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Emerging opportunities and challenges for Australian broadacre agriculture

Keating, B.A., Carberry, P.S.
Crop & pasture science 2010 v.61 no.4 pp. 269-278
agricultural industry, agricultural land, agricultural soils, carbon, carbon sequestration, climate change, commodity prices, farmers, food consumption, food production, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, input costs, landscapes, natural resources conservation, new products, on-farm research, soil degradation
Agriculture globally and in Australia is at a critical juncture in its history with the current changes to input costs, commodity prices, consumption patterns and food stocks. Constraints are emerging in terms of land and water resources as well as imperatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is evidence that rates of increase in agricultural productivity are reducing, both in Australia and overseas. On top of all these drivers of change, agriculture is the sector probably most exposed to climate change, and Australian agriculture is as exposed as any in the world. Against this turbulent background, this paper explores some of the emerging opportunities and challenges in Australian agriculture. These include new products or services from agriculture such as biofuels, forest-based carbon storage in agricultural landscapes, bio-sequestration of carbon in agricultural soils, and environmental stewardship schemes that would reward farmers for nature conservation and related non-production services from farming land. Although there are situations where all these emerging opportunities may deliver benefits to both farmers and the wider community, an overall conclusion is that none of these, on their own, will transform the nature of Australian agriculture. Instead, the greatest emerging opportunity for Australian agriculture must be sought from productivity breakthroughs in the face of current and emerging constraints. This view is formed by looking through the lens of the global food production challenge which sees a demand for close to a doubling of food production by 2050 in the face of increasingly constrained land and water resources, soil degradation, increasing energy scarcity and limits on greenhouse gas release to the atmosphere. These same land, water, soil, energy and atmospheric constraints to agriculture apply in Australia and will shape both farming and the agricultural research agenda over coming decades. In the face of such national and global agronomic challenges, a significant threat looms with the skills challenge facing agricultural science in Australia. The demand for the integrative skills of agronomy appears strong but the sector has suffered from disinvestment in recent decades.