Benchmarking Rural Industries' Practices and Productivity Performance and Review of Industries' Capacity to Change
This project describes the main regional environmental challenges facing the Australian grains industry and outlines the industry's response to these challenges in terms of changing land management practice. This project provides analysis on a national and industry regional scale and is not intended to have property level uses.
Regional adoption rates of practices are documented and future directions for the industry are proposed. One the major environmental challenges for the grains industry is that salinity and the grains physical position within the inland river systems of Australia has placed increased pressure on farming systems. The cumulative effects of intensifying land use within these landscapes is demonstrating itself by declining water qualities, declining water flows, increasing incidence of sedimentation from soil erosion, increasing levels of pesticides and fertilisers and vegetation/habitat loss.
KEY FACTS ABOUT THE GRAINS INDUSTRY
- Diverse and major income earner
- Located predominantly in inland Australia
- Challenged by several national environmental issues
- Sound and comprehensive organisational support
- Substantial research and development budget Industry responses in terms of land allocation and changes to farming systems are needed in some areas to address degradation issues
In 1996-97, ABARE (1998) identified that there were 41,300 grain producing farms in Australia, with the largest 14,000 grain farms (34%) producing 80% of the gross value of the Australian grain production. In 1996-97, ABARE identified that 70% of the total gross value of grain was produced on farms classified as wheat and other crops.
The Australian grains industry is made up of a range of different crops. The particular grains reviewed in this study, include:
- field grains (wheat, barley, buckwheat, oats, triticale, maize, millet and panicum, sorghum and cereal rye)
- oilseeds (canola, soybeans, sunflower, safflower, linseed/linola, mustard seeds and sesame seeds)
- grain legumes (chickpeas, faba beans, field peas, lupins, lentils and mung beans)
For information on other grain crops see further information.
Australian grains are grown in:
- Northern Region (QLD Atherton, Burdekin and Central agroecological zones, NSW northeast/QLD south east AEZ and NSW north west/QLD south west AEZ)
- Southern Region (NSW central agroecological zone, NSW/Vic slopes, Vic high rainfall/Tas grain areas, SA/Vic Bordertown-Wimmera, SA/Vic mallee and SA midnorth-Lower Yorke AEZ)
- Western Region (WA Ord, central, eastern and northern agroecological zones and the WA mallee and sandplain AEZ)
The proportion of Australia's grain growing area within each of these regions is:
|Region/AEZ||Field Grain area (000 ha)||Oilseed area (000 ha)||Grain legume area (000 ha)||Rice area (000 ha)a||%of Aust grain area|
a based on ABARE data, 2000
* excluding rice
The grains industry is large and diverse. Grain is predominantly grown in inland regions of Australia, in areas from Central inland Queensland, central NSW mainly within the Murray Darling catchment, inland Victoria, south east Australia and south west Western Australia.
In 2000-01, the key production statistics for the Australian grains industry were:
- 21 million ha total grain area, producing in excess of 37 million tonnes
- 0.13 million ha irrigated rice, using 1 643 GL per year with an average return of $189 per megalitre of irrigation water
- 0.38 million ha irrigated cereals
- gross value of production in 2000-01 of over $7.4 million, with export earnings of $6.2 billion.
In 1997/98, Australia produced 28.9 million tonnes of field grains, 1.0 million tonnes of oilseeds, 2.2 million tonnes of grain legumes and 1.2 million tonnes of rice.
The total value of these grains was $5,154 million, $417 million, $602 million and $293 million respectively.
While 94% of the oilseed produced was consumed or processed domestically, only 27% of the total grain produced was retained for the domestic market. The remainder was exported as shown in the pie charts below.
The distribution of Australia's grain production is outlined in the tables below. The southern grains region is the major production region producing 46.2% of the grain crop, while the Western region produces 29.2% and the northern region produces 24.5%.
|Region/AEZ||Field Grains (000 t)||Oilseeds (000 t)||Grain legumes (000 t)||Rice (000 t)||%of Aust grain*|
*plus a portion rice production (total 3.2%)
|Region/AEZ||Field Grains (t/ha)||Oilseeds (t/ha)||Grain legumes (t/ha)||Rice (t/ha*)|
* based on ABARE data, 2000
The grains industry overall has progressively improved productivity and yield. Average annual on-farm increase in productivity and farm performance across the different regions is detailed in the table below using wheat as an example.
|Region||Productivity a (%)||Wheat Yield a (%)||Rate of Return b (%)||Farm Cash Income b ($)||Grain Area b (ha)|
a Average annual growth 1978-79 to 1998-99
b Four year average to 1998-99
These statistics demonstrate that overall productivity improvements are reasonably consistent around the nation and that the Western region has experienced higher yield increases. However, it should be noted that on average farm sizes are larger. Factors such as seasonal conditions and disease control have not been considered in this analysis.
In 1998 the Australian grains industry employed a total of 81,173 people. 33,832 were specialist grain growers with 23,756 being proprietors or partners and 10,067 employees. 47,431 were mixed grains and grazing enterprises with 35,300 being proprietors or partners and 12,041 being employees.
Key characteristics of Australian grain producers and farms include the following industry and regional averages:
|Age of owner/manager||50 years||50 years||51 years||49 years|
|Owner/manager education and skill|
|- Completed university/tertiary or trade||15%||18%||11%||10%|
|- Completed 5-6 years high school||35%||17%||36%||56%|
|- Completed 1-4 years high school||48%||58%||50%||34%|
|- Primary or no schooling||3%||7%||3%||0%|
|Family members working on farm||86 hr/wk||86 hr/wk||85 hr/wk||95 hr/wk|
|Owner manager work on farm||51 hr/wk||52 hr/wk||50 hr/wk||58 hr/wk|
|number of dependent children||1||0.7||1||1.2|
|Farm cash income ($)||93,514||89,613||88,667||137,771|
|Total farm debt - June 30 ($)||234,708||328,401||183,639||358,259|
|Farm business profit ($)||20,209||22,846||17,030||38,298|
|Total off farm income ($)||17,016||17,682||18,909||9,285|
|Owner work off farm||3 hr/wk||4 hr/wk||3 hr/wk||1 hr/wk|
|Total farm area - June 30||1,570 ha||1,610 ha||1,242 ha||3,132|
|- Long term crown lease||15%||13%||24%||3%|
|Employment of non-family labour||26 hr/wk||30 hr/wk||22 hr/wk||43 hr/wk|
|Length of group involvement||6 years||7 years||6 years||5 years|
The larger holdings in the Western region generated a lower farm cash income per hectare of land and a significantly higher debt relative to other regions. This can be attributed to higher costs of production and/ or lower yields per hectare of land in the Western region. National degradation mapping suggests that additional costs were incurred by Western region landholders as a result of various forms of degradation.
In 1997 an assessment of the environmental impacts of the grains industry was undertaken as part of the response by the grains industry to the challenges of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD). The assessment was carried out in three phases and was intended to guide the grains industry toward the setting and achieving of appropriate environmental standards and goals.
Evidence was gathered regarding the nature of environmental challenges facing grains industry and case studies were undertaken. factors impacting on grain production included:>
- surface and ground water quality - increases in turbidity, sedimentation, eutrophication and stream salinity are occurring in off-farm watercourses
- land degradation - a decline in soil structure, increases in soil acidification, water erosion, wind erosion and dryland salinity due to agricultural processes
- biodiversity - broadacre clearing is causing species extinction due to loss of habitat
- energy - agricultural production generally runs at an overall energy deficit
- chemical residues - the use of chemical sprays poses health risks for operators, threats of surface and groundwater contamination, and unwanted impacts on non-target organisms
- greenhouse gas emissions - 17% of National emissions can be attributed solely to agriculture, through the use of fertilisers, soil disturbance and burning of agricultural residues.
The proportion of grain farms experiencing various forms of degradation is presented in the graph below for each of the three grain production regions.
The average Australian grain farm area affected by various forms of degradation is shown in the graph below.
These two graphs show a significant difference between the extent of degradation experienced by farmers in the eastern and western Australian grain growing areas.
This difference is due in part to some inherent features such as salt prone soils, vegetation clearing strategies and high fertiliser inputs. These attributes are not restricted to the west, but their effects appear to be more pronounced. The extent of salinity in sections of the Western region is widespread and these areas significantly impact on wheat production. Other forms of degradation such as elevated soil acidity, declining soil structure and increasing erosion are more prevalent in the Western region. At this stage, the industry in the west appears to be responding to these degradation effects as productivity and performance per farm is improving, albeit on much larger property scale.
The national adoption of the practices being used to manage these, and other environmental challenges, has been surveyed by ABARE. A summary of the findings of these surveys is shown in the charts below.
These practices are the result of on-going research and development conducted by all state agencies and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). They have changed over the years since settlement and have been responsive to emerging degradation forms and knowledge levels.
In the rice industry, the Ricecheck program encourages rice farmers to manage their crop according to targets by measuring crop performance and analysing results. Targets set by the program cover the areas of:
- environment - land suitability and safe pesticide use
- productivity - field layout, sowing time, crop establishment, crop protection, crop nutrition, panicle initiation date and water managemen
- grain quality - harvest grain quality
Key checks are provided for each target, allowing for easy self-assessment. The adoption of the Ricecheck recommendations by the Australian rice industry is illustrated in the chart below. Reasons for the variation in adoption rates are not conclusive, however seasonal and pest conditions generally affect adoption rates.
As an example, adoption of the Ricecheck recommendations for the Amaroo variety of rice has shown an increase in yield of about 2 t/ha over the period 1994-2000 with an increase in achievement of key checks from one to eight. This equates to approximately 0.3 t/ha for each key check achieved.
In addition to the Ricecheck program, the rice industry has an environmental policy that aims to ensure that:
- Rice is only grown on environmentally suitable soils
- A ceiling (is set) on the density of rice growing on the landscape
Research and Development
The main body involved in research and development in the grains industry is the Grains Research and Development Corporation. The GRDC is responsible for overseeing research and development, delivering improvements in production, sustainability and profitability across the Australian grains industry.
Funds for GRDC operations are predominantly sourced through industry and the Commonwealth Government. The grains industry contributes to GRDC research via a research levy on grain growers, determined by the Grains Council of Australia (GCA) each year. These funds are then matched by the Commonwealth Government up to an agreed limit.
The GRDC has implemented four main research investment objectives in the areas of:
- quality requirements
- increasing productivity
- protecting and enhancing the environment
- delivering outcomes.
In 1999, the GRDC administered expenditure of more than $74 million, up 9% on the previous year. The following charts illustrate the proportion of funding allocated to each grain group and region in 1999.
GRDC Quantitative Benchmark Studies
The GRDC have undertaken two quantitative benchmarking studies aimed at assessing attitudes to, and adoption rates of various best management practices. These studies were undertaken in 1994 and 1997.
These studies showed little change in the proportion of growers achieving best practice (7% in 1994 and 6% in 1997). However, a significant proportion of growers classed as 'slow adopters' in the earlier survey were shown to have moved into the 'middle grower segment' and some of the growers from the 'middle grower' category had moved into the 'innovative grower' segment.
The surveys also identified an increase in the use of private consultants (up from 29% in 1994 to 49% in 1997) and a stronger inclination to try new techniques quickly.
The distribution of best practice and other growers within the three production regions is shown in the chart below for both 1994 and 1997.
State Agency and CSIRO Research Role
Research into the wider natural resource management issues have traditionally been the responsibility of state agencies and the CSIRO. In the past, this research has concentrated on land management issues and more recently, moved into land and water use assessment and water management issues. In addition, applied research into areas affecting production and environmental values has been undertaken. An example of this is the research carried out by CSIRO?s Rodent Research Group in association with the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment between May 1994 and June 1997 in the Wimmera and Mallee areas of Victoria. The final report from this research, entitled Best farm management practices to control mouse populations (1997) recommended adoption by the grains industry of a range of practices dependent upon crop production stage/season. These practices include:
- monitoring mouse presence
- weed and grass control along fencelines, around buildings and other infrastructure
- cutting hay early to eliminate seed
- spraying or grazing pasture well to minimise seed
- minimising grain loss during harvest by various methods
- planning harvest to remove grain from worst affected areas first
- maximising early crop establishment by various planting measures
- planning crop rotations to reduce risk.
GRDC Grains Research Industry Survey
The Grains Research Industry Survey Wave 7 (Watson and Quint, 1998) identified that 74% of the growers surveyed changed their farming practices in the last five years directly due to research findings and 57% of farmers made such a change in the last 2 years.
The survey also found that growers are beginning to adopt preventative farm management practices such as:
- maintaining legume pastures to improve crops (74%)
- sowing deep-rooted crops and pastures specifically to counter rising water tables (22%)
- using controlled traffic systems to prevent soil degradation (12% - further 8% intending to implement in next 3 years).
The chart below illustrates the regional distribution of the adoption of these practices.
Codes of practice
The grains grazing industry does not currently have a specific "grains industry" code of practice, however, guidance is provided to farmers through codes of practice for general agriculture such as that developed by the State Farmer's Federations and equivalents or through the TOPCROP program.
The industry's main source of advice on recommended management practice has historically been developed through state agencies and CSIRO research and extended to growers via state agencies and agribusiness support.
TOPCROP is a farmer focused information network based on monitoring and target setting for crops, pastures and finances. The aim of setting these targets is to increase profitability and sustainability. TOPCROP is a partnership between growers, industry and government that assists wit:
- access to recent industry recommendations;
- dissemination of local knowledge;
- grower interaction; and
- technology review.
In 1989, the Grains Council of Australia initiated the Grains 2000 Project. This project arose from recognition of the need for strategic planning to ensure the future prosperity of the Australian Grains industry.
The Grains 2000 Project identified a number of issues critical to the longer-term profitability and financial sustainability of the Australian grains industry. Strategic Planning Units (SPUs) were established to address these critical issues as they relate to specific grains. SPUs were established for Malting Barley, Grain Legumes, Milling Wheat, Oilseeds and Feed Grains.
Specific strategic plans were developed for each of the SPUs, and deal primarily with improving/expanding domestic and export markets, improving links and arrangements with various institutions and improving industry profitability.
The industry is supported by a network of structures and organisations. These structures support the industry in areas such as marketing, infrastructure and research and development. Supportive bodies include peak bodies, government agencies, grain marketing organisations and R & D institutions. A summary of this structure is presented below.
How are Australian grain producers working with other agricultural industries to overcome environmental challenges?
Grain produced in the northern and southern regions generally forms either part of mixed farming systems or mixed farming regions. In these regions, grain is produced alongside a developing cotton industry and the beef cattle industry. The Western region is less diverse. Historic environmental issues that have the potential to impact on environmental values and grain production levels where mixed industries exist include:
- containment of herbicides through spray drift and runoff mobilisation;
- runoff coordination affecting erosion rates and water flow pattern;
- unknown effects of genetically modified plantings;
- equitable water allocation.
The resolution of these issues on a regional level requires ongoing research and development. The grains industry is involved in the agropolitical planning processes through peak bodies, landcare groups, catchment management bodies and local authorities. Through these organisational structures, they are working with other rural industries to manage the environmental effects and have input into industry codes and best management practices. Wide environmental community concerns such as water quality, protection of biodiversity and use of land according to capability are considered through similar structures.
The grains industry is a rural industry that faces a number of developing and expanding environmental challenges. The developing salinity and degraded soils issues will require evaluations of the effects grain management practices have on wider landscape processes. The adoption of currently recommended management practices may not be applicable to all grain areas. In some of the more badly degraded areas, a change in land use may be required, or at the very least, a change in farming system. These changes will /should be determined by the degradation process occurring and the economic outlook at the time. Failure to do so will result in the progressive decline in utility for the grains industry. The grains industry to date has demonstrated a readiness to respond as an industry - the challenge will be to manage the effects of change in regional communities.
Link to Map maker to make a map using this information.
Link to data available for download on "A spatially consistent sub-set of agricultural statistics (AgStats) data 1982/93 to 1996/97"
- Grains Research and Development Corporation web site
- Quality Wheat Cooperative Research Centre web site
- Australian Wheat Board web site
- Rice Cooperative Research Centre web site
- Ricegrowers' Association of Australia web site
- Grains Council of Australia web site
Some documents on this website are available as PDF files. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view PDF files.
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