The average farmer is 57, so what’s stopping our young ones?
DID you know the average age of a farmer is close to 60?
To be precise, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said the median age of a primary producer is 57.
This week the Rural Weekly caught up with people from the sugar, beef, cotton and dairy sectors to get their thoughts on why there is a lack of young farmers.
60-YEAR-OLD Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said borrowing money could be scary for the future producers.
“Being on a farm is a good lifestyle and a lot of people are attracted to it,” Mr Schembri said.
“But if there are kids out there who are from an environment where they’ve had no involvement with agriculture it is difficult and quite daunting to go and
borrow large amounts of money from the bank.
“Young or old, we want dignity, economic security and to make a profit.”
He said while potential farmers found it hard to borrow large amounts of money, there could be other options.
“Some could see an opportunity to lease a property,” he said.
“It takes a lot of sleepless nights and hard work but the challenge is to run a business.”
Mr Schembri has been working as a cane grower since his teenage years after he took time to think about his university application.
“I was accepted, then I applied for a deferral and one year on the farm had me hooked,” he said.
“When my brother and I took over it had already been in the family for two generations so we already had an understanding of what we needed to do.”
Mr Schembri said the next generation found it harder to buy property now compared to when he started out.
“At the start of the new millennium the sugar industry did have a downturn,” he said.
“Since then we have seen a bit of an exit of people from the sugar industry and lots of them went to the mines.
“We have seen some come back for financial security.
“There aren’t as many young people as there were but there are still some out there who are keen and
❝It is difficult and quite daunting to go and borrow large amounts of money from the bank.
— Paul Schembri
enthusiastic about the industry.”
37-YEAR-OLD Kylie Stretton and her husband have had to make sacrifices to pull together savings for a bigger property.
The couple and their children live on their 40hectare Charters Towers cattle block and are looking to expand.
“I was 31 when we bought this place,” Mrs Stretton said.
“It was really hard starting out and now we’re going down that path again.”
Mrs Stretton said she and her family have had to spend more time working and less time playing.
“We’ve had to cut back on the family holidays and put in really long hours,” she said.
“There have been a lot of busy weekends and the kids have had to be involved so we haven’t had much downtime to just relax.”
She said she found equity was an issue amongst producers.
“I think there are a lot of family succession issues,” she said.
“The older generation holds control or own the land.
“It makes it really hard for the next age group to go out and buy something when they don’t have that equity.”
Money was another issue she identified.
“Prices have really boomed,” she said.
“There’s also a lot of competition out there which makes it really hard.”
Mrs Stretton said while the beef industry was attracting successors, the hard part.was retaining them.
“A lot of families want something to call their own,” she said.
“They’re starting to move back into town so they can have that opportunity.”
FOR THE past 10 years 37-year-old Emerald cotton grower Aaron Kiely said he noticed a drop in the number of successors in agriculture.
“There are other jobs out there that are paying better,” Mr Kiely said.
“But ag has slowly been catching up and there’s a lot of opportunity in the industry.
“Things such as agronomy, data and drones have meant there’s a lot less fatigue in the industry now.”
Whilst figures say the average age of farmers around Australia is 57, Mr Kiely said that was not the case in the cotton industry.
“The next generation is starting to come through and are aged 45 or under,” he said.
“However, a lot of them are taking over the family property.”
He said the next in line still had an interest in the cotton industry.
“There is a lot of support from organisations such as Cotton Australia to help the young ones in the industry,” he said.
“Things such as scholarships and education have really helped with that.”
While the farmers of the future were coming through the cotton sector, Mr Kiely said more could be done.
“More government support in the ag sector as a whole would be great,” he said.
“I think some financial advising would be good as well as lower interest rates.
“Starting on your own and buying into the industry is nearly impossible for people today.”
AT 20 years old, Matthew Trace began leasing his parents’ dairy farm to begin the process of owning his own.
“My wife and I were pretty keen back then to get going,” Mr Trace said.
“Back then it was a lot easier to get finance and trust from the banks.”
Mr Trace, 37, said he believed getting loans from the bank played a big role in the struggle of the future generation to buy property.
“There are a lot of young adults out there who are keen and want to be farmers,” he said.
“But the problem lies in them getting finance from the banks and it seems a lot of them are being turned down.”
Mr Trace said people nowadays were not prepared to take risks.
“Back say 10 or 20 years ago people took the risk of them and their family living poor to begin farming,” he said.
“Today they want to make a decent living and don’t want to put their families through that.”
Mr Trace said he was aware of the farming population being close to the age of 60.
“There are some out there who are under the age of 50 and even 40,” he said.
He said a possible solution to the issue was leasing.
“I think leasing and share farming is something people need to get started on their property,” he said.
“It would be a good starting point.”
STEPPING UP: Beef producer Kylie Stretton was 31 when she secured her spot in the beef industry. She said getting onto the land can be done, but her family had to make sacrifices.
HARD START: Beef producer Kylie Stretton said her and her husband have had to make sacrifices to save for a bigger property.
Mackay cane farmer Paul Schembri.
MORE SUPPORT: Aaron Kiely said financial advice for youth could help future generations.
Dairy farmer Matthew Trace agreed finance is an issue.