SOUTH AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURE CONTINUES TO LEAD AUSTRALIA IN RESEARCH. That research reflects the colony/state's reality of always being under siege due to drought and limited natural resources.
Discussing South Australian agriculture is always underpinned, but often forgotten, by knowing that its first phase was developed by Aboriginals learning to live from the land by learning its limits and developing a complex eco system that was wiped out by colonisation.
The European colonists learnt the harsh lessons of living within limits and working out their own systems. But they battled on. Grain growers, for prime example, stoically kept producing, despite facing drought, poor soil, disease and weeds. They’ve adapted to economic depression, war and varying global supply and demand.
Australia benefited from South Australia’s struggle to overcome deficiencies through the research and mechanical inventions such as the world-first Bull/Ridley stripper.
South Australia also offered Spanish merino sheep a place that suited them. The merinos bred here produced wool that snatched world leadership for Australia in the fibre trade.
Starting with Roseworthy College of Agriculture in 1882, South Australia built powerhouses in research such as the University of Adelaide's Waite Institute, the state government’s Primary Industries and Research SA (PIRSA), its research and development institute (SARDI) and the Australian Wine Research Institute.
Agriculture’s present record of generating about $20 billion in revenue, employing one in five working South Australians and earning nearly 50% of the state’s merchandise exports, is a tribute to that ongoing research.
19th CENTURY PASTORAL GENTRY EMERGES
AFTER PROMISING START IN 19th CENTURY
The 1850s saw good seasons with most wheat from the fertile fields around Adelaide. Although South Australia delivered much of Australia’s wheat crop, its quality and yields dropped, even in the fertile southern areas. Farmers started to realise that this loss of fertility was beyond rainfall. A disastrous attack of red rust in 1867-68 led to a government enquiry that found that almost all farmers were sowing wheat without allowing for fallow years. This exposed a lack of agricultural education.
MERINOS GIVE SOUTH AUSTRALIA ITS SHEEP ASCENDANCY
Collinsville merino sheep stud in South Australia’s mid north, since 1961, has set record price levels – with a world record $450,000 in 1988 – for its rams. Founder John Collins' sixth son Art took over the stud in 1918 and became the 20th Century's outstanding merino breeder. His animals influenced the national flock more than any other bloodline. From the 1920s, Art Collins achieved the unequalled feat of both grand champion ewe and ram at every Australian capital city show.
CEREAL GROWERS' LONG CHALLENGE
EDUCATION AND RESEARCH
An Italian bee has benefited from early South Australian agricultural protection. The Ligurian bees on Kangaroo Island are believed to be the last remaining pure stock of this bee, protected by the island as the oldest bee sanctuary in the world. The bees were imported from Bologna by the South Australian Chamber of Manufacturers in 1884. The island was declared a bee sanctuary the next year. August Fiebig has been credited with breeding and bringing the bees to the island.
Farmers gained a more formal link to government when the Central Agriculture Bureau was set up in 1888 on a idea by English-born printer named Albert Molineux. The Central Agricultural Bureau was the precursor to the advisory board of agriculture, the present-day governing body of the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia. The bureau remains a not-for-profit organisation run by farmers for farmers. It helps link scientists and farmers to work on issues of common interest.
South Australian food and wine exports reached a record $5.2 billion in 2014-15. This was 46% of the state’s merchandise exports. The value of food exports to the United States doubled, compared to the previous year, while food exports to Indonesia rose 15 per cent. South Australia produces 20% (average: seven million tonnes) of Australia’s grain per year, with 80% exported to China, Asia and the Middle East. Almonds were a strong performer in the horticulture industry.
The Centre of Excellence for the Australian Almond Industry – the nation’s most valuable single horticultural crop – has opened in the redeveloped Loxton Research Centre in the Riverland. Almonds are Australia’s largest and fastest growing horticultural crop with a record gross production value in 2015 of $960 million. The global success of Renmark-based Almondco Australia, operating since 1944, was honored at the 2015 South Australian Food Industry Program Awards.
Greenwheat Freekeh at Dublin on the Adelaide Plains is set to secure South Australia’s position as the leading global supplier of “superfood” freekeh. With $900,000 state government help, Greenwheat is making a $4.4 million expansion of its plant. This will boost production of green grain freekeh – a dried cereal-based food from Northern Africa, Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Freekeh growth in Australia alone has exceeded 220% per annum in recent years.
Adelaide is now a hub of agricultural research, with the grains and fish research and development corporations increasing their presence in South Australia by opening a joint office at the National Wine Centre. The Grains Research and Development Corporation, with Canberra head offices, is a world leader and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation is the national fisheries and aquaculture research funding body. Adelaide's office will make it easier to access the national research bodies.
A large seaweed processing industry in South Australia is being pursued by researchers at Flinders University. Despite community opposition, Chinese-owned Australian Kelp Products, based at Millicent, is expanding its seaweed harvest along the Limestone Coast. Flinders University’s centre for marine bioproducts development new technologies is working with Australian Kelp Products to increase production of agrichemicals for the domestic and export markets.
21st CENTURY CHANGES AND CHALLENGES FOR STATE'S AGRICULTURE
A change to the South Australian Mining Act, to remove farmers’ right of refusal for mining companies to use their land, has been put on hold after it was deferred in 2018 by four state Liberal government rural backbench MPs voting against it with the opposition Labor party. The impasse continued into 2019 when the state energy and mining department overruled its minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan’s compromise to win over the group of rebel backbenchers. The proposed Mining Act changes mirror those proposed by the former state Labor government. It was heavily criticised for being “rushed” through by the former government without holding a proper consultation with South Australian farmers. Yorke Peninsula MP Fraser Ellis, one of the rebel MPs, said the Liberal government would only “further alienate the party’s ordinary members” if it pushed through the mining legislation as it was. A meeting of the Liberal Party’s rural and regional council had also decided the government should drop the section of the bill giving mining companies power to appeal in court to access land used for cultivation. Primary Producers SA and commodity group members, Grain Producers SA and Livestock SA, couldn’t support the Mining Bill in its current format and had provided a big list of changes. They called for an independent review into South Australia’s mining laws that would examine best-practice land access in other states. South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive Rebecca Knol said the mining industry “categorically opposes” farmers being given a right to veto mining access.