Advances in technology such as automation and drones have reduced numbers of workers in agriculture but are also attracting the farmers of the future to the industry, Ruralco chairman Rick Lee says.
As Australian agriculture moves away from intensive farm labour, the rise of technology-driven work is prompting demand for new skills, in a trend Mr Lee expects to bring new blood to the industry.
He also sees the current attractive outlook for agriculture – helped by low prices for water, livestock and wool during 2017 – as another drawcard for the younger generation.
‘In the 1960’s and 1970’s the last thing the child of a grazier wanted to do is go back into farming because of the experience they had, and what they had seen their parents go through,’ Mr Lee told AAP after the company’s annual general meeting in Sydney on Friday.
‘But what you are getting now is that people are seeing the actual opportunities are actually quite attractive and also seeing they have skills that they can apply.’
Mr Lee told shareholders at the meeting that new opportunities for food exports to Asia, driven by the growing popularity of westernised diets and demand for quality food and fibre products, offer huge potential growth for Australian agriculture.
Agribusiness Ruralco, a major supplier of products and services to rural industries, is well-placed to benefit from that growth and is pursuing technological innovations to enhance its offerings to the industry.
September figures from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) shows there are more than 1.6 million Australians working in the farming-related industry with, more than 300 students graduating from agricultural science courses each year.
The job placements for these graduates are currently running 15 per cent higher than other industries, Mr Lee said.
‘Interestingly ABARES data also reveals farms with the greatest productivity and turnover are being managed by a younger demographic,’ the chairman told shareholders in Sydney.
‘From this, we can interpret that, with advancing age, Australia’s farmers are tending to reduce their holding size – while some are choosing retirement.
‘At the same time, younger farmers are increasing land holdings and managing larger farms either as owners or being employed by corporates or institutions.’
With that younger cohort comes new interest in new technologies such as drones – a technology Ruralco is investigating in partnership with Meat & Livestock Australia for farm applications.
Drones can help with fertiliser and pesticide management, counting livestock and even measuring bodyweight and performance of animals.
‘Once you get to a point where you can analyse the data you can actually look at trends which would be impossible to develop on the ground,’ Mr Lee said.
According to ABARES, Australian agriculture was the largest contributor to national gross domestic product growth in 2016-17, contributing 0.5 percentage points of the national total of 1.9 per cent growth.