CSIRO sows seeds for Australia’s farming future

CSIRO believes if the Australian ag industry doesn't embrace new technologies to reduce emissions and improve water sustainability, the ag sector could be a bleak place. Photo contributed.

Australia must act now to accelerate agricultural innovation to achieve productive, resilient and sustainable farming systems by 2050, according to a new report released by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

While Australian farming seen several years of high yields as of early 2024, some key challenges threaten ongoing prosperity.

The challenges already impacting farming systems include climate change, emissions reduction needs, supply chain disruptions, workforce access, changing consumer preferences, maintaining market access, and long innovation timelines.

In response, through consultation and co-design with over 100 industry stakeholders, CSIRO has delivered the Ag2050 Scenarios Report, exploring a range of significant trends, risks, opportunities and actions needed to support Australian farming systems into the future and presents four future pathways for the sector.

Dr Katherine Wynn, CSIRO Futures’ Agriculture and Food Lead, said the report underscored the critical need for proactive measures, and should serve as a call to action for the agricultural sector.

“The decline in farm profitability over the last two decades is a stark warning sign, with projections indicating decline by up to 50 per cent in some areas by 2050,” Dr Wynn said.

“However, our research offers an optimistic outlook, and indicates Australia can achieve productive, sustainable and resilient farming systems if we act now to facilitate long-term transformative change in agricultural innovation.”

The four evidence-based future scenarios, paint a picture of what Australian farming systems could look like by 2050 and include:

1. Regional Ag capitals – a consolidated and technologically advanced sector, thriving and prioritising food and fibre security.

2. Landscape stewardship – a forward-thinking sector embracing new opportunities and novel technologies, allowing the environment to flourish.

3. Climate survival – a sector focused on climate adaptation and incremental changes allowing it to survive.

4. System decline – a sector failing to address growing challenges and at a tipping point.

Dr Rose Roche, CSIRO’s Ag2050 Lead, highlighted the work CSIRO is doing to support the agricultural sector through its Ag2050 program.

“We’re actively collaborating with industry and stakeholders to tailor these scenarios to local and regional contexts and work out what specific technologies and innovations are required,” explained Dr Roche.

“Our goal is to make cutting-edge scientific solutions accessible to our stakeholders to help them achieve their desired future.”

The Ag2050 Scenarios Report is the first phase of CSIRO’s Ag2050 program, a disruptive multi-year initiative aimed at identifying interventions, innovations, and support necessary for a productive, resilient, and sustainable future for Australian agriculture.