Young farmer decline no issue: Barr

03 Nov, 2014 01:00 AM
Dr Neil Barr.
Australia had more young people under 35 involved in agriculture (14pc) compared with many countries
Dr Neil Barr.

THE sharp decline in the number of young farmers during the past 40 years poses no threat to food security, says a senior social researcher.

Dr Neil Barr says the 75 per cent drop in farmers under 35 years since 1976 could be largely explained by a 50pc reduction in farm numbers during the same period.

There were fewer and bigger farms and the older generation was staying on the land longer with the help of labour-saving technologies and innovations, he said.

Since 1991 the number of farmers over 65 had increased by 55pc.

Speaking at last week’s National Farmers' Federation (NFF) national congress, where the need to attract more youth to Australian agriculture was a constant theme, Dr Barr said he wasn’t worried, although many people his age (in their 50s and 60s) were.

Drawing on a 196-page report he authored earlier this year which looked at why the ranks of young farmers were shrinking, the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries researcher said Australia had more young people under 35 involved in agriculture (14pc) compared with many countries including the US (5pc) and nations in the EU (3pc).

And the numbers of people in their 20s working in farming had dropped because many of this age now pursued tertiary education, which delayed their participation in agriculture, or enabled them to get jobs in better paying off-farm industries.

In addition, the investment levels needed to expand farm businesses to keep them competitive and viable was outside the financial reach of many farm families, which meant these properties inevitably came onto the market.

Dr Barr said despite the social impacts on rural communities, the declining farm population was a major factor in keeping Australian agriculture competitive through bigger and more efficient farms and cheaper labour costs.

“It’s a wicked problem,” he said.

What also needed to be added into Australia’s farm demographic was the large number of small farms owned by older people, many of whom were coming to agriculture later in life and weren’t driven by expansion and production ambitions.

Dr Barr told congress participants that if they looked at any piece of local produce there was a good chance it had been grown by a 45-year-old operating a large farm business.

Vernon Graham

Vernon Graham

is the group editor of Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


3/11/2014 2:56:13 AM

classic example of govt propaganda telling us black is white. Of those bigger farms, were they analysed to see if it was actually foreign ownership stepping in? How many farms are for sale and not selling? or how many are on the banks books for selling but rather than undermine the price/confidence they are being withheld. Why is this about food security? why is the point regarding capitalising on export potential not mentioned and balancing trade deficits? how is a 75% reduction seen as not worth worrying about? just because the rest of the world is jumping off a cliff, should we join them?
3/11/2014 3:05:39 AM

How many exemptions from stamp duty for first time farmers were granted in Vic? I thought I read it was sub 10 for last year, why was that not included in this report? how many farm businesses are subsidised by off farm income? was there any discussion of the two main reasons responsible for this 75% trend?. Reason 1 is the manipulation of commodity prices by such means as overseas subsidies and reason 2 is a unsustainable credit expansion leading to inflated asset prices beyond their earning capacity.
Jock Munro
3/11/2014 3:52:19 AM

No issue here with less young farmers - we are selling off our land to all comers including foreign governments anyway. That's one way of solving the problem!
Bushie Bill
3/11/2014 4:44:04 AM

At last, someone with a brain and the ability to clearly analyse the facts, states the simple truth that has been obvious to all of us prepared to think and not prepared to parrot popular nonsense. Can we now move on to important issues like trying to find political leaders who will teach RARA the economic facts of life rather than alllow it to wallow in self-serving ignorance and self-serving pity, totally dependent on the hand-out mentality?
3/11/2014 6:28:57 AM

One person's facts, or more importantly, what is derived from such facts is deductive fallacy. This is like the slowly boiling the frog. 30 & 40 years ago no problem, larger tractors, robotic dairies, bigger boom-sprays. The last 10 years is starting to worry me. New technology has slowed to a crawl. Resistance to new tech & pushback from the city against GM, eating meat, using water, the list is long. Bio- dynamics, organics etc will need more not less people, Bill. Have you not got new material?
3/11/2014 6:33:46 AM

"No threat to food security", the Govt wants Colesworth to import it all from China. We export the majority we produce to countries that value our good food, unlike Australians that would rather eat low quality imported food. The age of the farmers is the least of our problems in producing food in this country. It is child abuse to encourage your children towards a life of farming. The Govt would prefer we all sell out and go on the dole.
Sam Trethewey
3/11/2014 7:12:51 AM

Look at my last blog and you'll find a link to the report, all 200 pages. Read it. If you can then widen your glance to outside your postcode, you'll be closer to commenting with some sort of grit. Speaking of grit, some real, full names always help too. et-muddy/the-ag-kids-are-alright/ 2716031.aspx
3/11/2014 7:34:16 AM

Sam, I read parts of it and they were the questions I had plus a few hundred more, please answer them in the context of his report as I feel he has not and has selectively chosen his data. If I want to stay anonymous its my right, so stop telling people otherwise.
Luke Fitzgerald
3/11/2014 8:02:25 AM

Good point Sam Trethewy. I'm all for a strong debate on any topic with any person who is willing to put there name to their opinion, pretty hard to respect someone ranting from the shadows. I don't always agree with Jock Munro but at least you know clearly who he is and where he stands.
3/11/2014 8:21:21 AM

Dr Barr is dressing mutton up as lamb. More importantly, I'd like to hear his explanation for the 50% reduction in farm numbers. Over 65's are staying on the land because they have to. The kids can't qualify for a loan to buy the parents' farm, or don't want to perpetuate their parents' life of misery. Farmers are sending their kids to Uni telling them to get a career. Farming has poor return for effort. Overseas subsidies are killing the Aussie family farm whilst "ostrich academics" like Barr with heads in the sand, gloss over the real issues pretending there's no crisis.
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