Variable regional climatic conditions have proved both a boon and a burden to agricultural production and stocking rates in 2015-16, according to the Agricultural Census data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Data collected from around 104,000 businesses - as part of the Agricultural Census which happens only twice a decade - has produced a picture of Australia’s agricultural sector.
ABS Director of Environment and Agriculture Statistics, Lauren Binns said while winter and spring rain in parts of New South Wales and Queensland had produced bumper crops in commodities like barley, a warm dry spring in southern Australia saw a decrease in other crops.
“Barley production increased by 6 per cent in 2015-16, driven by New South Wales farmers increasing their planting area with excellent yields,” Ms Binns said.
“But wheat production fell by 5 per cent as a result of hot conditions in late spring in South Australia and Victoria. Similarly, production of canola fell by 21 per cent with reductions in the area planted in Western Australia and poor conditions in South Australia and Victoria.”
Mixed farmer from Parkes New South Wales Richard Rice said he was surprised at the reported increase in barley plantings.
“With barley prices currently at under $200 a tonne – it isn’t economical for growers to be sowing large amounts.
“Barley might yield well but at the end of the day a farmer is motivated by price.”
Richard said plantings of break crops such as chickpeas and other pulses had definitely increased in his area – driven mostly by the strong prices.
“Chickpeas for example, have been consistently fetching between $800 and $900 a tonne.
“Canola is also strong at around $500 a tonne.”
To the north, favourable conditions in Queensland and the Northern Territory had contributed to the earlier than anticipated restocking of beef cattle herds.
“Nationally, the national meat cattle herd fell by 1 per cent to 22.3 million, with small falls across most states offset by increases in the NT," Ms Binns said.
“Dairy herds fell by 2 per cent to approximately 2.7 million, while the sheep flock fell by1 per cent to around 67.5 million.”
Nationally, the number of agricultural businesses increased by 1 per cent to 85,681 in line with a similar increase in the total area of agricultural holdings.
Ms Binns said strong support from the agricultural sector was the foundation of the Agriculture Census – the ABS’ largest business collection - and the ABS greatly appreciated farmers’ time and effort in providing data.
The minimum size for a farming business to be included in the Agricultural Census was increased this year, from those with an average annual turnover of $5000 or more to those with a turnover of $40,000 or more.
This new scope is more in line with other statistical collections and significantly reduced the survey burden on small farming operations.