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!