This Howard Oration describes the pathway that I have taken towards my specialisation in '˜big picture'™ agriculture. A simple protocol is presented for the analysis of agricultural systems by using descriptive or quantitative indicators of five system properties: productivity, sustainability, profitability, social wellbeing and political acceptability. These properties are further illustrated by considering four important issues in the Australian sheep-wheat belt, a distinctive world food production system. The issues are the supply of and demand for legume nitrogen for crops, reconciling agricultural and natural resource objectives, the low profitability of farms in relation to production and marketing risks, and the conflict between enterprise specialisation (simplicity, scale) and diversification (complexity, resilience). Agricultural R&D has removed important technical constraints to progress in the sheep-wheat belt but insufficient attention has been paid to the economic and social issues embedded in this mixed farming system. I conclude that further progress will come from an integrated approach that encourages more effort on solving the social, economic and political issues in Australian agriculture, rather than a strict focus on agricultural productivity and sustainability.
|Number of pages||13|
|Publication status||Published - Aug 2013|