Thomas Malthus, an English economist and demographer, in 1798, proposed a theory that population growth will always tend to outrun the food supply and hence population growth needed to be controlled to prevent dire consequences.

When Malthus penned this statement there were 800 million humans alive, today we number over 7.8 billion and according to the UN the proportion of undernourished people in the world has declined ( at least in recent times) from 15 % in 2000-2004 to 8.9 % in 2019.It therefore appears that we are feeding 10 times the number from Malthus’s era and nourishing them more fully. Projecting forward to 2050 many estimate there will be nearly 10 billion people on earth by then.

Au Produce feeds 70 million/year

According to Deloittes, Australia currently feeds roughly 60-70 million people annually, (based on top-down logic that Australian agriculture currently feeds the domestic population, and that we export about two thirds of our production). Looking forward the good news is there will be an ever-increasing demand for Australian foodstuffs, but even with productivity gains of 2 % per annum from precision ag, new seed varieties and plant protection products we aren’t going to be the food bowl of the world. We will however feed perhaps another million or so people extra a year until there are no further productivity gains to capture. It seems few if any production systems can escape the law of diminishing marginal returns, i.e. an additional unit of input will decrease marginal output.

Australia is a big exporter of Wheat and Beef

Australia exports north of 20 million tons of wheat in a good year, and about 1.4 million tons of beef and veal, an amazing effort for 25 million people. Can these tonnages be increased significantly, well in 2018 and 2019 due to drought wheat exports fell to a little over 9 million tons.

What about Water Scarcity?

We are the driest inhabited continent in the world; 70% of it is either arid or semi arid land. The arid zone is defined as areas which receive an average rainfall of 250mm or less. The semi arid zone is defined as areas which receive an average rainfall between 250-350mm. So yes water is scarce and every drop must count, and the Great Artesian Basin is a great success, as is No-Till farming.

Efficient management of the Great Artesian Basin

According to Michael Burt of NSW Farmers , “THE Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI) is hailed by many as the most beneficial project ever provided to Australian agriculture.

Since its inception 20 years ago, the upgrading of more than 750 free-flowing bores and the installing of almost 32,000km of pipe drains has resulted in massive annual water savings of 250 gigalitres for one of the world’s largest underground freshwater resources. Before the capping and piping of the bores, up to 95% of Great Artesian Basin (GAB) water was being wasted through evaporation and seepage in free-flowing drains – which has been a problem ever since commercial exploitation of the Basin’s water and pressure resources began in 1878.”