||Technology in Australia 1788-1988
Table of Contents
I Groping In A Strange Environment: 1788-1851
II Farmers Take The Initiative: 1851-1888
III Enter Education And Science: 1888-1927
IV Agricultural Science Pays Dividends: 1927-1987
V Examples Of Research And Development 1928-1988
VI International Aspects Of Agricultural Research
VII Future Prospects
Until the 1960s, farmers in Australia and New Zealand, unlike those in most other countries in the world, enjoyed incomes per head which, on average, were higher than those earned outside agriculture. In the last 25 years, however, this situation has changed significantly. Technological progress has resulted in rapid increases in agricultural productivity, with many of the new techniques favouring larger enterprises with more capital and less labour. At the same time the demand for agricultural produce within Australia has increased only slowly, because of what economists describe as the low income elasticity of demand for food. This situation has been further exacerbated by a significant slackening in the rate of growth in the volume of world agricultural trade since 1970 and generally low commodity prices for Australia's major farm exports. As a consequence, returns from the sale of farm produce have tended to decline while production costs have steadily increased; giving a situation which Australian farmers recognise as the 'cost-price squeeze'. In the mid-1950s Australian farm income per head was more than double the average weekly earnings (AWE) of wage and salary earners but, by the mid-1980s, it had fallen to more than 30 per cent below AWE.
The rural slump of the 1980s has led some commentators to conclude that agricultural prosperity can only be restored by political changes which would result in vary ing combinations of. lower trade barriers; new taxation and fiscal policies; more orderly marketing processes; selective tariffs and subsidies; more favourable exchange rates; and inflation and wage controls. Important though such political and macro-economic decisions can be, the basic, long-term challenges which face Australian farmers in the future remain those associated with technology and management. The continued development, even the survival, of individual farms and farming industries will largely depend, in the future as in the past, upon the adoption of more efficient techniques of management. Farmers must continue to maintain or raise their incomes and competitiveness by improving further their productivity through the adoption of lower cost production technologies, and by improved yields and product quality. These changes constitute the challenge not merely for farmers, but also for all those involved in agricultural research, extension and education, and those in the private sector who provide technical inputs and services to the rural industries.
What are the prospects of scientists and technologists producing the new knowledge and the innovations that will continue to be needed if the challenge is to be met successfully? Provided that sufficient resources are appropriately invested in research and education, the prospects are, in fact, better than they have ever been. Knowledge in most fields of agricultural science is increasing exponentially, technological advances are now proceeding at a faster rate than ever before, international co-operation in agricultural research has reached new levels of effectiveness, and Australia's research organizations and agencies have never been better equipped or staffed. It is, of course, impossible to predict exactly how these favourable circumstances will combine to produce changes in farming practices, or to forecast the important discoveries that will undoubtedly be made during the next few decades by agricultural and veterinary scientists. Part of the excitement of scientific research is its inherent unpredictability; a characteristic which also makes it difficult for those who allocate resources to research or determine science policies and priorities.
© 1988 Print Edition pages 62 - 63, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher