Australia’s agricultural producers are dynamically adapting as traditional markets diminish and new ones open up.

Story By Genevieve Barlow

At the Teys Bros Meatworks in Naracoorte, SA, the trucks are rolling in. Double-storeyed B-doubles unload heavy cattle from the northern part of the country, as pastoralists offload stock they might once have sent to Indonesia. The Indonesian Government has shut the gate on imports of their live heavier-weight cattle, cutting a major income stream on which many northerners have come to rely. Meatworks as far away as Naracoorte, Warrnambool in Victoria, and eastern Queensland are an alternative, but that incurs big freight costs and weight losses in transit. Potential new markets like China are another option, but they’ll take time to develop.
Everyone in agriculture, it seems, is looking for new markets, new opportunities. World prices for sugar and beef are at their highest in at least five years. Cotton recently hit a record high of $750 a bale. Grain sellers, now operating in a deregulated market, are finding new ways to sell their produce. Some farmers are setting up grain- and wool-selling collectives, pooling their produce to negotiate with buyers. Organic and biodynamic farmers are specialising to meet particular consumer demands.
Other farmers are capitalising on their asset – the country around them – and using it to pitch their product. Saltbush lamb raised in saltbush country in central and western NSW is a good example of this. Organic beef, run on low stocking rates across the Barkly Tableland’s flat grasslands and through the Channel Country, is now making a name overseas.
According to agricultural commodities tracker ABARE-BRS, last financial year the nation produced $40.9 billion of food including $13.1 billion of livestock, $21.8 billion of crops including horticultural produce, industrial crops such as cotton, sugar and wine grapes, plus grains and oilseeds, and $5.9 billion of livestock products including wool, milk, eggs and honey. More than half, $28.5 billion, was exported.
Where and how all this produce is sold is changing rapidly.

This story excerpt is from Issue #75

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2011