We need to grow new farmers

WHILE the worldwide demand for quality Australian produce reflects well on the work our farmers do, there is a real danger the almost 140,000 farms, 90% of them family owned, will cease to exist once the current owners retire.

The reason, you may be surprised to hear, is not drought or flood or the increasing costs of production, although they may well be playing their part, but that the average age of farmers in this country is 58 years old.

They are in every way an aging workforce with schemes to attract new blood not keeping pace with retirements or those choosing to leave the industry.

While there is evidence younger people are enthusiastic about farming, the take-up rate is low with people opting for industries considered to have more stability.

A Deloitte report into the Australian agricultural industry suggests a number of reasons for the workforce crisis including:

- The buy-in cost may be a financial deterrent especially to younger workers. Family-owned farms generally prevent those outside the family from buying in. Different capital models encourage, help and promote newcomer entry through leasing, equity partnerships, share farming and lending policies.

- Remuneration packages within agriculture are often thought to lag behind other industries but the reality is farming packages often include family-friendly accommodation, a vehicle, fuel, meat and seasonal bonus as well as a base salary.

- Not enough is done to engage young people in middle secondary school and present agriculture as a viable career option.

- Working in the agricultural sector requires a range of skills, experience, education and business acumen but many rural job advertisements lack the professionalism needed to  create an enticing first impression and attract a diverse range of potential workers.