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Economic capital: horticultural production in the Bundaberg region

Agriculture is the dominant industry in the Bundaberg region of Queensland, Australia. The agrifood industry within the region is dominated by vegetable, fruit crop and sugarcane production. The region is currently one of Australia’s most significant horticultural production locations, with an estimated annual farm gate value exceeding AUD$45om. Horticultural production is intensive and has a high labour requirement. The combination of industry value and high employment level underpins the local economy. The industry consists of 16 vegetable crops and nine fruit crops. In 2010, ten of these crops produced over AUD$iom farm gate value. Thus, the horticultural industry has emerged as the dominant agricultural industry over a 30-year period (Figure 7.1). Agricultural researchers were involved in the initial technological innovations, the use of plastic mulch and trickle irrigation systems for vegetable production, upon which the horticultural industry was based. Continued adoption of technological innovations, developed or demonstrated by researchers working closely with the industry, has occurred over the past 30 years, resulting in substantial gains in economic capital for the region, both in terms of diversity within the crops being grown as well as economic value gained from these crops.

As is evident in the graph below, and also in yearly production figures for each of the major crops, fluctuations in the value of production have

Farm gate value of horticultural production in the Bundaberg region, 1980-2010

figure 7.1 Farm gate value of horticultural production in the Bundaberg region, 1980-2010

Source: Queensland Department of Agriculture.

occurred. Many of the decreases in production can be traced to weather events, pest and disease outbreaks, and market perturbations induced primarily by increased volume of product in the marketplace from competing production regions. However, graphs such as these show averages across the region and do not indicate the impact of these events on individual farmers, only some of whom may be negatively affected.

Disease outbreaks can be a blessing. If my crop doesn’t get hit too bad, I can make

lots of money as the price goes up when other growers lose their crops.

As such, economic capital can be quite a patchwork within a region with some doing quite a bit better in some years than others. What is clear from the graph is that the total economic capital for the region generated from agricultural activities has increased substantially over the past 30 years and it is likely this has contributed to more stability within the sector as a whole. Thus, the capacity of the industry to rebound from the inevitable environmental pressures on production is a reflection of horticultural community resilience. However, resilience in response to major economic fluctuations has not received the same attention as natural disaster responses, perhaps partly due to the global attention paid to predicted increases in extreme weather events driven by climate change (Mallon, Hamilton, Black, Beem, & Abs, 2013). The impact of economic fluctuations tends to be broader than natural hazards, impacting the whole of industry in contrast to the more scattered, but often more severe, impact of natural disasters on individual farmers in the community.

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