The (ag) kids are alright

Youth in agriculture, do we even have a problem? No, we don't

THE problem is, we think there’s a problem. Take hormones in chicken for example.

We haven’t added growth hormones in chicken since the early '70s, but as long as butchers and retailers advertise “hormone free” chicken, people will rightly assume there is an alternative, which is chicken meat grown with added hormones. A problem.

Another great example is the crumbling plight of ‘youth in agriculture’.

With stories dating back to before I was born, they paint a picture of a hopeless situation where kids leave the bush and head for the bright city lights across the globe, only to find that when they get used to the light, they never seem to find their way back to the 'darkness' that awaits.

Of course we’ve seen young people's enthusiasm dry up with droughts, get burnt by fires, defeated by floods and held up by mental health. But as with any youthful energy, it’ll take more than that!

We hear all these problems, along with some whining, and believe it. But we forget. To see the whole picture, as there’s more to this story than just ours.

Last week, I had the honour of commentating on a session at the National Farmers' Federation Congress in Canberra. The question posed was. “Youth in agriculture, do we even have a problem?” and the answer we fleshed out over the afternoon was: no. No, we don’t.

The thing is, like the hormones in chicken, as long as we keep telling people there is a problem, there will be one. It also deters people who may be interested in joining; especially from outside the industry as us humans like to follow... If everyone is talking about how bad the taste is in their mouth, why would you try it?

When I think of young people in agriculture, I think of a capable, passionate and dedicated generation, bordering on obsessive actually. And when Neil Barr thinks of young people in agriculture, he might think of hundreds of pages of statistics he’s found that blow this septic stigma around ‘young agriculture’ out into the back paddock. (Read his report here.)

Farmer numbers have declined, but the farms have become larger, there’s been much amalgamation and along with technology, we need fewer to run the land we have.

Young people are spending more time in universities, coming home later, and when they do are assessing risk and returns with far greater strategic analysis than previous generations. Perhaps we’re seeing greater knowledge and planning around securing future farm income through negating the decline in farm terms of trade, and the run off from a generation that actually knows what that is, and how to manage it.

We’re seeing young women not marry locally onto farms (then considered demographically as a farmer), but head into the city, often marry there and stay. But the ones who come back out, often come with qualifications, skills and or a businesses where they contribute in town or online and although work on farm, aren’t always considered demographically as a farmer.

We hear the beef industry getting older, but most of the entrants there are over 55. When we look at patterns with dairy we see it suggest that dairy farmers are hanging up their 4am starts, exiting and then entering into beef for retirement. This is also exacerbated by a very large rate of farm amalgamation in dairy over the last 30 years.

So there’s many contributing factors, some you may have never considered but with steady rises in production, most research contradicts the theories that are really just poisonous perceptions harming the Australian agricultural brand.

Clive Robertson’s reaction on 2UE when I suggest the ‘problem’ of youth in agriculture is contradictory to what he and other city dwellers believe is one example.

Unsurprisingly he was chuffed! And when people hear positive stories and start to believe that there’s good in something, they’ll invest in it. And agriculture needs that.

It needs people’s confidence, money and time, and they’ll only give it if there’s some good coming out of it. And the youth in agriculture story is a good story. So keep telling it!

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


31/10/2014 7:42:07 PM

shopfronts lining the main street?. In past times it was accepted the eldest son inherited the farm, in our legal system today equitability is the only option for succession, do u think off farm siblings will not demand their share of the farm? I understand the need to be positive in life, but glossing over some ugly truths (eg flawed banking system) only prolongs positive change.
Sam Trethewey
30/10/2014 10:55:18 AM

Jeez rayjj50, have a look at the big picture... Average age of farmer is increasing, but we're living longer and working later. We're very competitive on a global scale with av age of farmers. If you take out the number of marginally productive farms the average age comes down into the 40's. Suggesting younger people are running larger and the more productive enterprises. Read of the report, national production figures along with real estate also. We're doing well, so leave hollow nostalgic arguments like 'they're not coming home like they used to' at the door. And use your real name.
29/10/2014 4:32:47 PM

Interesting comments Sam, but just saying things does not make them exist. We know that the average age of farmers has increased and is increasing. And we know that young people are not returning to the land like they used to. These are the facts. So spinning "positive stories" about agriculture based on anecdotal comments does not address the core issues, sorry.
28/10/2014 2:37:31 PM

On the money Sam. Who wants to join a sinking ship- we should be celebrating our industry and it's people, not promoting melodrama.
28/10/2014 10:50:52 AM

Brendon your analysis is just envy, plain and simple. I am a farmer who enthusiasim for living a pitching wedge from the ocean in the Western Suburbs of Perth grows stronger every year. The difference betweeen yourself and me is I don't think that is unfair because I am battling to achieve that outcome. That is life! Socializing land on a populous platform would be agriculture's destruction. Why should land be de-valued for those who have not invested capital into it. Which would make most farmers life work to be in vain.
28/10/2014 7:42:43 AM

The problem we have is young people being able to convert their enthusiasm and passion for agriculture into a grass roots career as a farmer on their own property. In years gone by a young person could go sharefarming or shearing for a few years and save up enough cash to put a deposit on their own place, then actually make enough money off it to pay it off and build up from there. With the current cost of land, machinery and inputs it has made it near impossible to get a start in the industry. Young people get a full time job to fund their farm and then can't afford to let go of the job.
28/10/2014 6:44:08 AM

Well said Sam! I am tired of hearing the dramatic rhetoric around the lack of people, especially the youth, not returning to agriculture. Last week a journalist rang me wanting supporting comments for her alarmist piece that ag companies are struggling to fill vacancies but she also believed farmers needed to pay for a program to bring the youth to the bush. I just don't see it, my town is full of young farmers, they are ambitious and don't see ag as a life style but an interesting way to pursue a profit. It is highly competitive! As for the ag co's nothing could be further from the truth.
Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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