BRENT Finlay, the new president of the National Farmers' Federation, was the guest speaker at the Rural Press Club luncheon in Brisbane last Friday.
As I was passing through town on my “Get Muddy On Tour” journey, en route for Central Queensland, I grabbed hold of him for a yack on youth in agriculture and farmer representation.
Boy, this wool and beef farmer has some big plans that are fuelled by some serious passion.
Sam Trethewey with NFF president Brent Finlay.
ST: Brent, state farming organisations (SFOs) seem to be failing to engage with young people, adding to the frustration of declining membership numbers. How do you think SFOs can create value for the younger generation?
BF: Firstly we need to create places and structures for young people to use that make them feel valued. Create a forum where they can tell their story. In the Blueprint for Agriculture, we address transformational issues which will encourage younger people right through to the top of the organisations.
Not forgetting, one thing all levels of the industry need to learn to do is let go.
What I mean is that quite often people who have great energy, great ideas and or great talent from the farm level through to the agri-political level are grabbed on to. We hold them, pull them in and hang on. We can’t do that anymore.
We need to show them (young people) what’s going on, show them what the engine room looks like. We need to be hearing their voices.
ST: Do you think there’s an opportunity to improve or spice up the education for young people on the mechanics of lobbying? It’s perceived as a bland and ineffective process.
BF: We need to be solution focused, there needs to be a structure, if we keep doing what we’ve done in the past, we’ll keep getting the same result.
Policy can be very effective, ineffective or even dangerous. It takes time and there’s a structure to follow. We need all the data, the facts and what’s required to be effective. If we miss detail, it may come back to attack in areas we don’t want to be attacked in. And you don’t want someone to twist it so it’s detrimental to the industry.
ST: Is there any focus for you in your term to improve access to capital, ownership structures or other things to make it easier for people new to farming to get a start?
BF: We need new ideas, new passions and new energy (coming) in to agriculture. I saw recently, in a document yet to be released, that the average age of a person entering agriculture is over 50. That is very concerning, perhaps they’ve been busy elsewhere to develop their capital.
There are some State authorities that assist young people in agriculture, but we also have to be creative and think outside the square. We know we have a lot of people that want to potentially exit agriculture, but not necessarily wanting to sell their property, so we need to be having these discussions.
ST: What are your thoughts around not just generating more memberships for SFOs and the NFF but improving the overall quality of agricultural representation in Australia?
BF: Look, we know there’s a lot of financial pressure at times in the agricultural industry and often the cheque for farmer representation is either the first to go in the bottom of the drawer… most of the countries we compete against, their farm lobby groups are funded by the government. So the more farmers and industry groups that opt out, the less resources and voice we have to make and influence change.
We see many agricultural groups that have been around for a long time who have access to all levels of government and a lot of mechanisms to prosecuting and developing policy, a lot of people don’t see that. A lot of the wins we have are never seen either, as we often negotiate or change policy before they’re implemented. So it’s very hard to sing the praises of agricultural representation.
It’s worth noting the progress in the last three weeks around drought. There was no interest in Canberra prior to that despite all our trying. Then last Thursday (February 13), we put a fully developed drought package on the table, but that’s been 18 months in the making.
We’ve been trying to get traction, trying to get interest and it’s a long game. But that’s why we need to be getting fresh people, new into the game and get the most out of them.