A hun­gry world and new tech­nol­ogy are driv­ing de­mand in agri­cul­ture, Cara Jenkin re­veals

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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.’’

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