ifoam'96 ifoam'96
Book of Abstracts
11th IFOAM Scientific Conference
11-15 August 1996, Copenhagen, Denmark
EcoWeb Denmark


Constraints on organic agriculture in Australia W24

Dumaresq David

School of Resource Management and Environmental Science, AustralianNational University, Canberra, Australia ACT 0200

The major limitation of the market for organic produce in Australia is uncertainty of supply, quality and price. National, regional and local constraints on the adoption of organic farming practices are also observed. The combination of these constraints and limitations restrict the further development of both the market for organic produce in Australia and thewider adoption of organic farming practices. Organic farming is widespread in Australia but provides less than one percent of total national agricultural output. Most agricultural commodities produced by conventional agriculture are also produced by local organic systems. Organic production systems include dry land and irrigated broadacre cereal and stock systems, oilseeds and pulses, intensive dairying, temperate and tropical horticultural, and vineyards. While individual organic farm size tends to be close to regional norms and large by international standards, farms are generally isolated with individual farm output being very small at district and regional scales. Adoption of organic systems has been restricted both spatially and temporally, with virtually no local extension being observed.
Five sets of constraints have been identified:biophysical, including climate and spatial distribution; extension services, including technology transfer; infrastructure, including the lack of dedicated infrastructure; markets and marketing; and farmer and consumer perceptions.
There are few technological barriers to a wider adoption of organic systems. However, widespread farmer ignorance of organic systems and no organic extension services limit expansion. All Australian farmers facing large biophysical limits to their production. Organic farmers also lack dedicated infrastructure and of developed markets for handling organic produce. Individual organic farmers having to provide their own production, handling, storage and transportation facilities carry substantial time and resource burdens over their conventional neighbours using existing infrastructure. The organic farmers are likely to also have to develop and maintain their own markets. With yields at best equivalent to conventional systems, lower costs and higher prices will be needed to allow most farmers conversion to organic practices.
Farmer co-operatives for post-farm processing and marketing, social provision of infrastructure and state based marketing boards have been the historical reponse to similar difficulties for conventional agriculture in the past. These approaches are no longer viable and new directions will be needed to develop a substantial organic industry in Australia.