Hobby farms and statistics why they are cause for concern


Paul Howes recently caused an uproar amongst the agriculture sector when he referred to “ma and pa” farmers

Like more than 99% of the Australian population Paul Howes has no idea about commercial farming in Australia and ABARES and ABS don’t help

As Mick Keogh explains in his article Its time to get rid of the average farmer

The ‘average’ farm is a term frequently used, especially in discussions about the financial viability of the Australian farm sector. Analysts invariably talk about average farm income or average return on investment for farm businesses, but few seem to understand that discussing the average financial performance of Australian farms is a bit like discussing the average winnings of Australia golf players, and including in that average anyone who has ever played a single round of golf.

There are at least three different definitions of farms and farmers that are currently used in Australia. The Australian Tax Office defines a farmer (primary producer) as someone who is involved in farming activities for business purposes, and either generates a profit or has the intention of generating a profit from that activity.

The ABS counts as a farmer any person owning a farm which has annual output valued at more than $5,000. ABARES collects statistics on broadacre and dairy farms only, and includes broadacre or dairy farms with more than $40,000 in annual output. Based on these definitions, there are more than 200,000 (ATO) or 135,000 (ABS) farms in Australia, of which 62,000 are broadacre or dairy farms (ABARES). Depending on which of these statistics is used, the ‘average’ size of farms or their financial performance varies enormously.

I have mentioned this morning because there have been considerable discussion on twitter about the definition of ‘Hobby’ aka ‘lifestyle’ farmer and I just can’t fathom why the term hobby/lifestyle farmer falls into a sensitive area.

Over 90% of the prime agricultural land in my region is now owned by ‘lifestyle’ farmers. They gained the title of farmer because they own a farm but as Mick Keogh says

The owners of these farms make an extremely valuable contribution to regional communities, but including these in any statistics of farm business or financial performance creates a very distorted picture of the performance of the ‘average’ commercial farm business.

I became a photographer when I bought a camera. I will never put food on my table from the profits of my photography – it’s a hobby and I love it. 

Professional photographers have skills sets and knowledge I will never have and will never claim to have and equally owning a farm does not instantly make you a professional farmer.

What concerns me is government policy makers and people like Paul Howes make decisions and statements based on ABS and ABARES statistics. Its time those statistics became reliably relevant so the agriculture sector can get the support it deserves 

I agree very strongly with Mick

Perhaps it is time to stop referring to the ‘average’ farm, and instead adopt the use of farm categories similar to those used by the US Department of Agriculture, enabling more sensible and informed discussions to occur about the state of farming in Australia. Of course, that could only occur if some substantial improvements were made to the agricultural statistics system in Australia, something that appears unlikely to eventuate any time soon!

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

3 thoughts on “Hobby farms and statistics why they are cause for concern”

  1. great article Lynne, thanks. Conversations would be easier if we could use standard terms that Mick mentions like output value so when people throw figures around we can guess where they are coming from.

  2. Hi Lynne, it took me months to negotiate an appropriate, evidence based, formula for a recent #Landcare project. We agreed on a set of rules and then used ABARES, ABS and local data to identify who farmers are and how many of them are in my Region. We asked our farmer stakeholders who they thought should be included. Thankyou for raising an important aspect of our Governments’ decision making processes that few are aware of.

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