A hungry world and new technology are driving demand in agriculture, Cara Jenkin reveals
NEW jobs being created in cities – to support those who work on the land – are turning around an employment decline in the agriculture sector.
Federal Government predictions show 27,400 jobs will be created in agriculture, forestry and fishing in the five years to 2016, outstripping the 24,900 jobs created in the five years to 2010.
Many jobs will be citybased, with 50.7 per cent of the 1.6 million workers now employed in agriculture not located in rural areas.
Australian Year of the Farmer managing director Geoff Bell says there will be ‘‘ endless opportunities’’ in academic and trade roles as well as semi and unskilled work.
‘‘ Agriculture is not just about farming. It’s much bigger than that,’’ he says.
‘‘ Agriculture is actually getting to a higher level of skill than it probably ever has.
‘‘ There’s a real requirement and understanding of technology. A farm’s a very technical place these days.’’
Technology has caused a decline in the total number of farmers since the start of the century because machines increasingly can do workers’ jobs. But the number of larger producers is on the rise.
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of farms fell by 14 per cent, or 18,800 farms, while the number of farms with incomes greater than $1 million a year surged by 74 per cent to 6782.
Farmers are working smarter – not harder – to make the most of their land, guided by scientists and state-of-the-art machinery.
Farming can today mean producing anything from fish to flowers, with workers employed in pre and postproduction roles. Preproduction jobs can involve water, soil, animal and plant health, while post-production covers marketing, sales and processing roles.
Business intelligence analyst Neil Clark, of Neil Clark and Associates, says a strong future in farming is supported by bank borrowing figures, which reveal agriculture and mining are the only two industries where borrowing growth is occurring.
There also will be more opportunities to come when most of the workforce retires in the next 20 years, with the Australian Jobs Report 2011 showing 58 per cent of workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing are aged 45 years or older, the oldest workforce of any sector.
The National Farmers’ Federation says there are more than 100,000 jobs available in agriculture. The federation yesterday held a roundtable meeting to discuss education, skills and labour shortages.
President Jock Laurie says there has never been a better time to be a farmer.
‘‘ The growth in the farm sector over the past 20 years has consistently outperformed other sectors and was a key reason Australia avoided a recession during the global financial crisis,’’ he says. ‘‘ The prospects for agriculture are huge, with the need to feed, clothe and house a booming world population.
‘‘ World population growth will continue to expand to over nine billion by 2050, driving demand for both quality and quantity of food and fibre as well as availability of arable land and water.’’
Bell says ‘‘ there’s no more land, the land is what it is’’, which means additional application of technology is required to produce more food on farms.
‘‘ The growth in jobs on the farm because of that technology being applied is not that great but the growth of jobs in these supporting sectors is quite substantial.’’
Bell says there are roles that many would not expect, with farmers using robotic helicopters and optical sensors.
‘‘ All farmers these days have computers,’’ he says.
‘‘ There’s massive new technology and machinery that’s designed with GPS in-built, with the capacity to precision sow crops that (means) you’re being as efficient as you possibly can and not impacting on other parts of the land.
‘‘ It’s a very sustainable way of doing business.’’
Fourth-generation Mallala sheep and cropping farmer Brett Davies, 30, (pictured on the cover) first trained as a boilermaker before returning to the family farm about six years ago.
He has noticed the growth in on-farm technology use.
‘‘ Most farms have got some sort of GPS or using some sort of technology that is making farming easier and more efficient,’’ he says. ‘‘ I like the lifestyle and job diversity.’’