Agricultural land register

The development of a national foreign ownership register for agricultural land has been announced by the Federal Government. A working group has been tasked to define what ownership interest should be captured on the register, how the register will interact with existing state and territory land title registers and how the information would be reported and disclosed.

The consultation process aims to improve transparency in foreign ownership of agricultural land. ABARES have already declared the a need for better data sources to provide a more accurate picture of the state of foreign investment in agriculture and how this may evolve.

AgriFood Skills 2012 Environmental Scan

The AgriFood Skills Australia 2012 Environmental Scan results have been launched by the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. AgriFood Skills is one of 11 Australian Government funded industry skills councils that provide advice on workforce development and training needs.

The scan predicts that by 2018 over 33% of the existing agriculture, forestry and fishing workforce will be over 65 years old. The results underline the importance of industry and government coordination to counter the effects of workforce and skills shortages in the agricultural industry. Four priorities have been identified, they are:

attraction of new workers

adoption of higher skills levels across the workforce

diffusion of new research findings, innovative practice and technology

retention and skills utilisation of existing workers.

The scan is based on interviews with stakeholders in the sector.

State of the Climate Report

The 2011 State of the Climate report reveals La Niña conditions had a strong influence on the global climate last year. Severe droughts, floods and heat waves affected the world as greenhouse gas emissions rose, increasing the odds of extreme events. Published in the peer reviewed Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society the report states, globally last year was among the warmest since records began.

For Australia, back to back La Niña events resulted in the wettest two year period on record. Rainfall in 2011 was 51.6 mm above average, and Australia’s second wettest year since records began. For the first time since 2001, annual mean temperature was below the 1960–90 average. Cooler temperatures and high rainfall are not uncommon characteristics of La Niña years. Despite the relatively cool 2011, the 10 year average for 2002–11 was equal warmest on record.

GMOs

The European Union’s Chief Scientific Advisor has publically said that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are no riskier than conventionally farmed equivalents. Claiming there have been no substantiated cases of negative impact on human health, animal health or the environment, she felt confident in the evidence available. Consequently she felt there was no risk in eating GMO food and that the precautionary principle no longer applies.

Seven EU countries currently have national ‘safeguard’ bans on growing GM maize and the Chief Scientific Advisor implied these countries are ignoring robust evidence. Stating scientific evidence needs to play a stronger role in policy-making and that there should be an obligation to say why evidence was rejected or only partially use in decisions.

US drought

US farmers are amidst the worse drought the country has seen since 1988, although it’s reported farmers are now in a better financial position than during that last drought of 1988. While financial losses from failed crops are expected to top the $40 billion loss of 1988 ($78 billion today), less debt, record high grain and land prices, plus greater production and exports is buoying the industry.

Due to soaring feed costs dairy, beef, pig, poultry and fish farmer will be the hardest hit. Graziers are currently selling off large proportions of their herds as they can’t afford to feed them.

Some analysts are predicting a yield estimate for the US corn crop of 130 bushels per acre while the USDA is still forecasting 146 bushels per acre. While recent rains in the US Midwest created hope of stabilising the crop and resulted in a slight price drop, overall the corn crop won’t be able to greatly benefit from any rains as it’s finished its kernel setting phase.

Latest reports

The 2010–11 Agricultural Census released by ABS sums up a range of data regarding agricultural commodity items, including broadacre cropping, horticultural production, livestock production, industry activity and land use management.

The data shows that 53% of Australia’s area is dedicated to agriculture, and the total farm area rose by 3% over the previous year. Beef farming is the most common agricultural industry representing a third of the businesses. Broadacre crop production and livestock numbers increased over the past year. Tomato and potato production decreased, by more than a third for tomatoes and 12% for potatoes. Pear and apple production increased.

In another recent report, ABS reported that the value of Australian agricultural production reached $46 billion over the last year, which is an increase of 16% from 2009/2010. A steadily increasing trend of the value of agricultural production since 2002/2003. In 2010/2011, the gross value of all crop or livestock industries increased. The value of livestock products has increased by 25% to reach $7.2 million and the value of crops has increased by 18% to $25 million.

Keep up-to-date with discussion on current issues in Australian and international agriculture policy via the Ag Forum on the Institute website.

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