The Tasmanian farming sector is a microcosm of the wider Australian industry and trends there are often reflected nationwide. This is certainly true of a trend, identified by an ANZ bank report, toward a reduction in the number of farms at the same time as agricultural production continues to increase.
The study, titled Treasured Island, focuses on how the Tasmanian agricultural industry, which is responsible for around 2 per cent of Australia’s total agricultural production value, is evolving in line with the national trend towards consolidation.
With many farmers aging out of the business and their children choosing not to work the land, many family farms have been sold and this has led to larger, corporate-style agricultural businesses taking over.
These larger concerns often have more resources and are willing to employ technology, seek efficiency gains and lift farm productivity levels.
But while employment opportunities still exist within agriculture for those who don’t own land, the rapid decline in the number of farm workers overall has had a significant impact on regional communities.
The beef industry is cited as an example with Tasmanian cattle producers reducing in number from around 1,600 in the 1970s to just over 600 in 2018.
On the upside, ANZ director of corporate agribusiness Richard Cotter noted that, “bordered by ocean and upholding an excellent image of being clean, green and highly productive, the story of quality food with traceable origins is a valuable trait of Tasmanian agriculture and essential to the Brand Tasmania trademark”.
However, that perceived superior quality does not translate into higher commodity prices for the state’s growers as prices must remain competitive with both mainland and global markets.
Over 70 per cent of Tasmanian produce is surplus to local consumption requirements and is sold either to domestic (interstate) or export markets.
The report identified the further processing, packaging and branding of produce as a key pathway to greater employment in the local sector and to capturing greater value for end products.