Wheat farmers an important group for Agricultural Census (Media Release), Apr 2006

   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All

Wheat farmers an important group for Agricultural Census

Since the days of early colonial settlement, when Parramatta really was the bush, wheat has played an important role in Australia.

As a staple food it has fed many generations of Australians, and as an export commodity it continues to contribute to the national wealth.

It is of no real surprise then that Australian wheat farmers will be among the 190,000 agricultural businesses asked to fill out the 2005-06 Agricultural Census run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Gemma Van Halderen, Assistant Statistician for the Industry and Environment Branch of the ABS, who is in charge of running the Agricultural Census, says wheat is one of the most important commodities produced by Australian agriculture.

"In 2003-04, around 30,000 farmers in Australia grew wheat, using half of the agricultural land dedicated to cropping. Along with harvest contractors, transport operators, storage handlers, marketers, millers, etc., these people were responsible for the production, sale and distribution of Australia's largest and most valuable crop," she said.

"The value of wheat in 2003-04 was $5.6 billion which represented 15% of the total value of farm production. With overseas sales in that year of over $3.4 billion, wheat is one of Australia's most valuable exports."

Although Gemma is mainly concerned with the statistics of the industry, many of which are derived from the Agricultural Census, she is also keenly aware of the history of wheat in Australia and only too keen to recount the story.

"From the initial 40 acre farm established by order of Governor Phillip, by the end of 1790, 200 bushels (approximately 5.4 tonnes) of wheat had been harvested at Parramatta, all of which was saved for seed," she said.

"With the opening up of Liberty Plains (now two of Sydney's western suburbs, Homebush and Strathfield) by free settlers, the colony had 6,000 acres under wheat by 1799.

"With the settlement of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia during the 1830s and 1840s, cultivation of wheat expanded rapidly. For example, in South Australia, the area cultivated for wheat grew from eight hectares in 1838 to 7,592 hectares in 1844.

"Complementing mechanical and transport advances which boosted the industry was research into new wheat varieties more suitable to the Australian environment and mechanical harvesting, and more resistant to disease.

"One of the pioneers in this field was William Farrer who, in the late-1800s, bred a number of new wheat varieties.

"The most notable of these was an early-maturing wheat strain named 'Federation' which was drought and disease resistant.

"Much of Farrer's work was carried out just near Canberra, on a property called Lambrigg. Farrer died on 16 April, 1906, so this year is the centenary of his death, and a time to reflect on the industry."

Gemma urged all farmers to fill out their Agricultural Census form when it arrives by post in June this year.

"The information we gather via the Census is vital to understanding the progress and future prospects of the industry and greatly assist government polices in relation to the wheat industry," she said. "Doing the Census is straight-forward but if you need help to fill it out, then please contact us."