A Growing Global Population: Jobs for Australians

12 June 2019 Geoff Craggs, Research Analyst, Northern Australia and Regional Development Research Programme

Background

The global population is growing and estimates indicate that it will exceed 9.8 billion by 2050. Correspondingly, food security and the ability to feed their people, is a mounting concern for many countries. Feeding Australia’s future population and its ability to supply existing and future export markets will require many more people to be employed in agriculture and industries associated with food production. These will not be “traditional” farmers. The Australian agricultural sector (especially the farming sector) will need trained people who have developed skills and experience in a wide assortment of disciplines: food technology; soil science; land management; agroforestry; aquaculture and many other related disciplines, which will be critical to Australia’s ability to meet its food production needs.

Comment

The requirement to produce more food will create job opportunities in the agricultural and allied industries. Importantly, these future jobs will not be the traditional, labour-intensive jobs, like hand picking of fruit and vegetables; the future of cropping will see a steady rise in the use of technology and the internet and in the use of digitised robotic equipment {referred to as information and communications technology (ICT)}. ICT and automated systems, for instance self-driving tractors and mechanical harvesters, are already operating on Australian farms and their use will grow substantially in the future. Those machines will need skilled operators, who are backed by people with the necessary service and repair skills, to enable them to work autonomously and with limited support.

Global Positioning System (GPS) technology will be widely used in future agricultural production. Systems are now in place to manage whole-of-farm irrigation, using computer-linked sensor arrays. Similarly, the process of managing the movement of grazing stock from paddock to paddock is now in regular use, based on digitised data that measures the percentage of grass consumed. The use of drone technology is also gaining significant prominence for both irrigation and stock control. The use of drones allows farmers and land managers to maintain visibility and management of farm operations, without necessarily having to move around the farm – they can oversee operations from the farm office. Employees with qualifications and experience in drone technology will be keenly sought in the future.

Other job opportunities will be created by new and alternative methods of farming. There will be a greater emphasis on food production from hydroponic sources for example. Another innovation will be “pop up” farms, housed in shipping containers, which are equipped and fitted out to run a small farming operation. A great advantage is that they can easily be moved from site to site, based on weather, soil or other factors. Opportunities will also be available to assist in re-establishing rural communities, previously in decline due to market conditions. The need will be for people with skills in training, project management and business, to help regional townships re-establish, to re-invigorate businesses and to support growth and community development.

Demand is increasing for alternative sources of food protein, as opposed to animal products like beef, pork and chicken. Accordingly, new and different farming methods will be needed. Plant-based, high-protein, foods such as lentils, chickpeas, peanuts and almonds will be in demand; as will soy products like tofu, tempeh and edamame. Gaining prominence in Western diets, as a sustainable food source due to their high nutritional content, are a wide range of insects, including beetles, worms, grasshoppers and crickets. Farming these food products in the future will require people who can develop new and different farming skills to be able to satisfy demand.

Though most new jobs will be in the agricultural sector, there will also be a significant demand for people to work in allied areas: storage, processing, logistics, food preparation, technical development, agricultural specialists, agribusiness and similar roles. These roles will be just as important as farm occupations and they will provide employment opportunities and future careers away from farms.

While a vast majority of people in the future job market will see their future outside the agricultural sector, many good job opportunities will soon be available, both on and off the farm, in industry sectors allied to agriculture. As population numbers increase, there will be a high level of demand to fill professional and blue-collar agricultural job vacancies. The challenge will be to make the agricultural sector and its related activities competitive, through innovation, public investment in supportive rural public goods and services, and rural town development, to make them sufficiently attractive to people seeking future employment and careers in farming and other areas of agriculture.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

Published by Future Directions International Pty Ltd.
Suite 5, 202 Hampden Road, Nedlands WA 6009, Australia.