Young farmers battle land price rises

25 Aug, 2015 02:00 AM
Crookwell's winning team of Bec Hewitt, Jamie Boothman, Gearin Price and Scott Kensit. Photo: Jay Cronan
Dad pushed us out to get jobs because we can't all survive on the one property
Crookwell's winning team of Bec Hewitt, Jamie Boothman, Gearin Price and Scott Kensit. Photo: Jay Cronan

A FIERCE determination among young people is emerging from the foggy paddocks around Crookwell, of getting back into farming after the drought.

These four young farmers showed that drive when they won the National Young Farmer Challenge in Queensland with their teamwork rolling a giant bale, driving a tractor and assembling a cattle crush.

They finished nine tasks in all, well ahead of teams from South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, in the Royal Agricultural Society's competition in Brisbane earlier this month.

They also have their hands up for a tougher contest: buying farms.

Bec Hewitt, the team's 27­-year-­old captain says it is tough when more and more agricultural land is being subdivided and sold to "blockies" -­ people who don't have sheep and cattle.

They come from Canberra and Sydney, have no knowledge of farming but much more money than the children of long-­term farming families, which pushes up the price of land.

The issue is at the core of agriculture's global challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050 with less farmland.

The Global Youth Ag-Summit in Canberra this week, running from August 24 to 28, will tackle the issue, which also raises challenges of climate change and land degradation.

"It's heartbreaking when you drive past a family-­owned property for five or six generations and it is all carved up into 100 acre blocks or 200 acre blocks. It's got to be sad for those members. I'd hate to see my Dad's farm to go like that," Hewitt says.

Hewitt and her partner, Jamie Boothman, another team member, want their own farm. She works for a stock and real estate agency, managing rental property.

Her father Tony Hewitt is still on the family farm, which includes a separate block owned by her mother Natalie.

"I've got two older brothers, we all love the land and want to stay on the land, but Dad pushed us out to get jobs because we can't all survive on the one property," Hewitt says.

Mr Boothman, 21, rises early each day and drives past Yass out to Wee Jasper where he shears 160 sheep, for $2.87 a head. He has no intention of leaving the peace and quiet of Crookwell, and expects to be shearing for the next decade before being able to afford a property of his own.

He would like to take over his father Stephen Boothman's shearing contracting business one day, and says sheep these days are easier to shear than previously.

Scott Kensit, 25, works on a farm which he will manage next year and hopes to buy a place of his own to produce wool. His family's farm was sold in 2006 during the drought.

"Farmers are a dying breed, and young people are needed to replenish the ranks," says Kensit, who also runs a Kanga hire business with his father, Michael Kensit.

He says he will need at least a 2500 ­acre farm to make a living. "When the drought came it took a toll, it showed you either get bigger, or get out."

Gearin Price, 27, works for McGeechan's Farm Supplies in Crookwell, and goes wood carting during winter.

"I'd like to go back at some stage but I'll still need an off-farm income. The places [farms] around here are getting smaller and smaller and harder to make a living off," Price says.

The men play rugby league and rugby union.

Crookwell Show Society secretary and a stalwart of the village Paul Anderson says all four are leaders in their voluntary work for the annual show.

Anderson says during the long drought from 2000 many young people left.

"We are starting to keep the kids here now, there are better roads so they can work elsewhere and easily get back home and work on their family's farm."

When a prominent radio commentator remarked on Crookwell's long­running success in sport he asked what was in the water? Anderson says there are three ingredients.

"Mate, it is pure sport, determination and pride."

The Canberra Times
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Thomas Jefferson
25/08/2015 5:42:42 AM

" I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered"
25/08/2015 7:14:30 AM

Great story and I hope young people get on as we need them in farming, agriculture and business. I was happy to see a group of fresh faced young lot feeders visiting an industry organisation last week. Great stuff. People should try to be a little less negative in postings.
25/08/2015 7:20:17 AM

The benchmark for aspiring leaders of our agricultural industries - "rolling a giant bale, driving a tractor and assembling a cattle crush." How comforting!
25/08/2015 10:49:54 AM

Would be real interesting to see how many first time farmers have bought a farm without doing so through inheritance?
25/08/2015 2:44:40 PM

If you cant inherit it, you will have to either marry it or earn it. Mind you, those who inherit it or marry it consider that they earnt it.
25/08/2015 2:58:15 PM

Increasing land values are a terrible problem- unless you own some land. If you can't marry or inherit it, keep working hard and smart, buy lotto tickets, and maybe, one day......
25/08/2015 4:07:30 PM

Seriously?! That's what we call a Young Farmer Challenge?! How-about we test them on some other 'tasks' such as: 1.) Developing a strategy 2.) Writing a business plan 3.) Analyzing a balance sheet 4.) Writing a bank proposal. 5.) Pitching to investors.
25/08/2015 4:40:08 PM

As a farmer who bought in without inheritance, stealing it or marrying it, I can tell you it is a hard road to hoe. Nowadays farms have to be that big to be viable that very few young people will be able to buy in. Family farms are now corporate enterprises and cannot be sold to anyone but a corporation or family thus eliminating much of the population in rural areas. We need affirmative action on getting young people back on the land before it is too late.
25/08/2015 4:52:41 PM

Land ownership should be the last goal young aspiring farmers should have. All available equity needs to be focussed on production and that means leasing land. Land prices may have a bit more upside but farm debt levels have never been higher and so the risk is actually to the downside. If you can't make money leasing you most certainly won't owning land.
25/08/2015 5:39:24 PM

The reality is that as the world population increases the larger holdings will be subdivided.....time to start thinking outside the traditional squatter view and more effective and efficient use of land is needed. There are as many if not more useless farmers on 5000 acres as there is 'blockies' on 200 acres...It's time this 'blockie' nonsense was put to bed and the real issue of farm gate returns addressed. There is no place for blatant discrimination in agriculture much less uphold such poppycock. By the way have you stopped and looked at house affordability in the major cities?
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