What makes a farmer?

To be a farmer, you have to be a 'Jack of all trades, master of SOME'

AGRICULTURE doesn't provide much shelter for dawdlers, or people that aren't self motivated.

And if you want in, those two factors alone often separate the wheat from the chaff. We can see in the industry through margins, management and unpredictability that the focus on business management is essential at this time, maybe more than ever.

But there’s no doubt, to be a farmer, you have to be a “Jack of all trades, master of SOME”. None or some, this expression surfaced in England during the 1600s, where just over the Channel in Europe we saw one of the biggest cultural evolutions of our history - The Renaissance.

But beneath the advances in art, literature and fashion were some large breakthroughs in agriculture. A leader in this 300-year blossom was known a as “Renaissance Man”, or commonly a Polymath - “a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems”. Examples were men like Da Vinci and Galileo. But it also sounds similar to the synopsis in a position description for a farmer today.

Dairy Australia, with its fantastic Legendairy campaign has an eye-catching image flicking around online that says a dairy farmer has over 170 skills. About right I reckon, although the swarm of skills are not unique to just dairy farmers but all farmers, and can be appreciated by anyone who has worked on a farm.

It’s for these 170 skills, that probably make up 170 reasons that farming struggles to line up against the surveys, “box-ticking” and comparative research we see from universities and government. There are only slithers of the industry where you can “implement coordinated strategic incentives for attracting and retaining skilled labor” and you’ll struggle to use statistics from university attendees and qualifications to gauge the input, output and productivity of the sector.

This was even evident when I wrote about occupational healthy and safety on farms. Agriculture is by state, always in the top four sectors for workplace injuries. Construction and manufacturing are at the top, because every time you scratch your arm or stub your toe you have to report it to a “safety officer”. If we reported the daily, usual injuries that happened on farms, we’d blow these two sectors away in a day. Of course we topple the charts for deaths in a workplace, as they’re always reported.

The nature and structure of our industry give it a “grey area” that is hard to pin anything to, especially when comparing it to other industries. A perfect example is the “ageing farmer” debate. According to the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, our average age across agriculture and fishing sectors is 48, compared to all other industries which is 40 years. But how many people in manufacturing, telecommunications or hospitality live on or in their business? How many of them would list “lifestyle” as a major influence in their reason to work? And I would imagine for these “other industries”, retirement happens on a day where there is a change in lifestyle. Farming is a business, but it’s not just a job, it’s so much more. And a challenge we may have is with newcomers who just want a “job”.

The National Farmers’ Federation last week launched an online survey to identify the biggest employment challenges facing the farm sector. It will be interesting to see what feedback it receives on the issue.

If you had the time to detail what’s required not to just work on or run a farm, but make it in the industry, phrases like hard work, self-starting, outgoing, “get in and have a go” and resilience would be in it. But these aren’t my words - rather, I turned to two young women who were among many to respond to a Tweet I sent out for comment last week. They’re both from non-agricultural backgrounds and are keen as mustard for a career and life in agriculture.

Victoria Ghezzi is 17 and about to start year 12 in South Australia. Not only is ag her favourite elective at school, she works for Elders at the saleyards and jumps on to any farm she can to help out. Agriculture at university is on her to-do list as she knows skills in agricultural business management will help her cut it on her search for a career in lamb production.

The second was Grace Calder from Victoria, a 20-year-old in her last year of a double degree in Agricultural Science and Business/Financial Management. Grace was a 2013 Victorian Rural Ambassador Award Runner-up and a 2012 Rural Finance Scholarship Winner. She owns and shows 12 Corriedale sheep that live on a few farms she’s cut a deal with on the Mornington Peninsula. This summer she’s been a Bayer CropScience Development Cadet and 18 months ago spent six weeks working in the United States on Angus and Corriedale properties.

These two young women, like many others, will enter the industry as a minority. They’re women and not from an agricultural background, but they’re doing everything they can to experience as much as they can and as a result, will be met with open arms.

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

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


28/01/2014 5:16:33 AM

I very much hope they will be met with open arms Sam. We all know how much agriculture needs new people to replace the ageing pop, but it rests on the industry to be open minded about new recruits. Rural districts can be very cliquey, unfortunately, with lots of comments about who deserves to be called a 'local'. Its a shame that for some people. farming has become a competitive sport. On a more positive note, I'm thrilled to bits that two young people have ignored the current cringe against farmers, and are pursuing their passion. Exciting!
28/01/2014 4:33:43 PM

If you were to go onto any property in Northern Australia today you would find that the majority of staff are female and it has been that way for a few years now. They are conscientious and look after stock and gear better than most young men do and are a pleasure to work with I find
31/01/2014 8:14:00 AM

If you want to be a "farmer" and not lose the farm, you have to be involved in the supply chain. We can no longer afford to be producers versus the rest. We have to be agribusiness professionals.
31/01/2014 10:38:05 PM

well said Simon.
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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