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What will Australian Agriculture look like in 2085?

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In 70 years: Farmer opinions on the future of food production

Originally published by ABC News

Australian farmers describe their connection to their land, highlight the biggest change they’ve seen in farming, and imagine food production in 2085.

Hear from Bryan Smith, a mixed farmer from South Australia:

Bryan Smith farms at Coorabie in the far west of South Australia. He operates the last cropping business as you head west out of South Australia. He also runs 1,000 dorper sheep.

What’s your connection to this farm?

We started farming in the mid north of South Australia in Laura and in the late 1980s we formed a partnership and bought the property over here. Things developed and we ended up buying out the partners and my brother remained at Laura and I came over here about 25 years ago. I really enjoy the challenge. The place needed a lot of work when I got here and we have probably redone about 80 per cent of the fencing and redone the waters. It does not rain here much but at least we can get up on the hill and see the ocean so it is not a bad spot.

Can you describe the biggest change you’ve witnessed?

Probably machinery has been one of the biggest things. We have all geared up with big booms and big air seeders. Also I guess when we first came here in 1989 there were 16 farmers in the district and now we are down to three that are cropping. The size of the farms and machinery is definitely the biggest change. Most people have left the district and it is only really the farmers that are left here and a few staff at the roadhouse.

What makes you stay?

We enjoy farming here, but it is a challenge. I would say it is reliable marginal, although it is not that way this year. Most years we get a little bit of return on our investment and when it is good, it is really good.

What do you think farming will look like in 70 years time?

Given the changes that have taken place over the last 70 years your imagination is the limit, but I think technology is going to be a big player in broadacre agriculture as labour gets harder and harder to find. Farms will continue to get bigger, so I think remote control tractors and those sorts of things, they might be a bit of a dream now, but I am pretty sure in another twenty years we will be seeing something like that.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope we can just keep doing what we are doing. We certainly have some challenges out here. Distance is a big thing with freight etc, so another port out here would be good or we could be in trouble if we have to start carting everything to Port Lincoln.

I have got my son here with me. He does a lot of earth moving as well. It is handy to have him around and I guess if he was not interested I would probably be a lot less interested. He is keen to stay on the farm, but he also has the option of off-farm work too if he needs it.

 

Hear from Jason Stokes, a mixed farmer from Western Australia:

 

Jason Stokes is a third generation farmer from Nanson in the Chapman Valley, off the coast of Geraldton in Western Australia. He runs a mixed sheep and grain operation with a particular focus on livestock.

What’s your connection to this place?

My parents moved to this farm in the late 60s. The homestead complex that we’re in is the original Mt Erin homestead, which was the original station for the area. I’ve grown up on this farm all the way through, so it’s got a very good feeling of home for me. I’m the second generation that’s primarily farmed on this property; my grandfather had properties further east of here prior to moving here in the 60s.

Can you describe the biggest changes you’ve witnessed?

The scale of the operations has been a huge change. The properties that we own and manage now, when I was at school probably supported 10 to 12 families plus their staff, we currently run that same area with five active people within the business. Machinery developments have meant that there are a lot of efficiencies in having bigger machinery, the machinery has got more expensive, which means you’ve got to do more hectares with that machine to justify the purchase cost of it.

We’ve also got smarter and more efficient at doing things, which means we can cover more hectares in a set period of time.

What makes you stay?

I love the challenge of farming; it’s a great way to make a living. The fickle nature of the weather and prices that obviously add their challenges, but we produce over a million meals a year between five people, and I think that’s not a bad way to make a living.

What will this place and farming look like in 70 years’ time?

I don’t believe it can head too much further down the corporatisation path of more hectares per manager. I feel that there is a bit of a loss of control in that and some of the technologies that are brought up to alleviate that loss of control add their own challenges. I think there is going to be a lot more technological development to assist us, but probably not so much with chemical development but more so with robotics.

I think it’s quite exciting.

There’s currently a split between those that need food for foods sake and those that really appreciate the food journey, and as long as it’s produced ethically and economically, as long as there is an awareness in society, it should be a quite viable and honourable profession to be in into the future.

What are your hopes for the future?

We hope to still be producing food for the world.

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