Article Summary: This article outlines some of the biggest challenges we face in modern farming, many interlinked and affecting one another. Where climate change is responsible for many of our challenges, from irrigation, land overuse, and changes to biodiversity, at the core of every issue is the rising costs of managing a farm successfully. Many of the challenges Australian farmers face are also faced by farmers worldwide, so however you’re feeling and whatever challenges you're facing on your farm, know that you’re not alone. And, that in many cases, adopting smart farming tech solutions can help to reduce your running costs and preserve your land to ensure your farm’s ongoing longevity and success.
Farming is a rewarding yet challenging profession. In fact, it’s not a profession; it’s a lifestyle. With the long hours, hard, laborious work and financial implications, you have to be really committed to life on the farm if you’re going to make it a success.
This article outlines some of the biggest challenges we face in modern farming, many interlinked and affecting one another. Many of the challenges Australian farmers face are also faced by farmers worldwide, so however you’re feeling and whatever challenges you're facing on your farm, know that you’re not alone and that someone else will be going through a similar experience.
Climate change - from excessive rain to droughts and everything in between
In Australia, particularly in Queensland and New South Wales, the weather can have huge implications on farming. Recent years have seen the weather formation of La Niña, which has meant cooler and wetter weather for most of Australia. In February 2022, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Northern New South Wales had extreme rainfall and flooding, the worst since 1893. The rest of Queensland and New South Wales also experienced high rainfall levels.
This meant that many crops were ruined and unable to be sold, resulting in farmers' income loss and food shortages for consumers. The next few years are predicted to be the opposite and will likely be El Niño, which can often bring water restrictions, droughts and bushfires to Australia. This will cause a whole other set of problems for the farming industry. The unpredictability of the weather over the last few years and the years to come has had devastating effects on farms, farmers and their crops.
With climate change, predicted droughts and water shortages, Australian farmers will likely soon see issues with irrigation. You will need to rely on groundwater supplies during dry spells, which will only last to a certain point in ensuring large crops survive. Other irrigation issues you may face are possessing old, defective irrigation systems, which are a huge expense to replace and inadequate drainage, which can be brought on by excessive rainfall and climate change.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on farming
It is impossible to discuss any topic without it linking back to the recent pandemic in some way, and farming is no exception. COVID-19 has affected the farming industry in more than one way over the last three years, and even though we are through the worst of it, the lasting effects are still evident.
Labour shortages - where are all the international travellers?
When the world was plunged into lockdowns and border closures in 2020, all the backpackers and cheap workers were rushing to return to their home countries, meaning farmers lost a huge percentage of their casual workforce. Pre-pandemic, 80% of casual farmworkers were made up of backpackers. Imagine if a school suddenly lost 80% of their workforce; an already difficult profession would become much harder.
While things are slowly improving since the borders reopened, the current cost of travel has seen a drop in the number of travellers coming through, which means we are still not reaching the same workforce numbers as before.
Supply chain issues and international trade
Another challenge brought about by the pandemic is the issues with the supply chain. Many farmers rely on international customers, whether supermarkets, manufacturers or direct consumers. With lockdowns and border closures, those international customers decreased significantly—the same issues applied to supplies coming into the farms, such as machinery parts.
Now borders have reopened, and international trade has resumed across all industries, there is still a backlog of orders and delays in shipping.
Access to markets
The pandemic saw the closure of farmers markets in 2020, many of which didn’t reopen until 2022. For some farmers, markets are the only source of direct-to-consumer selling they can access. When these closed down, we lost another income stream. Many have reopened now, but some on a much smaller scale, and some haven’t reopened at all, resulting in some farmers missing out on these opportunities.
The cost of farming increasing and profits decreasing is another thing we can thank the pandemic for. Farming has always been an expensive industry; there is no denying that. But since the pandemic, the cost of living has skyrocketed.
Fuel costs have risen, which means farm machinery is more expensive to run, and it’s more costly to transport produce to markets/stores.
Consumers are tightening their belts when it comes to shopping, so many are turning to cheaper food options and not supporting the local farming economy.
The staffing shortages mentioned in the previous section impact farming costs as we must pay higher wages to get staff.
The above supply chain issues also contribute to lower profits and higher outgoings.
Many of us have to sell produce at lower prices because only some buyers will pay a fair price.
Pests and pesticides
In recent years, there has been an increase in consumers looking for organic products with little or no pesticides used in their production. This can cause issues for us farmers as there is an increased risk of insects and other pests destroying our crops without this protection, resulting in wasted produce. Conversely, heavy use of chemicals may deter consumers from buying the produce anyway as more people become concerned with the effect of these products on their health and the environment.
Fertilisers and manures
Using fertilisers and manures is a vital part of farming to ensure good crop growth as they provide the right nutrients for the soil to increase plant growth. However, they can be expensive, particularly in more rural parts of the world.
Overuse of land leads to soil degradation
Soil degradation is a real issue affecting farmers, particularly those of us with small farming areas caused by overuse. If we over-cultivate our land by using it for crops year after year, it reduces the soil fertility and makes it more difficult for them to absorb enough nutrients to grow.
Is modern farming technology the answer to many farming challenges?
It is no secret that one theme that seems to be recurring throughout each of the challenges listed here is cost. Farming is an essential part of our lives. Without it, we wouldn’t have any food, but for us as farmers, it is an expensive industry. It is not cheap, from the costs of machinery and staffing to the import and export costs, it is not cheap. Together with the variability of profits and yields and whether a season has been ‘good’ or not, it’s an unpredictable and risky profession.
With the introduction of drones, smart sensors, GIS software, solar panels, temperature and moisture sensors and AI, life on the farm can be simplified and be made more profitable in the long run. The outlay to buy into these technologies might be expensive. Still, the help they will provide you in decision-making, productivity and providing accurate data to help with crop management means they will generally pay for themselves quickly.
Have you thought about AI and satellite technology for your farm? Pasture.io’s revolutionary one-touch farm solutions mean you can remotely manage your farm’s pasture activities from anywhere. It’s one way we’re helping farmers work through the many challenges facing our industry so you’re on the best path to efficiency and success. Contact the team to learn more.
Until we meet again, Happy Farming!
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 2023-09-05