AGRICULTURE continues to provide the economic backbone of the south-west with new figures showing the sector pumps more than $2 billion into the region each year.
The figures, covering the financial year between 2010-2011 and taken from a recent federal report, paint a picture of a region still heavily reliant on good pastures and commodity prices.
Around 15 per cent of all south-west workers are employed in the sector from the South Australian border to Colac, according to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry report.
The south-west also contributed 36 per cent to the state’s milk production, valued at $884 million.
But the reassuring facts end there — among the findings is the warning that the yearly average income for Victorian dairy farms could dip to $98,000 this financial year.
Dairy industry consultant Mike Weise said the figure would have to be taken with a grain of salt and depended on the region.
But Mr Weise said the high Australian dollar was making margins tight for the south-west dairy farmers dependent on the export market, with the effects to be felt in town.
“Most retailers understand when the price of agricultural produce is good,” Mr Weise told The Standard yesterday.
“They see it in their tills if the margins are low.
“We actually haven’t got a good understanding of the importance of agriculture to regional development,” he said.
Deakin University senior lecturer in economy Dr Helen Scarborough said agriculture was critically linked to consumer spending in regional cities, including Warrnambool.
“It flows through to retail, farm equipment and consumer spending in our economy,” Dr Scarborough said.
Despite pressures facing the industry, Dr Scarborough said the south-west had escaped natural disasters that have brought parts of the nation to their knees.
“We have been relatively lucky in our region that we haven’t had floods or natural disasters that other regions have seen,” Dr Scarborough said.