With the Queensland 2021-22 State Budget handed down last week, it is difficult not to be consumed by the sector’s headline numbers. But what do they tell us?
According to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Data Farm, in the 2019-20 financial year the Queensland agriculture sector, including gross value of production and value-added production, was worth $18.01 billion to the state economy. Comparatively, it is estimated the sector’s value has increased and will be worth around $18.33 billion this financial year – although $1 billion less than the 2016-17 peak.
The 2019-20 numbers were impacted by some unfavourable seasonal conditions, with 65 per cent of the state still drought declared and the sector managing ongoing workforce and trade difficulties exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 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, Queensland agriculture exports have grown 77 per cent over the past 10 years to a total of $9.54 billion in 2019-20. With the total remaining over $8.5 billion since 2014-15.
These numbers paint an excellent picture of Queensland’s agriculture sector, which demonstrates a strong return on investment. However, the sector’s contribution and critically, its continuing potential has not been recognised in the recent State Budget. The total expenses of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, which is a key stakeholder running critical programs particularly around biosecurity, is estimated to be $522.6 million in 2021–22, a decrease of $54.9 million on the previous financial year.
At a farm level, margins continue to be squeezed and profitability is increasingly being challenged across many agricultural industries. This highlights that while numbers can be useful, they can also be misleading when reflecting on the ‘health’ of the agriculture sector. Without more targeted and deliberate action from government, our collective goal of realising productive, profitable and sustainable farm businesses and industries may not be reflected in future numbers.