1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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In 2012, Australia celebrates the Australian Year of the Farmer. This special article recognises the year by comparing the labour force and other characteristics of farmers with those of the broader employed population.

Farmers and farming communities are an economically and culturally important part of Australia as a nation. In 2009–10, approximately 52% of Australia's total land area was used for agriculture and there were 134,000 businesses undertaking agricultural activity, as categorised by the industry of main activity. [Endnote 1] Farming is a significant economic activity in Australia and in 2009–10, the gross value of total Australian agricultural production was $39.6 billion. [Endnote 2] In the June quarter 2011, almost 2.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) arose from farm production in agriculture. [Endnote 3]


In this article, the term 'farmer' refers to those persons who reported that their main occupation was a farmer or farm manager. [Endnote 4] The number of farmers in Australia has declined over time – falling from 246,000 in 1996–97 to 192,600 in 2010–11 (graph S8.1). Farmers represented 1.7% of all employed persons in 2010–11, a decrease from 2.9% in 1996–97. An additional 128,300 persons were employed as Farm, forestry and garden workers [Endnote 5] in 2010–11, representing a further 1.1% of the employed population.

S8.1 Farmers and farm managers, Employed total

Farming in Australia is predominantly a land-based activity. In 2010-11, 48% of farmers were livestock farmers, 24% were crop farmers, 20% were mixed crop and livestock farmers, while just 1% were aquaculture farmers. The remaining farmers and farm managers were not further defined.


Farmers were more likely to be male – 139,500 or 72% of all farmers were male, compared to 55% of all employed persons in 2010-11.

The age profile of farmers differs from that of all employed persons. In 2010-11, the median age of farmers was 53, compared to 39 for all employed persons. Seven out of ten (71%) farmers were 45 or over compared to four out of ten (39%) employed persons. The largest differences in the age distribution were apparent in the younger and older age groups. While 23% of farmers were aged 65 and over, only 3% of all employed persons were in this age group (graph S8.2). Conversely, only 2% of farmers were aged between 15 and 24, while 17% of all employed persons were in this age group. In 2010-11, farmers comprised a significant proportion of older workers – 14% of all employed persons aged 65 years and over. However, they made up a smaller proportion of younger workers – less than 1% of all employed persons aged between 15 and 34.

S8.2 Farmers and farm managers, By Age, 2010–11


In 2010–11, the majority of farmers (53%) were own account workers, nearly a third (32%) were employees and only 14% were employers. This is in contrast to all employed persons, where the vast majority (88%) were employees.

Farmers, on average, faced a much longer working week than the rest of the employed population. In 2010–11, farmers usually worked an average of 49 hours in all jobs compared to 36 hours for all employed persons. While the average hours usually worked in all jobs was similar for part-time farmers and all persons employed part-time (18 and 19 hours respectively), the average hours usually worked by full-time farmers were longer than those of all persons employed full-time (57 hours compared to 44 hours). More than half (54%) of all farmers worked 50 or more hours per week, compared to 16% of all employed persons (graph S8.3). In contrast, 43% of all employed persons usually worked between 35 and 40 hours per week, while only 15% of farmers worked these hours.

S8.3 Farmers and farm managers, Hours usually worked in all jobs, 2010–11

Farmers generally stayed in their job longer than the rest of the employed population. In November 2010, one in two farmers (50%) had been in their current job for 20 years or more, compared to just 10% of all employed persons. One-fifth (20%) of farmers had a duration of employment, or time in their own business, between 10 and 20 years, compared to 15% of all employed persons. While one in five (20%) employed persons had been in their current job for 12 months or less, only 2% of farmers had such a short duration of employment. The vast majority (97%) of farmers in 2010–11 expected to be working in their current job in the next 12 months compared to 91% of all employed persons.


In 2010–11, almost all farmers (92%) worked outside of a capital city, compared to a little over a third (37%) of all employed persons. Farmers were geographically distributed throughout the states and territories in a pattern similar to that of all employed persons – for example, 31% of all farmers worked in New South Wales (while 32% of all employed persons did so), 25% of all farmers (and 25% of all employed persons) worked in Victoria, 19% of all farmers worked in Queensland (20% of all employed persons worked there) and 13% of all farmers worked in Western Australia (as did 11% of all employed persons).

When looking at the geographical distribution of farmers by regions within states, farmers were more concentrated in some areas than others. About 10% of all farmers in 2010–11 were located in the Northern, North Western and Central West statistical region of New South Wales; 7% in the balance of Western Australia (excluding metropolitan areas and lower Western Australian region) statistical region; 7% in the Gippsland statistical region of Victoria; 7% in the Murray-Murrumbidgee statistical region of New South Wales; and 6% in the Darling Downs-South West statistical region of Queensland.

In some of these regions, farmers also comprised a relatively larger proportion of the employed population, indicating a greater reliance on agricultural activities within communities in these areas. For example, in 2010–11, 10% of all employed persons in the Gippsland region of Victoria were farmers, similarly for the balance of Western Australia statistical region, and 9% of all employed persons were farmers in the Darling Downs-South West statistical region of Queensland and in the Murray-Murrumbidgee statistical region of New South Wales.


In 2010–11, 90% of farmers were family members (compared to 84% of all employed persons) and were more likely to be married (83% compared to 64% of all employed persons). Reflecting their older average age, nearly two-thirds of farmers (62%) did not have any dependent children, compared with 48% of all employed persons. A relatively high proportion of farmers (91%) were born in Australia compared to 73% of all employed persons.

  1. Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2009–10 (7121.0) and the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006 (Revision 1). <Back>
  2. Value of Agricultural Commodities Produced, Australia, 2009–10 (7503.0). <Back>
  3. Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, Jun 2011 (5206.0). <Back>
  4. According to ANZSCO – Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations, First Edition, Revision 1, Farmers and farm managers plan, organise, control, coordinate and perform farming operations in agricultural establishments to grow crops, and breed and raise livestock, and fish and other aquatic life. Farmers and Farm managers are referred to as farmers in this article. <Back>
  5. According to ANZSCO, Farm, forestry and garden workers perform a variety of routine tasks in cultivating and harvesting crops, plants and forests, breeding and raising of livestock and aquatic stock, and the management of pests and weeds. They include farm labourers. <Back>


National Farmers Federation 2011, Farm Facts 2011, Modern farming’s economic, environmental and social contribution to Australia, 15 August, Canberra.


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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.