Australian agriculture in 2050: what will it look like?

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UNSW’s keynote speaker on the built environment, Dr Joshua Zeunert, received a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council (ARC) of $ 417,128.

The goal of his project is to predict scenarios of what Australian agriculture might look like in 2050, and to ensure that Australia’s landscapes and food supply systems remain sustainable.

Dr Zeunert became a full-time scholar about 10 years ago after working in award-winning landscape architecture and urban design firms as well as occasional teaching. He completed his PhD by publication in 2018, which he says gave him a “career history” for his first DECRA application a year later.

“There are various accounts of what the next three decades could hold for the farming community in Australia,” Dr Zeunert said.

“It’s pretty alarming how different these stories are – and it’s not very common in fields of study for there to be such polarized views on what the future might bring. My goal is to understand these narratives and predict, test and illustrate them as potential scenarios to help inform stakeholders, politicians and decision makers.

“The current government narrative is that Australia feeds 60 million people and therefore, because we produce so much more food than we need, our food security is not seen as a concern. But there is certainly literature that disputes this as we look to the future for several decades.

“And the recent tragic [bushfire] events, which perhaps demonstrate how quickly widespread change can occur, will also make us want to examine this claim a little closer. “

To synthesize the wide range of existing information, Dr Zeunert will use a conceptual framework that builds on established and overlapping processes – sieve mapping, GIS (geographic information systems) and geodesign. These will allow him to extract key indicators from text, data and mapping – which are often isolated – into spatial data sets and overlays.

“In addition to text, data and numbers, we can make visual representations of scenarios using graphic, illustrative and spatial techniques. “

For the project, Dr Zeunert will also interview 40 experts to gather their views on future probabilities. Experts will include federal and state ministers, key government decision-makers, heads of relevant departments such as agriculture and primary industries; university, CSIRO and independent researchers; national and state leaders of key representative bodies such as the National Farmers Federation; NGOs, volunteers, advocacy and non-profit organizations such as Landcare and the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance; and key figures in agriculture and the media.

In addition to a literature review and analysis of existing data, it will conduct an online survey targeting farmers and those directly involved in agriculture.

Based on the information Dr Zeunert gathered, he will create scenarios and use a technique called “scenario testing” to get feedback from previously consulted experts. This allows the scenarios to be refined if necessary.

“Next, I’m going to use a technique called ‘projective design’ which is found in spatial design disciplines such as architecture and landscape architecture. So, in addition to text, data and numbers, we can make visual representations of the scenarios using graphic, illustrative and spatial techniques.

Dr Zeunert hopes the project will help educate politicians, natural resource managers, environmental planners, primary producers and the farming community, as well as the wider community.

“It is essential that these predictions of future scenarios reach as wide an audience as possible,” he says.


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