According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2010, there were an estimated 134,000 agricultural businesses across Australia operating on 400 million hectares (or 52% of the nation’s landmass), including 26 million hectares under crop (Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2009–10, 7121.0). Around 60% of Australia’s agricultural production is exported (ABARES, 2011).
Agricultural businesses in Australia produce a range of crops including grains, oilseeds and legumes on broadacre farms, along with more intensive crops like rice, sugar, cotton, grapes, bananas, and potatoes. Major livestock products include: beef; sheep, pig and poultry meats; dairy products; and wool. Our wheat, wool and beef are significant export earners. In 2010-11 total farm production was $60 billion and exports were around $45 billion. This constituted 21 per cent of Australia’s exports, although it was just 3 per cent of GDP.
in 2010-11, agricultural businesses employed more than 350,000 people, making the sector one of the largest employers in Australia. Many other Australian industries are linked to agriculture. The food processing industry, for example, had a turnover of $65 billion in the 2010-11 financial year.
The agricultural workforce is distinguished by the high number of self-employed, family workers and casual workers. Many farmers need to work off-farm to maintain their income. In 2005 the ABS found that 45 per cent of farm families obtained income from other sources.
There are fewer young people taking over family farms and the median age of farmers in 2010-11 was 53. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) were over 65. And the number of farmers is declining. There were 19,700 fewer farmers in Australia in 2011 than in 2006, a fall of 11% over five years.
As at 30 June 2017, the ABS was reporting the number of agricultural businesses as just 88,073. Of the 394 million hectares of land operated by these businesses in Australia at that time, 341 million hectares (or 87%) was used for grazing. During 2016-17, agricultural businesses operated across just over half (51%) of Australia’s total land area during 2016-17. Generally speaking, farms are getting larger as the number of farms declines.