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Land and Environment : Agribusiness Assoc. of Australia

Agribusiness Review - Vol. 6 - 1998

Paper 7
ISSN 1442-6951


Agriculture in Australia - an Introduction

Bill Malcolm, Peter Sale, Adrian Egan.
Oxford University Press , Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1996, pp 472. ISBN 019 553695-09 RRP $AUD 53.95

 Australian agriculture embraces immense diversity and yet requires an interdisciplinary perspective from those who seek to understand it and operate within it. Agriculture in Australia sets out to address these issues by initially providing a comprehensive overview of the scientific and technical principles that underpin Australia's major crop and livestock industries and then integrating these with business economics principles to meet production, profit and sustainability criteria.

The book is designed to be used as an agricultural text within tertiary education institutions but could also be relevant and effective for students in late secondary schooling. It represents a development from texts in purely scientific agriculture in that it seeks to present a coherent interdisciplinary framework for grasping the technical and business elements of agricultural/agribusiness operations. At the same time portions of the book will be valuable reference points for those actively engaged in Australian agriculture or involved in supporting and developing its industries.

Part One, titled Agriculture in Australia , presents a well written introduction to the interdisciplinary scope and approach of the book as well as a descriptive overview of the resources, climate, soils, water and production activities that characterise Australia's agriculture.

Part Two is titled Fundamentals of Agriculture and forms the substantial portion of the book. Chapters on the processes of plant and animal production are essentially descriptive in tone but also contain sections, which cover approaches for selection and management. The principles are comprehensively identified but are developed only to an introductory level.

The next three chapters focus on the economic principles of profitable production, agribusiness management, and agribusiness marketing. They are well crafted and tightly written and provide an important focus on the business aspects of farm management from an agricultural economics ‘resources' perspective. It is vital to recognise, however, that Australian agricultural industries cannot be understood or even managed from a ‘resources' based mindset alone. Political, social and cultural perspective's need to be integrated into farm and agribusiness management which address issues such as the role of rural women, the changing nature of the farm family and succession planning, the decline of government extension services and rural communities, and the need for farms to align themselves to a rapidly globalising agriculture via upgraded marketing and information systems. Several of these issues are introduced towards the end of the book but they are worthy of inclusion and integration in these earlier decision-making sections.

As well there is insufficient emphasis on the development of horizontal farmer networks to harness collective energy and power in commodity and contract market situations. The industrialisation of agriculture is also worthy of further emphasis since vertical integration is a noteworthy trend in a strongly market driven Australian agriculture.

Part Three is titled "sustaining Agriculture' and divides into two chapters on Sustaining Resources and Improving Agriculture. These form valuable and worthwhile segments for concluding the book and address a variety of past, present and emerging issues. Surprisingly there is virtually no reference to the Australia wide Landcare movement and regional catchment initiatives which represent an enormously significant shift towards group action by individual land holders in tackling intractable sustainability issues. Again, I would argue there is a need for future editions to consider incorporating resource sustainability as an integrated component of the production and profit framework.

Students studying agriculture and agricultural operators will benefit from the broad sweep of Australian agricultural technical and economic principles that the chapters present. Yet there are a range of descriptive and evaluative tools that do not emerge from the approaches adopted by the authors which could be of immense value to agricultural decision-makers both now and in the future. Amongst these are:

- the integrative techniques of rich picturing and themeing issues which lead to systemic thinking and problem solving

- strategic planning techniques such as a review of the operating environment leading to a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis which enables the organising and prioritising of critical success factors on which to build effective strategy

Overall I found this book to be both a readable and at times impressively crafted text. It is well presented with a notation margin, chapter summaries and review questions together with a blend of diagrams and black and white/colour photographs. It represents value for money and will make a significant contribution to meeting the needs of target audiences that require an up-to-date interdisciplinary, principles text in this field.

 Geoff Watson - Orange Agricultural College, The University of Sydney

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