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By  Cat Shine 20 May 2024 3 min read

Key points

  • Our Ag2050 Scenarios Report examines what productive, resilient and sustainable farming will look like in Australia in 2050.
  • The report presents four evidence-based future scenarios, with opportunities and challenges, which paint a picture of Australian farming systems.
  • These four scenarios are regional agriculture capitals, landscape stewardship, climate survival and system decline.

Farming is central to Australia. It shapes communities and nourishes our nation. Agriculture accounts for over half of Australia's land use and exports play a key role in our economy. While many Australians may never set foot on a farm, farming impacts us all.

But Australian agriculture is at a crossroads. This is due to shrinking land availability, climate change, changing consumer tastes, and global uncertainties. Farmers are already working hard to be good custodians of the land, but with so many external pressures, it's clear things need to change.

Enter the CSIRO Ag2050 Scenarios Report. This report explores possible futures for Australian agriculture.

The report was a collaborative effort by our team with industry, research, and government stakeholders. Over six months, 100 stakeholders from 54 organisations participated in workshops, reviews, and analyses. Together they examined the question: What might productive, resilient, and sustainable farming systems look like in Australia by 2050?

[Music plays and an image appears to show the CSIRO logo, and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s National Science Agency]

Narrator: Aussie farmers have always been innovative but the pressures to respond to future challenges are ever increasing.

[Image changes to show someone walking through a crop, and then the images changes to another person walking through a different crop]

Narrator: What will productive, resilient and sustainable farms look like by 2050?

[Image changes to show a futuristic tractor driving through a field, and then the image changes to a person operating a drone, and then the image changes to cows grazing, and then the images changes to show sheep]

Narrator: We've created four future scenarios that reimagine Australian farming systems.

[Image changes to show a person picking leaves from a crop in a glasshouse, and then the images changes to show a robotic arm planting seedlings, and then the images changes to show a tractor harvesting a crop]

Narrator: What could Aussie farms look like as highly efficient global, industrial powerhouses for food and fibre production?

[Text appears on screen: Regional ag capitals]

[Image changes to show a hand on the steering wheel of a tractor pressing buttons on a control panel, and then images changes to show an overhead shot of a crop, and then then image changes to show someone leading on the bonnet of a car with a tablet]

Narrator: Or if we diversify into alternative land uses and industries?

[Text appears on screen: Landscape stewardship]

[Image changes to show an aerial shot of solar panels in a field, and then changes to a waterway and a pump, and then the image changes to show a plantation, and then the image changes to show a seedling and a test tube and then the image changes to show someone kneeling in a crop with a tablet]

Narrator: If we continue as we are, will farmers be able to adapt to changing climates?

[Text appears on screen: Landscape stewardship]

[image changes to show a windmill, and then the image changes to show a pipe dripping water, and then the image changes to show someone kneeling in a crop holding up a bag of grain]

Narrator: Or will farmers be left to the mercy of climate change without resilience to external shocks?

[Text appears on screen: System decline]

[The image changes to show houses in flood waters, and then the image changes to show someone looking over a dry paddock, and then the image changes to show a hand picking up dry dirt]

Narrator: Ag2050 aims to empower innovative farming systems for a productive, resilient and sustainable future for Australian farming by 2050.

[Text appears on screen: System decline]

[The image changes to show two people walking through a crop under an irrigator, and then the image changes to show an aerial shot of tractors harvesting, and then the image changes to show seedlings growing in purple UV light, and then the image changes to show solar panels in a field, and then the image changes to show someone walking through a crop with a tablet]

[Text appears on screen:]

[Logo appears on screen: Australian Government, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry]

[Music plays and the image changes to show the CSIRO logo, and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s National Science Agency]
Ag2050: reimagining farming

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Exploring potential farming futures

This first stage of a four-year project revealed four evidence-based, plausible futures for Australian farming. Each scenario presenting its own trade-offs, challenges, and opportunities. Some may have more desirable elements, but no one scenario is preferred. Together, they will shape the agricultural landscape of tomorrow.

So, let’s jump to 2050 where the Australian farming scene has evolved in remarkable and sustainable ways.

Scenario 1: Regional Agriculture Capitals

Picture a modern and united agricultural sector that prioritises food and fibre security. Farmers across the country are using their land better to boost production. Meanwhile, large companies enhance productivity and growth in regional areas. This relies on investments from industries like energy, minerals, and tourism, all coming together to boost regional prosperity.

Yet not all regions benefit. Some towns struggle due to a lack of investment. The rise of increasingly larger farms presents challenges for smaller ones. So, inclusive policies are vital to support diversity. Australia is a global leader in food and fibre production. But sustainability and labour accessibility remain key concerns.

Australia can plough towards a bright farming future, if we act now.

Scenario 2: Landscape Stewardship

Imagine an agricultural sector fully embracing new technologies. These technologies boost the environment and energy transition. Farming practices blend with nature. They also tap into Indigenous knowledge to enhance productivity. Technology reduces environmental impacts and optimises water management. These innovations help cut emissions, enabling net-zero farming and carbon offsets.

Through strong coordination, farms prioritise energy transition and restoration. Yet, challenges arise such as disparities between communities. There is also labour competition and tensions between large and small farms. Producers must navigate trade negotiations and sustainability demands as they uphold Australia's reputation as a sustainable goods producer. Governance supports this effort by ensuring domestic food security and industry trust.

Scenario 3: Climate Survival

In this scenario, Australian agriculture tackles climate change head on. It uses innovative technologies and strategic shifts. Farmers combine new technologies with years of experience to maintain productivity levels. They move to better, more productive areas. They also test new farming methods, like growing crops for fuel and hosting farm tourists. Indigenous knowledge supports keeping the environment healthy.

Yet challenges persist. Resources are limited. New farmers lack support, climate change worsens, and overall emissions are high. Also, global regulations complicate the export of Australian produce.

Scenario 4: System Decline

This scenario shows the consequences of inaction. Delayed decisions make farms vulnerable. Farmers feel the impacts of climate change, such as lower yields and profitability. This is a warning to take proactive measures to avoid disaster.

Ploughing towards a bright future

While the challenges are real, the Ag2050 Scenarios Report paints a bright future for Australian agriculture. It calls for quick action, strategic planning and collaboration among farmers, industry, researchers, and government.

The next steps will see our Ag2050 team adapt these scenarios to local areas. They’ll identify key technologies and innovations required for a sustainable future in farming.

By working together, the agricultural sector can build productive, sustainable, and resilient farming systems. This effort will benefit everyone. The time to act is now.

Dig into the future of Australian farming

Join our free CSIRO Conversations event on Tuesday, 11 June 2024, at 11am AEST. Experts from research, government, and industry will discuss the main trade-offs in future Australian farming. Secure your spot today!

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