First published with The Courier – https://www.thecourier.com.au/story/5152894/young-farmers-face-the-challenges-of-agriculture-to-follow-their-love-for-the-land/?cs=62
The sun beat down on the sheep yards while 25-year-old Mount Emu farmer Albert Nunn was checking the health of his lambs.
Grass in the paddocks around the yards had dried in the summer sun; but this area near the farmhouse is only a small part of the family’s 3000 acre farm, land which has been passed down and acquired over four generations of the Nunn family.
Albert and his father were vaccinating lambs as part of the process of weaning them from their mothers.
Albert is one of a dwindling number of young farmers who are hoping to create a future in the farming industry.
After growing up on the farm and attending high school at Ballarat Grammar, he completed a traineeship in hospitality and has been splitting his time between working in the hospitality industry and on the family farm.
But starting this year, Albert will be working full-time on the Mount Emu farm and plans to study a Diploma of Agriculture of Federation University with the help of a $5000 Victorian Government scholarship.
“I have always felt pretty capable doing the practical and physical side of the work, but I really wanted to know the why and what for and how it all ties in together to be able to make more decisions for myself,” he said.
“It’s all very good having Dad here and saying ‘you can do this and do that’ but I feel like I really needed a bit more of a business mindset and a bit more leadership.”
The Victorian Government Young Farmers Scholarship is an upskill and invest program designed to attract and support the next generation of farmers to ensure the future prosperity of Victoria’s agriculture sector.
“The business skills is a big thing, like financial literacy and accounts, and it’s something we all take for granted sometimes,” Albert said.
“Dad knows how to make good decisions at really hard times. There are just so many diverse conditions that farmers face, whether it be climate or political influences. How to manage all of them is what he is really good at and what I want to be really good at too.”
Albert says farming can be overwhelming for young people trying their hand in the industry.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the average Australian farmer is 56-years-old. He is a man who has likely been farming for 35 years, raising livestock or growing wheat.
The average Australian worker is 39-years-old. That’s 17 years younger than the average farmer.
Albert said it would be hard to break into farming without a family farm to come home to.
“A big hurdle for a start is just buying land,” he said.
“A young person is pretty keen to just buy a house and get themselves organised and have the security of a wage. Whereas if you want to buy land for in some parts of this area, $5000 an acre, it is a really hard way to start off.
“Then you have got all the machinery costs – it just takes a lifetime to build up all this equipment and assets – and then you have got the hurdle of weather and all these diverse factors.”
LEASING LAND TO BREAK INTO FARMING
Young farmer Tim FitzGerald has turned to leasing land to be able to return to his farming roots.
The 28-year-old grew up on the FitzGerald’s family farm in Derrinallum. Despite having a desire to continue farming growing up, the prospect was always uncertain.
Unlike Albert, their family farm was not big enough for even one of the two brothers to come home to work.
After studying agricultural science at the University of Melbourne, Tim and his brother Michael did contract harvesting work in the Mallee before taking up the opportunity to run their own farm on leased land in Berrybank.
BREAKING INTO THE INDUSTRY FROM A NON-FARMING BACKGROUND
The uphill battle in the farming industry has just begun for former Phoenix Community College student Matthieu Brehaut.
Matthieu is waiting for university offers to be released on January 15 to begin planning his journey in the farming industry, with a hope to gain a traineeship on a farm while studying agriculture.
Matthieu said he was not put off by the challenges of farming, but excited to begin his journey in the industry.
But he said it was difficult to gain experience without the background of growing up on a family farm.
Completing work experience with a neighbouring farm in Haddon has helped Matthieu learn basic operations and skills and he said studying agriculture would be a good pathway to build his knowledge.
FOLLOWING FARMING PASSIONS IN AN ALTERNATIVE LINE OF WORK
It’s a different story in the farming industry for Victorian Young Farmers president Nikki Georgiou, who has pursued her passion for livestock without working on a farm.
Now living in Miners Rest and driving livestock trucks, Nikki came from a background in dairy farming and spent two years working at a cattle station in the Northern Territory.
Nikki said she always knew she wanted to be in agriculture-based work.
The hours of truck driving and love of working with livestock suited her lifestyle as a single parent with a six-year-old daughter. B
But she has notice gender stereotypes working in the livestock truck driving industry.
“I didn’t notice the stereotype much in the farming industry until I became a truck driver, especially since it is such a male dominated industry. It was definitely a big eye opener,” Nikki said.
“You don’t really notice it until you are out on the road. You get funny looks from other car divers or other truck drivers make comments and it is just something you have to roll off your back and smile and wave.”
Nikki is a part of the Clunes Young Farmers group, and as president of the Victorian Young Farmers, said it was important to have a support network.
“We have teamed up with National Centre for Farmer Health. There are farmer suicides and can be a lot of mental health issues, especially in remote communities, so it is important to have those resources available, or somewhere they can at least go to talk,” Nikki said.
NO CLEAR SOLUTIONS TO HELP YOUNG FARMERS
Like many others in the challenging industry, Tim and Albert said there were no clear solutions to helping young farmers.
For Albert, the Young Farmers Scholarship has provided him the opportunity to boost his skills to be able to make informed decision and the ability to take leadership on his farm.
Tim said it would be easier for young farmers to break into the industry if there was an increased availability of leased land.
Matthieu’s challenge begins with finding a traineeship to be able to complete a degree in agriculture.
For Nikki, it’s about providing support for young farmers through a social network.
Despite difficulties for those breaking into the industry, Albert said he is positive about the future of agriculture.
“Like everyone always says, people are always going to need to be fed and clothed, so there is always going to be an avenue for agriculture.”