New research centre offers healthy insights into food production

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Research from a new centre at the University of Adelaide has highlighted the distress being faced by primary producers in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, with almost two-thirds of horticulture farmers and more than half of dairy farmers thinking of selling up in the next five years.

The findings come from the University's new Centre for Global Food and Resources, to be launched tonight in Adelaide. The Centre brings together all aspects of food production, food consumption and natural resources, spanning the economic and environmental health of food and water as well as its social impact.

"Our new Centre builds on the University's reputation as a leader in research and policy with a focus on real outcomes for agriculture, food and water industries and the community," says the Centre's Executive Director, Professor Wendy Umberger.

"People often talk about 'healthy' food as though it's all about nutritional value, but there are so many aspects of food and agriculture that we need to consider in order to make the entire system truly healthy, resilient and productive. Our Centre addresses economic, policy, sustainability and social issues affecting food systems and water resources, not only in Australia but also in global markets," Professor Umberger says.

The six key areas of research for the new Centre are: Food and Agricultural Policy; Water Policy; Resilient Landscapes; Healthy Societies; International Development; and Food Systems Innovation.

Among the many projects being conducted by the Centre for Global Food and Resources is a long-term analysis of farming stress and rural community pressures in the Murray-Darling Basin. This study is being led by one of the Centre’s senior researchers and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow, Associate Professor Sarah Wheeler.

The survey of more than 1000 irrigators in the southern Murray-Darling Basin revealed that at the beginning of 2016, horticultural farmers faced the highest distress levels, followed by dairy farmers, broadacre farmers, then livestock farmers.

Associate Professor Wheeler says: "Horticultural farmers in the southern Murray-Darling Basin are much more likely to have thought about leaving the farm, with 57% of those surveyed thinking about leaving in the past five years, and 52% of dairy farmers also thinking about leaving. Intention to sell in the next five years is even higher: 63% of horticultural farmers and 54% of dairy farmers have said they are intending to sell.

"The horticultural result was driven mainly by answers from viticultural farmers who have faced falling grape prices in recent years.

"The study also revealed that dairy farmers had the highest absolute debt levels in the Murray-Darling Basin, as well as the highest debt as a percentage of their land value. We've seen this reflected in the number of dairy irrigators selling permanent water back to the government, and this trend is likely to continue, especially given the recent dairy milk price crisis," Associate Professor Wheeler says.

Professor Umberger says: "This research is one example of the highly complex issues facing the agri-food and resource sectors, and it’s one area where we hope our research can make an impact on policy and outcomes for the benefit of producers, industry and the community."

Further information about the new Centre for Global Food and Resources can be found at:


Contact Details

Professor Wendy Umberger
Executive Director, Centre for Global Food and Resources
Faculty of the Professions
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 7263
Mobile: 0405 990 465

Professor Sarah Wheeler
Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow
Centre for Global Food and Resources
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 9130
Mobile: +61 (0)417 528 920

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762