Cattle judging at the Adelaide spring show in 1909 on the Jubilee Oval, with the School of Mines and Industries and (a glimpse of) the Exhibition Building in the background on North Terrace, Adelaide.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

 pushed by bitter 
tastes of drought, poor soil, limited resources


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.



despite colony's Dissenter founders' attempt to limit farm sizes 

Dissenter founders' limit on land holdings guards against creating colonial establishment

The founders’ vision for South Australia was yeoman farmers on small holdings. The founders were predominantly Dissenters: from churches and a middle class wanting to be freed from the British established wealthy landed upper class. The founders weren't able to control land sales through the South Australian Company whose chairman George Fife Angas was among those who gained a big holding. But colonial governmet policydid try to encourage smaller farming allotments.

Pastoral gentry arises out of hard work, good ideas and luck as hard seasons take their toll

Agricultural success in South Australia, with its limited fertile land and unsteady climate, meant that hard work, good decisions and inventiveness were as crucial as having capital and luck. Peter Waite's idea led the way by fencing property instead of having open runs. John Chambers, starting as a dairy farmer in Cherry Gardens in 1836, eventually owned several stations in the north. Thomas Elder and Robert Barr Smith were among others to make full use of their opportunities.


Baker, Hawker, Hughes, Bowman and Angas among the first pastoral dynasties from 1850s

Names like Baker, Hawker, Hughes, Bowmans and Angas became associated with big pastoral holdings by the 1850s/60s. The Angas family set up properties with the Collingrove, Lindsay House and Hill River homesteads. By the 1880s, it owned a third of South Australia. John Baker bought pastoral leases, including Blanchewater where, in the 1880s,1000 foals were bred each year. The horses were used by Cobb & Co, as Adelaide buggy horses and by the Indian Army.


Sidney Kidman builds the biggest holding of all from five shillings and a one-eyed horse

Australia’s largest landholding, the Kidman group, was built on hard work. But also because it only realised that having a big area was the only way to survive in an arid pastoral zone. Sidney Kidman who in 1870 left his home near Adelaide at age 13 with only five shillings and a one-eyed horse. He worked as roustabout, bullock driver, drover, stockman and livestock trader in western New South Wales, before building a huge network of cattle stations with a drought-proof strategy.


DROUGHT THREAT, PREDICTED BY GOYDER'S LINE, HITS HOME; farmers' trials produce transforming innovations in technology

South Australia exports wheat and wool in 1840s and becomes Australia's granary from the 1850s

Early signs for South Australia’s agriculture were good. It was exporting wool to Britain within two years of settlement in 1836 and, by 1844, it was self sufficient in wheat. With the gold rush, South Australia become the granary of Australia by the mid 1850s – and, with lapses during drought, kept that reputation through to the end of the 19th Century. In 1865, South Australia had half of Australia’s area of wheat cropping and in good seasons 50% of the Australian harvest.


Early signs of 'sickness' and red-rust disease in wheat from lack of education, overcropping

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.

George Goyder's line in 1860s, showing reliable rainfall areas, ignored by govt at farmers' peril

George Goyder drew a line across South Australia that came to be regarded as dividing its land into what was suited to pastoral as against farming. The government sent Goyder, its energetic surveyor-general, to the north amid the drought of 1863-66. Goyder travelled 5000km to mark his line: the divide between reliable and unreliable rain. In the 1870s, the government, looking for income from land sales, disregarded Goyder’s line and allowed farmers to buy land north of it. At their peril.


Innovations flow from Ridley, Bull, Stott, the Smiths, Bagshaw, Unaipon and Hannaford

The challenges of South Australian farming generated an impressive batch of innovations. The first was a response to the emergency of not enough labour to harvest the colony’s wheat. In 1843 at Hindmarsh, flour miller (and preacher) John Ridley developed a reaping machine – The Stripper – that mechanised wheat harvesting throughout South Australia and beyond. Others credit Mount Barker farmer John Wrathall Bull as the inventor of what has been claimed as a world first. In 1876, Richard Bowyer Smith and his brother Clarence on the Yorke Peninsula invented a plough, called the Vixen, that could cope with the problem of mallee stumps on paddocks. James Winchester Stott is credited with a similar invention in 1877, plus a cultivator, slasher, scarifier and double-furrow plough. The first man to make winnowers in Adelaide was John Stokes Bagshaw who set up a workshop in 1838. He became famous for his farm tools, especially his hand-operated winnowers. Writer, preacher and inventor David Unaipon, born at Point McLeay Aboriginal mission, is credited with creating the first straight line motion shearing machine. In 1909, he developed and patented the handpiece that became the standard in woolsheds across the country. In 1915, Alf Hannaford of Riverton made the first wheat machine that wet pickled seed wheat with copper sulphate to protect against a fungus disease called bunt. He later changed the machine to enable dry pickling of wheat against smut.



with world record prices and genetic legacy that keeps on giving

South Australia crucial to the 19th Century sheep boom with its breeding of the merino

South Australia was pivotal to the overwhelming influence of the merino on Australia's sheep. The merino, bred for heavy fine quality wool, developed differences in Europe before it arrived in 19th Century Australia where it was bred into three hardy strains: Peppin, South Australian and fine-wool Saxon. All three were influenced by South Australia. Many Australian flocks are based on bloodlines from South Australian parent studs such as Bungaree, Capeedee, Anlaby and Collinsville. 


Murrays top quality merino breeders for 75 years against Angas, Bowman, Dutton and co.

The Murray family dominated the quality of 19th Century merino sheep breeding in South Australia. John Murray won first prize for his merino rams at the Agricultural Show in Adelaide in 1846, starting a 75-year tradition. Strong competition came from other major breeders, including John Howard Angas, Edmund Bowman, Frederick Dutton, Charles Brown Fisher, George Hawker, George Melrose, Edward Stirling, George Melrose and Duffield and Porter (later Koonoona). 


Collinsville achieves world record prices; champion ewe, ram at every capital city show

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.


Jack Becker's Smithfield Pastoral Co. innovates as top breeder of merino sheep, Hereford cattle

Jack Becker made another big South Australian agricultural entrepreneurial leap in 1955 with his Smithfield Pastoral Company moving into breeding of high-quality Dorset horn and merino sheep and Hereford cattle. Becker made another fortune from a large land holding in the Ninety-Mile Desert transformed into the productive Coonalpyn Downs framing area by Becker’s support of CSIR scientist David Riceman’s trials with trace elements in soil. His next venture was breeding thoroughbred horses 1948-55, before buying 480 hectares at Smithfield in a switch to sheep and cattle. Becker visited North Bungaree Merino Stud at Andrews, South Australia, to begin stud merino breeding, using his radical ideas in animal nutrition and fertility. Becker surprised North Bungaree manager G. P. Auld by personally selecting the three top rams he wanted. Auld joined Becker as manager and stud master in ventures such as buying the famous Brewarrana property at Narrandera, NSW, in 1962 with its top poll Hereford stud. In 1963, at Sydney Royal Show, Becker picked a bull – Castle Bend Apex – from the 150 displayed. Next day, it became the show reserve champion and later bought at auction to Becker for the then-record 8,000 guineas. The bull went on to sire progeny that sold for more than $300,000. On Auld’s advice, Becker bought 504ha at Angle Vale, near Smithfield, for the merino stud, and a Hereford cattle stud. Besides becoming one of Australia’s top stud breeders, Becker was an innovator with his stud sheep in paddocks having free access to feeders with oats, lucerne or other quality hay, plus calcium. 

Merino's wool quality still world class and its genes key to growing lamb meat market

The superior genetics of the South Australian merino make it adaptable for all conditions with exceptional wool quality and meat. High-fertility South Australian merino ewes are nucleus of the prime lamb industry when mated with meat-breed sires such as the Suffolk, White Suffolk and Poll Dorset. South Australia’s sheep, wool and lamb industry is growing  and generates $1.48 billion in revenue annually. In 2014-15, it produced about 55 million kilos of wool worth $365 million.



to beat the poor soils; Allan Callaghan pushes for better quality 

South Australia learns and leads early by creating wheat styles suited to Australia

South Australia’s first colonial farmers soon improved wheat varieties brought mainly from England. In 1881, Thomas Playford II, as commissioner of crown lands, instructed the Botanic Gardens director Richard Schomburgh to import the white wheat variety du toit. Nelshaby farmer James Ward used du toit seeds to breed “Ward’s Prolific” and H.J. Glyas of Port Germein used “Ward’s Prolific” to develop “Gluyas Early” that become popular throughout Australia.

Superphosphate and fallows, bigger farms all tried before wool-boom clovers rescue wheat

The 1899-1941 era was bleak for South Australia's wheat industry. Despite superphosphate and fallows, plus better wheat varieties on bigger farms, yields still declined. In 1889, Mount Barker farmer Amos Howard found that subterranean clover was an invaluable soil improver. But widespread use of sub clover by wheat farmers only happened in the 1950s because of the wool-price boom. Clovers and medics, used for sheep pasture, turned around the fertility of so many farms.


Allan Callaghan pushes wheat production aim from FAQ yield to a global quality standard

Allan Callaghan, principal of Roseworthy Agricultural College from 1932 and later chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, has been described as dragging South Australia’s agriculture “kicking and screaming into the 20th Century”. From the 19th Century, South Australia had sold mainly flour to the world using wheat based on yield. Good and bad quality wheat was lumped together for milling as a FAQ (fair average quality). Soft FAQ wheat suited merchants for milling but Callaghan argued that quality had to be combined with high yield and drought resistance, together with baking quality, for a standard Australia needed to sell wheat to the world. Roseworthy and South Australia’s first full-time wheat breeder Jim Breakwell worked with Callaghan to create this vision. Through the 1940s/1950s, South Australia’s department of chemistry was involved in quality testing (protein analysis, baking tests etc) of Roseworthy’s advanced breeding lines. After Breakwell released his improved quality wheat varieties: Rapier (1939), Scimitar (1941) and Javelin (1942), the Waite institute focussed on disease resistance and the agriculture department divided South Australia into zones with recommended varieties. From 4% in the 1930s, South Australia was producing 51% medium-to-strong wheat in 1952. Callaghan’s dream of segregating better quality wheat from FAQ was finally approved for the 1957-58 season. In 1974, the quality benchmark “Australian Standard White” was introduced. This ensured buyers got grain of certain protein, moisture and other qualties vital to making bread, biscuit or pasta.

Jack Becker / scientist David Riceman turn Ninety-Mile Desert into Coonalpyn Downs farms

South Australia’s Ninety-Mile Desert was transformed into Coonalpyn Downs agricultural land by entrepreneur Jack Becker and scientist David Riceman from 1943 when Becker bought 3,080 hectares of “poor despised land” 13km west of Keith. Although it received 45cm annual rainfall, the region was unproductive due to soil that was largely leached silicious sand (Laffer sand). The deficiency of soil trace elements – manganese, copper, zinc and molybdenum –  on pasture and on grazing stock had been found in parts of Western Australia, South Australia and New Zealand and shown a decade before by researchers in Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR – later CSIRO) and at Adelaide’s Waite Agricultural Research Institute. When Becker brought his Beckersfield property near Keith at 27/6d per hectare in 1943, he knew about Riceman's work with the CSCIR on mineral deficiencies in the soil at Robert Dawson’s farm in Robe, in South Australia’s south east. Becker made available land, labour and any other help Riceman needed to test trace elements at Beckersfield. The first cereal and pasture plots sewn in 1944  responded to superphosphate but, more profoundly, copper and zinc. Some, including Becker, became wealthy, with land prices rising from 25/- per hectare to £25. Becker moved into producing high-quality pasture seeds, especially Clare subterranean clover and perennial veldt grass. Becker sold the seed through Alf Hannaford, who delivered it to farmers around the state in his trucks fitted with the wheat seed grading and pickling machine he invented.

South Australia ends bag handling of grain in 1950s with silos run by growers' cooperative

South Australian cereal growers, through their wheat and woolgrowers’ association, bought change to the way grain was transported and shipped from 1954. From the colony’s earliest days, moving grain from farm to the customer had been time consuming and expensive. Grain was collected in jute bags from the header and loaded onto a horse and cart, or train, to travel to one of South Australia’s 40 ports to be exported. A lot of grain was lost through spills, lack of hygiene and pest control. The South Australian Wheat and Woolgrowers’ Association lobbied hard for a bulk handling system and presented a proposal and draft bill to the state government in 1954. That year, the association formed South Australian Co-Operative Bulk Handling Limited (SACBH). The company bought its first silo in Ardrossan in 1955 and built the first country silo at Paskeville, on Yorke Peninsula, the next year. By the 1980s, SACBH’s storage capacity was more than four million tonnes. In the late 1990s, the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian Barley Board were privatised. South Australian growers approved a changed SACBH corporate structure in 2000 and it was demutualised as AusBulk and United Grower Holdings. Four years later, they merged with ABB Grain Ltd to form one of Australia’s largest barley marketers. In 2009, most shareholders voted to sell ABB Grain Ltd to Canadian global agribusiness Viterra who took over most South Australia’s silos and gave its grain exposure to different world markets. In 2012, Viterra was bought by Glencore Agriculture, a global leader in agricultural commodities.

Viterra dominates the grain storage and handling network across South Australia

Viterra, part of global Glencore Agriculture, operates most grain storage and handling in South Australia. Its storage network was expanded in 2016/17 for the record grain season with 900,000 more tonnes of bunkers. Viterra planned to open 67 sites across South Australia for 2019/20 harvest (73 in 2018/19) with no changes to the overall storage and segregations for South Australia’s major crops including wheat, barley, canola, lentils, faba beans, field peas and lupins. In making sometimes unpopular changes to the mix of storage sites, Viterra said its investment was focused on larger sites. Viterra operates road and decreasing rail to freight grain from upcountry storage to the six export port terminals: Flinders Port-owned deep-sea sites (Port Lincoln, Port Giles and Port Adelaide Outer Harbor) and shallow ports (Thevenard, Wallaroo, Port Adelaide inner harbour). Port Pirie now is used only as upcountry storage, with grain freighted south to Port Giles, Wallaroo or Port Adelaide for export. Other bulk grain handlers in South Australia are Cargill (trading in Australia as AWB Grainflow, Cargill and AWB, with receival and storage at Pinnaroo, Crystal Brook, Maitland, Mallala), KI Pure Grain (receival and storage at Kingscote), San Remo (durum wheat receival at Balaklava and Kulpara in northern Yorke Peninsula). Grain receivals and small storage for domestic supply are managed by Blue Lake Milling, Bordertown; Laucke (flour mill Strathalbyn, feed mill Daveyston); Ridleys (feed mills Murray Bridge, Wasleys); Allied, Mile End; and Westons, Port Adelaide (domestic flour mills). 

Ever-growing variety of grain, seed and pulse crops join barley as the backup to wheat

Barley has been a traditional backup crop to wheat in the $2.5 billion South Australia grain industry. In recent years, the range of large-scale grains and pulse crops now includes durum, oats, ryecorn, triticale, peas, lupins, broad beans, faba beans, chickpeas, lentils, vetch, canola and hay. Small areas of flax (linseed), safflower and coriander are also grown. Alternate crops, such as oil seeds and pulse, give rotation breaks against disease and weeds. South Australia’s small seed industry is Australia’s largest.


department the pillars of South Australia's research and training

Roseworthy, Australia's first agricultural college from 1883, starts the tradition of research

Roseworthy opened in 1883 as Australia’s first agricultural college. As a model farm, it was a forerunner the government department of agriculture. Research included fertilisers in dryland cropping and breeding wheat varieties. Agriculture, oenology and natural resources faculties were well regarded with winemaking students from throughout Australia and New Zealand. In 1991, the college became part of Adelaide University’s agricultural and natural resource sciences.


Declining soil fertility and droughts set task for state department of agriculture from 1902

With declining soil fertility and drought, in 1875, a government commission recommended a department of agriculture but this didn’t happen until 1902. Besides its experimental farms, the department took over regulating agriculture industries, emphasising pest and disease control, productivity and soil conservation.  Post World War II, the department grew rapidly and collaborated with the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, Roseworthy Agricultural College, the CSIRO and others. 


Peter Waite's 1913 legacy enables huge Urrbrae centre for agricultural research and training

Waite Agricultural Research Institute research/teaching precinct contributes significantly to Australian and international agriculture and wine industries. Started in 1924 by the University of Adelaide, it is on the Urrbrae estate at Netherby bequeathed in 1913 by pastoralist and businessman Peter Waite. He also gave adjoining land to the state government to set up Urrbrae Agricultural High School in 1913. It’s now a special -interest school in agriculture and environment, with students from all over the state. One of Waite’s daughters, Elizabeth Macmeikan also left £16,000 to the university for science relating to the land. Other benefactors also enabled the university to develop its Waite campus that now has an arboretum, Urrbrae House historic precinct and Waite conservation reserve aligned with the research institute. The Waite is Australia’s leading site for grain, soil and wine research. It is also the largest agriculture research, education, commercial and training complex in the southern hemisphere. The Waite community comprises 12 research organisations, centres and nodes, with about 1,500 scientists, technicians, teachers, support staff and students in the areas of agriculture, food, wine, natural resource sciences and agricultural economics. The Waite’s many partners on site include the CSIRO, South Australian Research and Development Institution (SARDI), Australian Wine Research Institution, Australian Grain Technologies, and Australian Genome Research Facility.



Waite institute's plant science strength reaps special success in barley and beer partnerships

The Waite Agicultural Research Institute campus of the University of Adelaide has built a tradition that now represents the largest concentration of plant science in the southern hemisphere. It hosts more than 1,000 research staff, including partners from the South Australian Research and Development Institute, the Australian Wine Research Institute and the CSIRO. More than 50% of barley grown in Australia originates from the Waite campus. Its program generates about 25,000 potential new varieties every year and each is evaluated. But only about one will be commercially viable after being developed up to 10 years. One such variety that lifts production by 10%, while overdelivering on quality, has been achieved by researchers at the Waite barley breeding program.. The centre’s ground-breaking Compass malting barley has seen a major increase in yield and quality compared to other barley varieties despite a challenging season with a dry spring. Waite campus research team  has strategic partnerships with some of the world’s biggest brewers. Recent notable successes include a variety called Charger that increases beer shelf life by 50%. This was developed with Carlsberg and Heineken over 10 years. The centre has also worked with Japanese beer giant Sapporo on another variety, Southern Star, that improves foam retention for the company’s premium brands. The university had a strategic partnership with French-based breeding company Secobra to trial its Explorer barley variety in Australia. Explorer is used by the world’s largest brewer AB InBev in its flagship beer Budweiser. 


genetically-modifed crops in lone stand among Australia states

State's biosecurity fight against fruit fly and other pests extends to ban on GM food crops

From detecting footrot in 1875 and phylloxera in vines, South Australia has fought constantly to control diseases affecting livestock and crops. The government’s Primary Industries and Research SA (PIRSA) Biosecurity SA division manages the risks posed by animal and plant pests and diseases, food-borne illnesses and misuse of rural chemicals. South Australia has extended its ban on genetically modified (GM) crops until at least 2025. The ban is the only one in mainland states, despite being opposed by Grain Producers SA.


Rabbits released on Dutton estate in 1850s turn to billions; dented by disease control

In 1857-58, Alexander Buchanan, overseer for Frederick Dutton’s Anlaby pastoral estate near Kapunda, released rabbits for hunting. The rabbit population stayed stable until 1866 but was out of control in the next year. In 1995, government experiments with the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus on Wardang Island, near Yorke Peninsula, saw it unintentionally taken to the mainland by flies. Luckily, the virus cut rabbits by 60% without affecting native species. In 2017, rabbit numbers fell by 48% after a new virus was released by Biosecurity SA.

Pure Ligurian bees protected on Kangaroo Island as world-first sanctuary since 1885

An Italian bee has benefited froma world first in agricultural protection by South Australia. The Ligurian bees on Kangaroo Island, 120km south of Adelaide, 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. An early German settler August Fiebig has been credited for his role in breeding and bringing the bees to the island. Beekeepers all over South Australia rallied to get legal protection for the bees. This reflects influence in a small (in population) colony/state, but also the demand for agricultural adaptability (another South Australian characteristic) in its harsh climatic challenges. Also in a small-colony scenario, James Boucaut, a supreme court judge and former premier, brought the first Ligurians to the island on his yacht in 1884. The state government established a Ligurian queen breeding station at Flinders Chase on the island in 1944. The Ligurian bee produces a superb range of honeys from flora including sugar gum, pink gum, white mallee and other Australian and introduced flora. Ligurian has built sizeable export markets, particularly in Japan. It is the first Australian product recognised by the Slow Food Movement's Arc of Taste awards for products in danger and needing protection. In 2015, the state government and Adelaide University started studying the potential of Australia’s native bees to resist the varroa mites that have hit bee populations globally. 

Port Augusta centre boosts South Australia's fruit fly fight; state still vine phylloxera free

South Australia is the only Australian mainland state free of fruit fly, and one of the few places in the world free of the vine-destroying pest phylloxera. In a national first, BioSecurity SA researchers at a $3.8 million centre in Port Augusta develop 50 million male-only sterile Queensland fruit flies each week. Fruit fly management protects commercial fruit and vegetables, including wine grapes and almonds, with a farmgate value of about $851 million. It also secures important export markets.


field days and bureaux among binding forces for farm families

September Royal Show originates from 1840 and a yard in Grenfell Street, Adelaide

The first of what became the Royal Adelaide Show was staged in 1840 by the then-agricultural society in a Grenfell Street yard. In 1844, a combined livestock and produce show was presented under marquees and tents on the Frome Road side of Botanic Park. A more permanent marquee was set up in Botanic Park before the Jubilee Exhibition Building (now demolished) on North Terrace became the show’s home 1895-911 when the state government bought land for it at Wayville West.

Agricultural Bureau helps bridge gap between farmers and scientists on challenges

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.

Yorke Peninsula field days grow on from 1895; country shows celebrate agriculture across state

The Yorke Peninsula field days in South Australia, believed to be the oldest event for showcasing farming equipment, celebrated 120 years in 2015. Eight agricultural bureaux formed the organising committee. Three – Paskeville, Arthurton, and Bute – were from the original group in the 19th Century. Held every two years, Eyre Peninsula Field Days at Cleve have grown to three days from its one-day start in 1973. Annual country agricultural shows continue across South Australia.


SA Country Women's Association a great contributor to rural life in war and peace

The South Australian Country Women's Association, originating through Mary Warnes at Burra in 1926, had 277 branches and 14,000 members at its peak in 1956 – declining to 7500 by 1988. Early CWA activities included rest rooms in regional centres and a circulating library by the metropolitan branch. It helped rural families during the Depression and 1930s droughts. During World War II, the CWA helped the Women's Land Army and the national effort to make 20,000 camouflage nets.



NEW TRENDS EMERGE to meet the constant challenges in dairy, meat, fruit and vegetable markets, with exports on the increase

Dairy prices hit but pockets of investment emerge in export and processing technology

A milk price dop has hit South Australia’s 250 dairy farms producing 550 million litres of milk each year from 82,000 cows. Amid the price gloom, the state government offered regional development grants to dairy investments, including $900,000 to B.-d. Farm Paris Creek at Meadows, Adelaide Hills, for technology; $2 million to Blue Lake Dairy’s $65 million project to export milk products into China; and $2.5 million towards a cheese-processing plant for Beston Pure Dairies.


Litchfields switch to organic livestock; paddock to plate in Danish joint venture

Organic livestock production is a growing theme for South Australia’s outback stations with the Litchfield family’s purchase of Mount Lyndhurst station in 2016. It will to boost organic meat production for the US, through Thomas Foods of Murray Bridge. South Australia's far north is now part of the world's largest organic food producing area. Meanwhile, a new paddock-to plate beef approach has been brought to South Australia by Tim Burvill and Danish partners, the Damgaard family. 


Riverland, Adelaide Hills and Virginia survive as stalwarts of fruit and vegetables

Through storms, oversupply and price struggles, the Riverland, Adelaide Hills and Virginia continue as stalwarts of South Australian fruit and vegetable. Riverland stonefruit growers hoped in 2016 a nectarine export deal with China would revive their industry. Vietnamese Farmers Association, many vegetable and fruit growers around Virginia, marked its 30th year in 2016. Virginia, a horticultural multiculturalism melting pot, is feeling the heat of big companies moving into the region.


South Australian food and wine reach record levels as 46% of the state's total exports

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.


ALPACAS TO FREEKEH or saltwater-grown tomatoes to seaweed; possibilities grow but research and technology remains strength

First failed attempt in 1857 but state's alpaca industry now geared to become an export force

South Australia's alpaca industry is maturing into an export force, with major potential for its fleeces and meat. South Australia pioneered the alpaca industry in 1857 when four animals were imported to Port Lincoln by William Haigh. That failed but a thriving industry has emerged from alpacas brought over in 1989. Ambersun Alpacas, a breeding farm at Mount Compass, has one of the largest herds outside of South America and its fleece is among the best quality in the world.


Almonds the boom crop with new centre of excellence part of Loxton research centre

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. 

Sundrop Farms using solar energy to convert sea water to irrigate its huge greenhouse

Sundrop Farms, just south of Port Augusta, is leading the world in a rethink of how food in produced. The Sundrop plant uses a mass of energy from 23,000 solar mirrors projecting onto a 115 metre tower. The heat generated turns sea water to steam, before cooling the desalinated water to 18 degrees to supply water to plants in its 20 hectares of greenhouses. It aims to produce more than 15,000 tonnes of vegetables annually. Coles supermarkets has a 10-year contract for its tomatoes.

Setting up Adelaide Plains to be major supplier of green cereal 'superfood' freekeh

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.

Macro Meats world's largest processor of kangaroos, wild game; camels being considered

Macro Meats Gourmet Game is the world’s largest processor of meat from wild game including kangaroo, rabbit, hare, venison, goat and wild pig. Started by Ray Borda, Macro Meats is a national success, employing 300 at Athol Park headquarters. It has 90% of the Australian kangaroo meat industry. Meanwhile, about 350,00 feral camels are in the outback and ways to profit from their meat are being looked at by the South Australian and Northern Territory governments.


Adelaide gets regional offices of the national grains and fisheries research corporations

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.

Techniques for soil improvement and mapping adding to farmers' armoury

New Horizons is a Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) initiative to boost the productivity of broadacre crop and livestock pasture with poor soils. Trials have confirmed sandy soils can be greatly improved by adding clay, organic matter and nutrients at different depths. Another new technique for farmers is a pH mapping machine, pulled by a tractor or ute, that can measure and locate soil acidity – a problem affecting 1.9 million ha of agricultural land in South Australia.

Seaweed processing industry adds to range of possibilities for state's aquaculture

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.


opium poppies, adding dimensions to the options for agriculture

Farmers get the nod to grow hemp (2018) and opium poppies (2016) in South Australia

South Australian farmers were free to plant industrial hemp under licence in 2018, with state parliament joining most other states in legalising it. Licence holders will have to provide information to the government – such as the origin of seed and the GPS coordinates of the cultivation area. Industrial hemp can be used to make many products from clothes and cosmetics to building materials. The state government also legalised the growing of opium poppies in 2016.

World-first lucerne crop trial at Adelaide Airport lowers temperatures for easier plane takeoffs

A business case was being finalised in 2019 for a world-first concept to grow a commercial farm crop to reduce runway air temperatures at Adelaide Airport. Trials by the airport with state-owned SA Water over three years showed the effects of lucerne can drop air temperatures by more than 3C. In warmer thinner air, planes must travel faster down the runway, with a lighter load, to produce the lift for takeoff. Some domestic aircraft, such as the Airbus A330 and Boeing 737, can’t take off above certain temperatures. The promising findings from the Adelaide trial attracted interstate and international interest. The four-hectare site, 600 metres from the airport’s main runway, tried grass species tried tall fescue, couch and kikuyu grasses but lucerne, that can be cut into hay and sold as a premium stock feed, had the greatest impact on ambient temperatures. Between 12 and 15 millimetres of recycled suburban creek/aquifer stormwater was applied up to three evenings a week, monitored by more than 40 temperature and humidity sensors. Adelaide Airport has potential for up to 200ha of lucerne and 50-100ha of irrigated turf around the main runway and other infrastructure. The next step would be a permanent  irrigation system to expand the watered area from 4ha to 7ha and allow more lucerne planting. Economists engaged by Adelaide Airport and SA Water calculated costs and benefits of a 200ha lucerne hay harvest to mean irrigation outlay could be regained in seven to 12 years. Besides fuel savings for airlines, credits could be gained as a carbon farming initiative.

South Australian small boutique dairies lead fightback from price doldrums of early 2000s

South Australian boutique farms have been leading the state’s dairy market fightback from the tough conditions of the early 2000s. Fleurieu Milk, Tweedvale Milk in the Adelaide Hills, Udder Delights, Jersey Fresh, B.-d. Farm Paris Creek and Robe Dairy have been among those creating opportunities. The industry’s peak body South Australian Dairyfarmers Association (SADA) also has led efforts such as a deal with supermarket giant Coles in 2012 to sell local milk packaged and distributed by Parmalat Australia in the Adelaide suburb of Clarence Gardens as SADA Fresh. In 2016, many dairy farmers hit the wall with farmgate prices plummeting and feed costs rising. A major media campaign, urging South Australian consumers to support local independent boutique dairy brands, brought a 10% rise in sales. Boutique dairies built on this with their own strategies. Myponga-based Fleurieu Milk, started by three families, launched a flavoured milks and yoghurts brand through the 135 On the Run service stations, Foodland stores, IGAs and other independent stores. It also launched a yoghurt celebrating native plant flavours, including Kakadu plum and quandong, with South Australian Aboriginal company Something Wild. Robe Dairy on the Limestone Coast milks its own small herd of Jersey cows for farmhouse cheese, milk and yoghurt. About 230 South Australian dairies produce nearly 10% of national production. About half are in the state’s south east, with others in the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula, Lower Murray and Barossa Valley. Most milk is still sent to larger processors.

P'Petual glasshouses in high-tech protected veg cropping growth trend for northern Adelaide

P’Petual Holdings, based at Buckland Park, 35km north of Adelaide, started a $60 million three-stage expansion from eight to 28 hectares in 2017, creating the second largest high-technology glasshouse horticulture project in South Australia. The glasshouses growth was backed by $2 million from a state government future jobs fund and overseas investors. Started in 1997, P’Petual Holdings, trading under the brand Ausfresh, operates high-tech greenhouses to grow niche tomatoes, eggplants and mini cucumber. The state-of-the-art greenhouses use a climate control computer to monitor environmental factors, such as temperature, fog, irrigation and shade. Protected year-round cropping under glasshouses is becoming a grown at the northern Adelaide horticultural area. Produce grown at the glasshouses is sorted and packaged onsite and sold to major supermarket chains, independent supermarkets and grocers all around Australia. The expansion opens opportunities to access overseas markets, especially south-east Asia. The first stage of the expanded glasshouse would boost the annual yield of fresh produce to about 7,800 tonnes – up from about 2,850 tonnes previously. The P’Petual Holdings project came from a combined effort with the Stretton Centre, City of Playford, SA Water, state department of environment, water and natural resources; state planning, transport and infrastructure department, Environmental Protection Authority South Australia, the office of the agent-general and the Investment Attraction South Australia.


Liberal government in South Australia caught in middle of mining and agriculture stalemate

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. 

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