The untamed landscape of Australia, quite different from the results of centuries of cultivation in the United Kingdom, presented challenges to Australian farmers which they overcame with great ingenuity and innovation.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s the invention of machines such as the stump jump plough and the header harvester paved the way for efficient large scale farming in the comparatively harsh Australian environment. The stump jump plough allowed farmers to till soil still holding tree roots after tree clearing had taken place. The header harvester gave farmers the opportunity to harvest crops on broader acreages than could be harvested by traditional labour-based methods on smaller allotments. William Farrer applied scientific methods to wheat breeding and developed new strains of drought and disease resistant wheat, enabling the expansion of wheat growing into the drier inland regions of Australia.
Inventions throughout the 20th century allowed Australia's farmers to become and remain among the most productive and efficient primary producers in the world. Large scale mechanisation, with machines replacing animal and human labour, has enabled Australian farmers to remain price-competitive and to supply markets around the world. The development of equipment such as wheeled and tracked tractors, the milking machine, the sugar cane harvester, travelling irrigators and even the humble 'ute' has given farmers the tools to produce bigger crops more efficiently.
Technological and scientific developments have included biological control agents such as the myxoma virus, and more recently the calici virus, to control rabbit numbers; the use of satellite positioning systems to assist in land management by, for example, applying chemicals only to the areas of paddocks needing them; the improved uses of gene technologies (noting Farrer's ground-breaking work begun over 100 years ago) to breed more productive and healthier plants and animals; and the implementation of holistic systems such as integrated pest management and cell grazing. Current and future technologies include the further computerisation of farm activities and genetic engineering.
In the pioneering days of Australia's history, technology and innovation were used to overcome the obstacles faced by farmers trying to make a living off impoverished soil and very dry land. In leaving the 20th century, we see farmers making use of technology and innovation to remain viable players in a keenly competitive international market, while ensuring the sustainability of their social, economic and biophysical environments. While we do not know what technologies will be available to Australian farming in the future, the uptake of technology over the last century has helped to place Australian agriculture in its present strong position.
This page last updated 15 February 2013