More than a quarter of Tasmania’s land area of 68,300 sq km is committed to agriculture, with dairy products, meat, vegetables and fruit esteemed in key markets. Culinary leader Tetsuya Wakuda describes the State’s growing conditions as ‘beyond organic’. The Government has placed an indefinite moratorium on GM crops, while hormones and antibiotics are not allowed in the promotion of livestock growth. Recent rapid agricultural expansion is being driven by large-scale investment in irrigation projects. The large-scale conversion of grazing land to intensive agriculture propelled the sector’s year-on-year real growth rate to 3.7 per cent in 2012–13, nearly twice the world average of 1.7 per cent and almost triple the average Australian agricultural productivity growth for the previous decade.
Dairy production reached a record 891 million litres in 2014–15, but growth was subsequently affected by a price decline and adverse weather conditions.
Tasmanians account for about 25 per cent of national vegetable exports. Potatoes, onions and carrots are the main crops, but farm businesses are versatile and increasingly diversified. Barley, wheat and oats lead grain production, while poppies, pyrethrum, essential oils, seeds, leaf vegetables and flowers provide innovative cropping options.
There is strong external demand for grass-fed and grain-fed beef and lamb. Beef, lamb, venison and other meats are safe and delectable. They are firmly established in niche markets around the world where quality is more important than price.
Apples, once a major export, are regaining their shine. Cherries are booming and the State’s excellent bio-security is attracting investment in berry cultivation.
The State’s superfine wool has set world record prices at auction.
The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), a joint venture involving UTAS and the Government, is highly rated globally, while the university’s Sense-T project and its commercial equivalent lead the world in the deployment of sensors that take guesswork out of farm management. Sense-T, a partnership program between UTAS, the Tasmanian and Australian Governments, CSIRO and IBM, uses real-time data from sensors with spatial and historical data to build a digital view of the entire State.
The agricultural sector directly employs around 10,000 people. When primary production is combined with dependent downstream processing, it delivers around a third of Gross State Product, about a third of employment and a quarter of all overseas exports.
Welcome to Tasmania, Australia’s natural larder.
Tasmania is noted for the excellence of its superfine wool produced mainly from Saxon Merino sheep on grazing properties in lower rainfall districts (below 700mm). Tasmanian wool averages a micron finer than other Australian wool and is relatively free from vegetable matter. It has often set world record prices at auction. Japanese importer Fujii Kiori markets fabrics made exclusively from Tasmanian wool, while Italian fabric specialist, Zegna, uses it for its most expensive garments. A major Chinese corporation committed in 2005 to use Tasmanian wool exclusively in a line of high quality clothing. More than 95 per cent of Tasmania’s wool production is exported to Japan, China, Germany, Italy and other markets.
Tasmanian merino wool is well-placed to reap the benefits of modern demands for eco-friendly or organic production. Tasmania’s clean natural conditions, a moratorium on GM use and a relatively low use of farm chemicals constitute telling competitive advantages.
A number of specialised non-food agricultural industries have been established in Tasmania, with significant impacts on niche global markets. The State has become the world’s biggest legal supplier of raw opiates for pharmaceutical use, producing more than 45 per cent of the global yield. The pyrethrum industry is also growing rapidly and supplies 60 per cent of the world’s market for this natural, biodegradable insecticide.
Tasmanians produce essential oils – both edible and non-edible – from a range of crops. Volatile oils are extracted from peppermint, spearmint, parsley, boronia, blackcurrant, fennel, dill, mountain pepper, lavender, clary sage and hops.
Local enterprises also produce value-added lavender products, cut flowers, flower bulbs, seeds and seaweed-based fertilisers.
Facts and figures
- Tasmania supplies 98 per cent of all green peas and 74 per cent of all green beans processed in Australia.
- Grain production is concentrated on barley, wheat and oats.
- Tasmania is Australia’s second-biggest producer of potatoes, with a harvest of more than 360,000 tonnes and an industry value of around $128 million.
- Tasmania produces around a third of the Australian onion crop and is responsible for 80 per cent of Australia’s overseas onion exports.
- An ambitious suite of large scale irrigation schemes was recognised in 2012 with the national Smart Infrastructure Project Award. The Food Bowl concept is pushing the rural economy into overdrive by pumping irrigation water to grazing country so it can be converted to intensive agriculture.
Lush pastures nourish 146,000 dairy cows on more than 450 farms. Production reached 891 million litres in 2014–15 – raw material for a dazzling array of gourmet cheeses and other dairy food.