Agriculture boom real but still a tough gig

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HARVEST: A recent report from ABARES suggests Australian agriculture is in the box seat for good seasons ahead. Photo: Shutterstock

HARVEST: A recent report from ABARES suggests Australian agriculture is in the box seat for good seasons ahead. Photo: Shutterstock

THERE is something of an in-joke circulating between agricultural journalists presently in that those writing about the beef industry are running out of superlatives to describe the rise of the cattle market.

There's only so many times one can write "records smashed" or that prices had "entered the stratosphere".

It's been a recurring theme for the past few months as producers have watched prices rise and rise and rise.

It came as no surprise then that the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences' (ABARES) recent Agricultural Commodities: September Quarter outlook has ag production forecast to make $73 billion for 2021-22.

Described as a "remarkable combination of events", record yields, prices and good seasons have combined for the tremendously positive outlook.

While it didn't make the graphic of top 10 agricultural exports (beef and veal, wool, lamb, cotton, sugar, wheat, canola, barley, wine and live slaughter cattle) the wind of positivity does appear to include horticulture.

The report suggests the prices of fruit and vegetables will remain high in 2021-22 due to labour shortages and elevated household demand.

It said the farmgate value of horticultural production is forecast to reach a record (cue superlative) $12.4 billion in 2021-22.

Of course, horticulture, perhaps more than the other sectors, is tightly wedded to labour costs due to the nature of picking and packing fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs.

The ABARES report noted the ongoing impact of limited availability of seasonal harvest labour.

"Australian consumers are likely to see higher fruit and vegetable prices than would otherwise be the case in 2021-22, although well within typical variation," the report said.

"Demand for unskilled labour is elevated across the economy, adding additional pressure to businesses looking to secure temporary workers."

It noted the new agriculture visa would make more overseas workers available, but businesses would remain largely reliant on domestic labour supply and existing seasonal worker programs for immediately upcoming harvests.

Most growers and graziers would cringe at the term "boom times" but if ABARES is to be believed, that's what's on the cards.

No doubt many would be reluctant to speak up about the subject lest they jinx the possible golden run.

Perhaps now is the time to financially plan ahead, to put some money away, to invest in struggling infrastructure and square off some of those lingering debts.

That's an overly simplistic way of putting it but basically a more verbose reiteration of: "Make hay while the sun shines."

If only stored cash could prevent wild weather, food security scares and rogue operators from tainting the industry, one might just think horticulture is a sure bet.

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