According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the world must increase agricultural output by 70 per cent by the year 2050 to sufficiently feed the growing and more urbanised global population. This presents new opportunities for Australian agriculture to expand and feed an increasingly hungry world. However, the rising cost of human labour, urbanisation, changes to consumer preferences and behaviours and growing environmental impacts on agricultural land across Australia are putting more pressure on the sector to meet the growing global demand for food. Although new agricultural technologies are changing the face of modern agriculture and could potentially help address challenges relating to productivity increases over the next decade, uncertainties remain around the future skills needed to efficiently integrate these technologies to on-farm operations and workforce demands in Australia.
A report recently released by CSIRO’s Data61 examined the current and emerging trends driving workforce change and labour use across the agricultural sector and related services. For example, the horticulture industry heavily relies on imported low-skilled labour, while the grain industry has seen high uptake of automated precision agriculture technologies that are likely to demand a highly tech-skilled workforce in the near future. The dairy industry has seen an increase in domestic demand for milk products, which is likely to change staffing needs in the future. In contrast, the livestock industry is experiencing rising export demand, which would require skill sets to efficiently manage the increasing size of herds across the Australian landscape. These unique industry-specific conditions and patterns of change are likely to impact the workforce of each industry differently over the next decade.
From the trends analysis, the authors identified the level of regional development across the small cities and large towns of Australia, and the extent of technology advancement and uptake across the agricultural sector, as two key uncertainties. On the one hand, urbanisation could continue and lack of population growth in small cities and large towns of Australia may restrict infrastructure development needed to grow the agricultural workforce in regional areas. However, the increasing cost of housing and growing congestion in large cities, along with changing business and employment models that are supporting an increasingly mobile workforce, could see regional towns and centres transformed over the next decade. On the other hand, integrating new technologies across the sector could potentially present many benefits in the future, but uncertainty remains around the extent of technology advancement and adoption across the entire sector.
Based on the interaction of these two uncertainties, four 2030 scenarios describing the supply and demand of the future agricultural workforce and labour use were created. Developing the four scenarios highlighted several challenges and opportunities over the next decade for the Australian and state governments, agricultural stakeholders and communities. Some of these challenges include the need to:
- Equip students with relevant skills and promote agricultural knowledge and career opportunities at every stage of education;
- Adapt education curricula and cater to the emerging skills requirements driven by technologies;
- Update the methods and classifications used to collect data on the agricultural workforce and collect these data consistently and frequently;
- Establish open data initiatives that enable well-coordinated big data on all agricultural inputs to be freely shared between farm operators and stakeholders;
- Fund trials to test new technologies and address issues that arise with early adoption;
- Create opportunities for Australia’s private sector to invest in new and emerging agricultural innovations;
- Invest in agricultural mitigation options addressing societal concerns over climate change; and
- Devote resources to improve key infrastructure and services and increase the attractiveness of small cities and large towns.
Read the CSIRO’s Data61 The Future of Australia’s Agricultural Workforce Report, HERE.