Is this the start of our Rural Renaissance?
GOOD rains, soaring cattle prices, bumper crops.
The tide, it seems, is turning for Australia's farmers with industry forecasts predicting the most successful year they have had in, well, forever.
The fact that it comes at the end of such tumultuous times makes it all the sweeter, for at long last the men and women who ensure we have food to both eat and export can breathe a sigh of relief.
For a little while at least.
It is the climbing price of domestic beef cattle that started the charge with the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator - the best measure of such things - breaking the 700c/kg barrier in early August. That is more than 152c/kg up on the same time last year.
"We certainly are at levels we have not seen before," said Meat and Livestock Australia operational manager Damon Holmes of the 20-year high.
"It is something that I think - hopefully - we can see again into the future. It is something we can continue to talk about and reference for years to come."
Good rains and tight supplies continue to drive prices with restockers currently the key in the equation, accounting for 41% of the EYCI-eligible cattle in July.
Many farmers across the country were forced to slaughter herds in the drought that wracked the country for much of 2014-15, are now looking to replenish those stocks and take advantage of the unexpected feed growth courtesy of the winter rains.
But processors are feeling the squeeze with a noticeable contraction in supplies and purchases falling from 29% to 15% of the cattle offered in July.
A greater decline in grassfed cattle going through to slaughter underpinned the fall.
While the high price of cattle may seem a boon for farmers, it is proving disadvantageous to our export markets.
Australia, of course, is one of the largest beef exporters in the world with 70% of all we produce finding its way to foreign tables.
While our major red meat trade partners - including the US, China, Indonesia and the European Union - were able last year to balance rising prices with demand, the quality of Australian produce and the low dollar, those markets are now unable and unwilling to accommodate the latest price spikes.
Exports to the US have dropped 40%, China 30% and Japan 10%. China and Saudi Arabia have once more open their doors to Brazilian beef while Indonesia is now looking to Indian buffalo meat to boost its supplies.
Our farmers, however, are used to the cyclical nature of good fortune and are happy to have the money in the bank.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences says confidence is at a four-year high with farmers once again investing in technology, infrastructure and skills training.
There is relatively good news, too, for sheep farmers with lamb exports up 9% in July. Sales to South East Asia, Japan and the EU have dropped but have increased to the Middle East, US and Papua New Guinea.
Farm gate prices for goats have almost doubled in the past year with the industry battling to keep up with demand. Australia is the world's largest exporter of goat meat and while the US used to be our sole market, trade agreements with China, Korea and Indonesia have brought competition for our supplies pushing up prices.
Interestingly, the feel-good stories for our farmers stretch across crops too with grains, fruit and vegetable also benefitting from favourable weather, good yields and increasing popularity. Falling fertiliser prices, and low oil and gas prices easing production costs, are also helping their cause.
In fact, farmers are dubbing it a Goldilocks year - not too hot, wet, cold or dry - with production of grains such as wheat, barley and canola and the pulse crops (lentils, beans and chickpeas) expected to be almost 47 million tonnes, some 10% more than ABARE forecast earlier this year.
The worldwide wheat price slide, the lowest in eight years, will make it hard for Australian farmers to get good export prices but, on the whole, agricultural production is still likely to translate into more than $60 billion for the economy this financial year.
Even sugar farmers are smiling with a world shortage causing a price hike. The current indicative price for the 2016 harvest pool is about $520 per tonne, up on the 2015 pool which yielded $383 per tonne.
"We are in a deficit year after five years of surplus," analyst Tom McNeill said.
"We haven't seen these levels for five, six, seven years, so it's actually boosting the potential of the industry to earn income."
Macadamia farmers are also expecting a boom with predictions prices will hit $240 million this year. Strong demand from overseas markets, cheaper land prices and access to water for new farms in North Queensland are having a positive impact on farm gate prices.
"We had a very good season, we've had a good crop, and at this stage harvest has gone extremely well," said Australian Macadamia Society CEO, Joylon Burnett. "We are on track for a 50,000-tonne crop which should add $30 - $40 million on last season's yield."
That success, it seems, translates to fruit and vegetable production too with the Australian Farm Institute warning consumers to expect to pay more for fruit and vegetable as overseas demand, especially from our Asian neighbours, continues to grow.
- ARM NEWSDESK