It’s no huge secret that there are fewer and fewer young people becoming involved in agriculture and farming. In fact, the average age of an Australian farmer is 58, and since 1991 the number of farmers aged over 65 has increased by 55%. Meanwhile, the number of farmers under the age of 35 has dropped by a massive 75% since 1976. This is a trend that is being seen not only in Australia but worldwide, so much so that the Australian farming population is relatively young in comparison to other developed economies.
One of the major reasons for young people being not inclined to join the farming sector as a career path is the resounding stereotype that farming is not a young person’s game, it is physically demanding and not a terribly profitable enterprise. This image issue needs resolving before we can hope to have more young people coming back to agriculture.
Young people need to be made aware of the new advancements in technology that are revolutionising the agricultural landscape and making farming more efficient and more profitable. Farming isn’t the outdated practice that it is still often portrayed as; it instead offers exciting opportunities for innovation and change. Young people should be the ones to be the driving force behind this change and bring new ideas and enthusiasm to the industry. “Farmers are being asked to produce more with less right now, and we cannot tackle these expectations with 20th century thinking and technology. We need to continually seek new information, new ideas, a better understanding of the world and human interaction with it.” Says 2015 Young Australian Farmer of the Year, Anika Molesworth.
The members of Generation Y are the ones that have grown up with the technology that now rules industries around the world, including farming. Gadgets like smartphones, tablets, WiFi and GPS systems all come as second nature. These ‘digital natives’ are the ones most equipped to take on the latest technology and make agribusinesses and farming a more competitive and profitable industry. Modern communication technologies also make it much easier for young farmers to connect with each other and others in the industry in order to share information ranging from the weather to the latest cattle market prices.
With a growing population, there is increased demand for food, while a changing climate threatens to jeopardise world food production. As a result, now more than ever we need farmers who are highly efficient and skilled to meet the world’s growing needs. “Our future food security and the vitality of regional areas depend on passionate, innovative young people staying in, or taking up, agriculture.” Says NSW Young Farmers councillor Tim Carroll.
The growing global food demand, particularly from Asia, is placing Australian agriculture in a very competitive position in the market. The Australian agricultural industry generates over AU$145 billion annually, with approximately AU$32 billion in exports. This agricultural boom is expected to last much longer than the previous prosperity generated by the now collapsing mining industry, as the demand for Australian agricultural products is fuelled by one of the fastest growing economies in the world: China.
Ultimately, young people in Australia need to be convinced of the vast benefits of being involved in the farming industry. Farming needs to be redefined to the younger generation as a rewarding and profitable enterprise that encourages innovation in technology and genetics, as well as the development of environmentally sustainable farming practices.