Between 1986 and 2001, the number of farming families in Australia decreased by 22 percent. This change is attributed in part to farm amalgamation as families leave the land and to increasing farm size following economies of scale. Another study by Ingrid Muenstermann from Charles Sturt University found that Australian family farms declined by 46 percent between 1971 and 2006 due to globalization, increased competition, long-term drought, and increasing debts. Calls for increasing corporatization and foreign investment in the Australian agricultural sector, as well as arguments against them, have been the subject of significant media coverage and public debate in recent years.
Despite this, 99 percent of farm businesses in Australia continue to be family owned and operated, and “Australian farmers produce almost 93 percent of Australia’s daily domestic food supply” according to the National Farmers Federation (NFF).
This is unlikely to change anytime soon, argues Mick Keogh from the Australian Farm Institute. The “rude good health” of Australian family farms, he points out, is largely due to their operational structure, which allows hands-on management and means the “principal decision-maker [is] actively involved on the ground on a day-to-day basis.” A successful farming operation requires the effective management of a wide and complex range of production inputs and external factors, and this “favors a family-scale business structure.” This is especially valuable in Australian dryland farming, where large-scale, centralized corporate farm businesses tend to be less successful. David Sackett, a farm management consultant, similarly credits the “flat and responsive” management style and long-term perspective of family farms with their ongoing success in Australia. Sackett’s recent analysis of nine corporate farm businesses found that “the majority were producing negative results for their investors.”
“Family farming remains the heart and soul of agriculture” in Australia and around the world, and the U.N.’s designation of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) presents an important opportunity for discussion and recognition of the crucial role that family farms play in Australian agriculture and in domestic and regional food security. As well as their functional roles, family farms provide a home and lifestyle for more than 100,000 Australian families.
Eleven year old Aimee Gladigau takes viewers on a personal trip into life on her family’s farm in South Australia in this short video released for IYFF and Australia Day. “My farm will always be my home,” she says.