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Scenarios for Australian agricultural production and land use to 2050

Journal paper, published in Agricultural Systems

Australian agricultural land use and production have evolved within an economic and environmental context that may change substantially in terms of productivity rates, resource scarcity and degradation, greenhouse gas abatement policy, climate change, and global demand.  We used an integrated systems modelling approach to explore the response of Australian land use and agricultural production to these changes from 2013 to 2050.  We found potentially large transitions in spatial and temporal patterns of land use, agricultural production, output rates, and profitability.

Across a range of scenarios and dependent on the climate and soil patterns, new land uses such as carbon farming, biofuels and bioenergy, and biodiversity plantings became economically more attractive than food and fibre production reducing its area.

Despite this competition for land from new land uses, agricultural production increased under most settings, with livestock production most extensively impacted by land use transitions. Agricultural profits increased under most settings due to higher prices and output rates. Significant land use change was not observed with carbon payments below $50 per tCO2e and significant change did not occur before 2030 in any but the unconstrained, high-abatement scenarios.

Global outlooks, including the strength of action on climate change and population assumptions had a strong influence. Capacity constraints and adoption inertia reduced and delayed land use change. Agricultural production and land use were sensitive to productivity assumptions.

We conclude that transformative land use change is plausible but high levels of food/fibre production can co-exist with non-food land uses motivated by market responses to global change and domestic policy. Thereby the Australian land sector can continue its significant contribution to global food security while responding to new economic opportunities. Policy settings can influence these outcomes through reducing infrastructure constraints, strategies for enhancing adoption, and research and development in agricultural technology and productivity. As major change appears more than 15 years away, there is time for conversation, policy innovation, and exploration of choices.


Michael J. Grundy, Brett A. Bryan, Martin Nolan, Michael Battaglia, Steve Hatfield-Dodds, Jeffery D. Connor, Brian A. Keating

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