State of the (farming) nation

07 Dec, 2012 03:00 AM
Farmers are also quick to adopt internet-related technology...

AUSTRALIA'S typical broadacre farm owners and managers are generating about $352,000 each in gross annual income and together spend at least $4.6 billion a year on fundamental farm inputs.

They are typically aged about 51, responsible for about 2045 hectares of country, including 490ha of crops, have three dogs and three horses and expect to spend a combined $848m-plus just on sheds, silos and vehicles this financial year.

About half have tertiary education qualifications and they are twice as likely than urban dwellers to choose to watch ABC television.

This snapshot of the people running the typical broadacre enterprises which generate at least 60 per cent of Australia's agricultural activity has emerged from the latest Quantitative Agricultural Readership Survey (QARS) report.

The findings, released this week, show those running the nation's mainstream farm operations are on average about 13 years older than Australia's mean population age, but better educated than often perceived.

"Farmers are also quick to adopt internet-related technology, depending on the limitations of broadband access," said Karen Rogers, the research and business development manager with Fairfax Agricultural Media's national sales division which commissions the QARS report.

"However they are less likely to use the technology as a social networking tool, and 73pc still prefer to get their agricultural news and information via printed publications, even though many also follow digital news services.

"The most common reasons farmers connect to the internet are practical uses relating back to the farm business - email, banking and monitoring the weather."

The independently conducted survey, run every three years since 1997, involved 1255 farm owners whose businesses had an annual agricultural output exceeding $40,000.

Like urban Australians, broadacre farm operators have caught the on-line shopping bug, spending an average of $2033 in 2011-12 on internet-based purchases (compared to about $2522 by metropolitan e-shoppers).

Their on-line expenditure tended to be relatively evenly divided between personal non-farm purchases, regular farm inputs, and capital or machinery.

Although only 22pc currently own an Internet-linked smart phone (compared to the Australian average of about 51pc), ownership of hand-held computer tablet devices among farm managers (13pc) was much closer to the national average (18pc).

Only 33pc had a Facebook social network account (compared to 61pc of the national population) and just 1pc cared to follow events and social commentaries on Twitter.

The QARS results coincide with the release of Farmonline's first national user survey.

It found that 85pc of respondents using the leading national rural news website accessed the Internet via their desktop computer or laptop, but only 3pc via smartphones - a likely indication of the continuing frustrations of limited broadband access in many rural areas.

About a third of Farmonline users were beef cattle producers, while grain and sheep producers both represented 20pc each and 78pc of all Farmonline users read both printed newspapers and online news services.

"The results from both studies put some perspective on the sort of activity going on in rural Australia, including some interesting findings about the way broadacre farms are run," said national sales manager Ian Thomson.

"For example, off-farm earnings contributed $70,500 of total annual gross farm income - that's nearly equivalent to what somebody in a reasonable city trade job might earn.

"Quite a lot of that income comes from off-farm work - possibly by a spouse - but off-farm investments are also a big contributor to supporting many family farming enterprise."

A third of QARS respondents were female while the survey's average farm supporting 2.2 adults, a herd of 203 beef cattle and a 1300-strong sheep flock.

Typical of the farm inputs purchased last year - which translated to a $4.6b national spend - were vaccines, drenches, fuel, fencing, tyres fertiliser, herbicides, water tanks and fencing materials.

What's happening on an average broadacre farm:

  • On-farm income - $281,800
  • Off-farm income - $70,500
  • Area - 2045ha
  • 1292 sheep
  • 203 beef cattle
  • 489ha of crop
  • 2.9 horses
  • 2.9 dogs
  • Farm owner/manager age - 51
  • Pay TV subscribers - 26pc
  • Digital TV reception - 82pc
  • Average time spent reading Fairfax Agricultural Media weekly publications - 53 minutes
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    7/12/2012 7:07:50 AM

    Article seems lopsided. Rural Debt $70 billion, Net farm value of production 12.5 billion pa. Many farms in negative equity. Farming in crisis. Where are the profitability figues in this survey? Can the surveyors supply this information please?
    Jen from the bush
    7/12/2012 8:05:53 AM

    Did a stupid poll lately - the lowest profit selection to chose was under 30g! How could they get any results from that?
    7/12/2012 11:20:44 AM

    I was at the NNF forum in Canberra a few weeks ago, all I heard was how good things were for us, yet I had just been to another clearing sale, another farmer gone, there was 14, 35 years ago, now one living and farming there. It's all to do with the very high cost structure imposed on us by all govts , no exceptions here.
    7/12/2012 3:15:31 PM

    Hi Jen from the bush, did they really want to get meaningful results in the first place. The industry is in serious crisis, no doubt about that, we know it, but when the people above us have their head in the sand, makes it hard to have meaningful dialolgue. I remember reading about our debt 40 years ago, and it was a difficult $0.15 billion!
    7/12/2012 3:25:13 PM

    from a livestock (cattle) point of view, the largest and oldest cattle company AACO cannot make money. What does that say for years of MLA waste?
    Peter S
    8/12/2012 5:20:09 AM

    Not dissimilar from an assessment report on your wife written by your mother in law.


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    light grey arrow
    Sorry did i get it wrong..? Rankins Springs is still open..?!
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    No doubt a few frosted Freddies out there who will wish they had taken a closer look at the AGC
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    Matthew, I was wondering if you had followed up this story with the farmer after the whole