodating staff on-farm, managing shift rotations and ensuring contact-free goods transfers.
As 2020 draws to a close there is more good news, with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) tipping a 51.5 million tonne national winter crop, the second biggest harvest on record, with wheat production up 106%, barley up 33% and canola up 59% since 2019. Additionally, the rains throughout the year have broken the three-year drought affecting NSW and parts of VIC and QLD, meaning greater water availability for agricultural use.
Though the impact of COVID-19 will continue to be felt in the agri-sector, as it will everywhere for some time to come, there is good reason to be optimistic about the coming year. The challenges faced in 2020 have shown that Australian producers are resilient, and prepared to tackle whatever may come in 2021.
Story by Chris Watt.