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Farm production tipped to hit $66 billion

Australia’s farm production has been forecast to soar to a record high on the back of a remarkable turnaround from a crippling drought.

The federal government’s agriculture forecaster ABARES predicts production will reach almost $66 billion in 2020/21.

The latest figures, released at ABARES’ annual outlook conference on Tuesday, show the industry is defying the pandemic and seeing off the effects of consecutive poor seasons.

ABARES acting executive director Jared Greenville said it was forecast to be an excellent year for agriculture with an expected eight per cent lift in production value from last year.

“The rebound from drought has been exceptional – in terms of the three consecutive years of decline and the sheer scale of the turnaround,” he said.

Australia’s winter crop of 55.2 million tonnes – the second biggest on record – has underpinned the growth.

Dr Greenville said favourable conditions and strong meat prices would drive an 18 per cent increase in the average national farm income, which is projected to hit $184,000.

Lower livestock numbers as farmers rebuild herds and flocks will lead to less slaughter and meat production, leading to a four per cent fall in exports.

Average national farm income is projected to increase 18 per cent to $184,000 in the short term.

In 2021/22, overall production is forecast to fall slightly to $63.3 billion with cropping regions benefiting from residual soil moisture and replenished water storages.

In the medium term, the value is expected to remain above $60 billion.

While the industry has set a government-backed target to reach $100 billion by 2030, Dr Greenville said the longer-term outlook was less clear.

“While the sector has demonstrated resilience and the ability to adapt to COVID-19, other challenges remain,” he said.

“Shifting trade, along with macroeconomic and production uncertainties, will provide the backdrop for what we expect to be a more difficult environment in which to grow production and trade value.”

National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the government needed a long-term trade strategy to deepen access to existing markets and create more export destinations.

Mr Mahar said biosecurity would also be key to maintaining and expanding export markets with a severe pest outbreak estimated to cost more than $50 billion.

“Alarmingly, our current system risks not being up to the job, without adequate investment in its expansion and modernisation,” he said.

Speaking at the conference, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud pointed to $328 million in last year’s federal budget to slash red tape for agriculture exporters.

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