Next gen­er­a­tion

The av­er­age farmer is 57, so what’s stop­ping our young ones?

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - . GEORDI OFFORD Geordi.offord@ru­ral­weekly.com.au . Are you a young farmer c who has made their own start? We’d love to hear from you. Email Geordi.Offord@ru­ral­weekly.com.au to share your story.

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.

SU­GAR

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.”

BEEF

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.”

COT­TON

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.”

DAIRY

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.

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PHOTO: VICKI MILLER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY AND FILE.

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.

PHO­TOS: FILE.

MORE SUP­PORT: Aaron Kiely said fi­nan­cial ad­vice for youth could help fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Dairy farmer Matthew Trace agreed fi­nance is an is­sue.

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