At the current time, the average age of an Australian farmer is 58 years old. As Australia’s farming population begins to age, there appears to be a deficit in the number of youth stepping in to fill the gaps.
Since the 1980’s, the population of Australian famers has gone down by 40%, leading many to wonder how to attract youth back into the industry. The Department of Primary Industries, and the New South Wales Farmers Association have started an inquiry into young people in the field, and where their priorities lie. In 2015, they started the Young Farmer Business Project, encouraging young farmers to join or fill in a survey to help understand where the challenges lie.
Many of the problems facing young people in the field are the same as they’ve always been, but with such a plethora of new and exciting career opportunities, it may be hard to attract youth to take a potentially harder path. Here are some of the top things young people going into agriculture are struggling with:
Farming is not an easy world to crack into, especially for someone not from a rural community, who lacks the understanding of someone who has grown up there. Experience counts for a lot, but even then, there will be some years with a poor harvest, or not enough feed for the animals. Giving up a well paying job in one of Australia’s city to shoulder the high expenses of beginning your own farm is not an idea that appeals to many. Countries like Canada have “Transition Loans” from Farm Credit Canada, helping young farmers save up their interest over the first five years on a farm. Unfortunately programs like this have yet to be implemented in Australia. The world of agriculture changes slowly, meaning for many years people will do what they’ve always done. There is little room, or money, to try new and possibly more efficient ways of farming. Which brings us to…
Wherever you go in the world, in whatever era, youth are always at the forefront of change. They’re they first adopters; they try new hairstyles, new fashions, new phones and new social networks; until it filters down to everyone else. Young people need to be able to have the funds and the inspiration to make change in farming communities. Already projects by people such as Dr Robert Fitch, who is inventing robotic solutions to farming issues, are changing the face of the industry, but there is a way to go in the way of funding and innovation for such ideas. Furthermore, agriculture is not promoted as innovative and fast-paced. Images of farmers in the media show dusty paddocks, with leather-faced men in akubras driving tractors alongside barking cattle dogs. While television shows like “The Farmer Wants a Wife” may have done something to revitalise the image of a farmer, they also showcase another problem…
Farming appears lonely. With your closest neighbour being perhaps hundreds of acres away, it’s not exactly the most social of professions. Getting up as the sun rises is reminiscent of working the night shift, which detracts from late nights with friends trying out the new bar down the road. While small communities are often bustling with events and are more close-knit than larger cities, removing young people from their friends and constant connection through social media is a tough sell.
With drought being a near constant for farmers somewhere in the Australia, it’s hard to attract new faces in with the knowledge that they may have to sell up anyway when times get tough. Stories on the news tell of worsening conditions, and supermarkets asking farmers for lower and lower prices for their produce.
For many, these issues are simply the tough but rewarding reality that is farming. But as the population of farmers dwindles, we may have to look to new ways to draw in youth to this age-old profession.