Drought has lingering impact on Australian food production

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 26th May 2009

Australian crop production increased in 2007-08 in comparison to the previous year, but generally remains at among the lowest levels in five years, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The numbers of livestock fell while the horticulture sector reported mixed results.

Lack of water was labelled as the major contributor, with a near complete suspension of rice production. Drought conditions and industry adjustments have lead to a decline in livestock, with sheep and lambs at yet another historic low.

There were strong increases on 2007 figures for the production of wheat (up 25%), barley (68%) and oats (100%), but rice production plummeted 89% to 17,600 tonnes on the back of significantly reduced plantings. Ricegrowers Ltd, which trades as SunRice and is one of the world’s largest branded rice companies, has previously noted that rice production in Australia is increasingly difficult due to the water intensive nature of the crop. In March, they had to downscale operations as last year’s dismal harvest and a forecast for another poor crop this year (65,000 tonnes) were taken into account. The company has the capacity to handle 1.2 million tonnes each year.


The numbers of sheep and lamb fell last year, to 76.9 million, the lowest level recorded since 1920.

Meat cattle numbers decreased slightly, and milk cattle fell by 4.7% as the financial crisis and drought took its toll on the dairy sector. Pig numbers slipped to their lowest level since 1982, reflecting continued pressure on the industry from production costs and imports, the ABS advised.


Although the area of many major vegetable commodities were down, some improvements in growing conditions led to increased production for crops including: onions (area down 7% but production up 3%), processing peas (area down 27% but production up 15%) and carrots (area down 14% and production up 0.4%). Increased plantings and production were reported for potatoes (area up 12% and production up 16%) and pumpkins (up 7% and 12%).

Most fruit producers reported decreased production as a result of less than ideal conditions such as drought, lack of irrigation water and unseasonal weather including rain at harvest. Among the fruit crops with reported falls were mangoes (down 16%), peaches (16%), oranges (13%) and bananas (3%).