Young farmers find their voice

29 Jun, 2006 07:00 PM
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YOUNG Aussie farmers have made a name for themselves in Canberra by forming the inaugural National Council of Young Farmers earlier this year.

Rather than moan about being ignored by the country's decision-makers, 12 forward-thinking farmers from across Australia have combined to lobby politicians on young farmers' interests.

Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said the group would provide advice to the Federal Government, be informed on major Australian agricultural issues, improve access to government for keen and contributing young people, and act as representatives for young people in the industry.

Esperance mixed grains and sheep farmer Colin de Grussa is the council's WA representative, and a company director and partner in his family's business.

Mr de Grussa said he believed Australian agriculture needed to look at new technologies, take advantage of its proximity to growing Asian markets, tackle competition from cheaper imported products, and address labour and skills shortages.

As one of the few graingrower members on the council, he said he would ensure logistical issues facing WA graingrowers were tackled.

"I'm passionate about young people in the industry and their issues," Mr de Grussa said.

"A major issue for farmers in WA, especially with young families, is access to social services that are comparable to services in the city.

"In terms of our image outside the industry, we feel that agribusiness has been unfairly cast in a negative light.

"The first images you see in metropolitan media when there is a drought are images of dead sheep."

Mr de Grussa said young farmers were young professionals, exactly the same as their city-based counterparts.

He said he was particularly interested in learning more about the National Water Initiative and its application in WA.

Council member Ben Jowett, an agribusiness development manager from East Hawthorn, Victoria, said the group was the first of its kind.

"In the past we had to go through our industry organisations, which do good work. But not all of them cover issues specific to young people," Mr Jowett said.

"It's great to have such a direct avenue to government."

The 12 council members come from diverse agricultural areas including dairy farming, financial consultancy, the seafood industry, viticulture, forestry, irrigation, horticulture, cotton growing and lotfeeding.

Mr Jowett said the diversity in members' backgrounds was crucial to the council's success.

"It's enabled us to gel as a team and allowed our peers to be comfortable knowing we are representing all industries, not just certain sections of the market," he said.

"We may be on the council, but we are there to represent our peers and our aim is to benefit young people in rural industries."

Northern Territory cattle station manager Moira O'Brien said the group was working really well despite only meeting twice.

"I've seen groups take a year to develop the rapport we have already got," Ms O'Brien said.

"We concentrate on our similarities and on working toward the same goals.

"Where young people from different industries may have had conflicting views in the past, we are now getting a chance to see things from our peers' point of view."

The council has identified three priority areas of concern to young rural people, which are:

p Training and development of young rural people with a focus on succession and business planning

p Water issues

p Portraying agriculture's image more positively to the wider community.

Ms O'Brien said any projects undertaken by the council would be guided by one of the three priority targets.

"Our first projects are consulting young people about their understanding of the National Water Initiative, and examining succession planning models within industry decision-making groups," she said.

To contact the National Council of Young Farmers, email them at youngfarmerscouncil@daff.gov.au or telephone 02 6272 4449.

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