With the State Budget handed down this week, it is hard not be a bit consumed with numbers. Looking at the sector’s headline numbers, what do they tell us?
In the 2016-17 financial year, Queensland’s agricultural sector, including first stage processing, was worth almost $20.5 billion to the state economy. Comparatively, it is estimated that the sector will be worth around $17.5 billion this financial year – $3 billion less than the 2016-17 peak and about $200 million less than it was four years ago.
The 2018-19 numbers are obviously impacted by some unfavourable seasonal conditions, with 65 per cent of the state drought declared and the sector recovering from widespread flooding across the north of the state in February this year. But consider that in 2016-17, the state’s drought declarations reached record levels at 87 per cent and Cyclone Debbie hit in March 2017 leaving an extensive trail of damage from north Queensland down to northern NSW.
Looking at the trade numbers, annual exports for the state to the end of April 2019 reached record levels at $85.2 billion, with agriculture’s percentage remaining constant year on year between 2014-15 to 2018-19. However, at a farm level, margins continue to be squeezed and profitability is increasingly being challenged across many industries.
A more general observation is that the substantial, and sometimes painful, reforms that underpinned the growth achieved in recent decades have largely run their course. And that favourable global prices account for about 90 per cent of more recent past trend growth.
What this highlights is that the numbers can be useful, but they can also be misleading when reflecting on the ‘health’ of the sector. Ultimately, our collective goal should be on realising productive, profitable and sustainable farm businesses and industries – this may or may not be pinned to realising a headline value number so we must ensure it does not cloud our focus.