IF THE average age of an Australian farmer is 56 years old, the big question is just how old is a young farmer?
That’s a point of debate raised by the release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics five-yearly agricultural census data last week which also said, for 2015-16, the average time Australian farmers had been involved in the sector was 35-years.
Future Farmers Network (FFN) Chair Dan Korff said his group had a cut-off age limit of 35 for membership but it also included a 35 and beyond category for “friends of FFN”.
But Mr Korff said the board was currently considering removing any age limit on its membership and looking at how to make that constitutional change.
He said personally, he was against any age limits being imposed on qualification for young or future farmer groups like the FFN as it created undue limitations.
Asked how old was young, when it came to qualifying for Australian farming’s youthful generation, National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson said there no need to draw a line in the sand on any age criteria.
“How old is a young farmer? I don’t know the answer but it’s an interesting question,” she said.
“I don’t think there should be a cut-off age where you determine the age of a young farmer or not.
“It’s all in the mind and it’s all in the opportunity.
“These days we’re working longer and we’re healthier for longer but it’s about having the drive and ambition that’s frequently seen in young people, no matter what age you are.
“People can still be young, right up into their 50’s.”
Ms Simson said there was renewed interest in farming and agribusiness as a career, by agriculture’s next generation of participants.
“Anecdotally, as I travel around Australia, I’m seeing renewed interest in young people returning to farms and taking advantage of some of the opportunities available in rural and regional areas and on farms,” she said.
“Young people who are very excited about some of the value adding opportunities that these new markets are offering farmers really want to get more engaged in the business operations of their farms.
“We welcome people coming onto farms in their teens or their 40s and 50’s.
“We need a good, diverse range of people and I think it’s too hard to say you’re young if you’re under 35 but if you’re 35-plus, you’re old.
“I’m certainly well over that age and some days I feel older than others but don’t think I’m over the hill yet.”
Ms Simson said the NFF didn’t have a young members’ council or committee but some of the peak national farm lobby group’s members did, like the FFN which is on the NFF’s members’ council.
“Our members are heavily engaged in the young farmer space and it’s good to see because there’s great opportunity and potential in Australian agriculture at the moment,” Ms Simson said.
“And the more positive discussions we’re having about our industry, the more young people will become interested in the industry and if they’re 35 years old or 40 years old, that’s immaterial to us.
“It’s about keeping people in rural and regional areas engaged in farming and also bringing them into our industry.
“There’s a lot more to agriculture than owning a farm and that’s one of the great things coming out of discussions now – recognition of the potential for supply chain value adding and the entire industry that encompasses food, not just farming.”
AgForce Queensland’s Young Farmer membership category - for farmers who don’t own land or stock - is open to for farmers 35 and under and the state farm lobby also has Next Gen networking functions that are open to farmers 35 and under.
The Young Agribusiness Professionals of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) is currently seeking nominations for its executive committee which is a formal policy development body.
Its participants must be a financial member of the VFF and between 18 and 35 years of age.
The Victorian Young Farmers is a separate social networking group for young farmers with its membership open to farmers aged between 16 and 30.
The Victorian government also has a Young Farmers Ministerial Advisory Council that brings together 11 agri-business professionals to advise government about practical actions and opportunities to attract and retain young people in agriculture.
NSWFarmers has a Young Farmers Council with participation in social activities, or other initiatives like developing advocacy skills, open to members under the age of 35.
A joint initiative between NSWFarmers and the state’s agriculture department has seen the recent appointment of a dedicated Young Farmer Project Officer, to assist young farmers overcome hurdles and plan for a future in the sector.
In the West, AgConnectWA is an initiative that aims to connect, represent and provide support to young people throughout the state’s agricultural industry, to address challenges and harness opportunities, and was formerly known as WA Young Farmers.
The Rural Youth Organisation of Tasmania has members aged 15 to 30 years and conducts agricultural activities.
The Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association doesn’t list a young farmers committee or council, on its website.
Primary Producers SA - formerly the South Australian Farmers Federation - is comprised of autonomous commodity groups like grains and livestock, mostly funded by producer levies, and also doesn’t have a young farmers committee.
The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) doesn’t have a dedicated young farmers’ membership category but does run a program called Future NTCA that started in 2014 to foster and develop leadership skills within the Territory beef industry.
NTCA’s Tom Ryan said the criteria for the Future NTCA group was 18 to 35 years of age.
Mr Ryan said the program had been successful in optimising the potential of the industry’s youth; capturing new ideas, networking and injecting renewed enthusiasm.
He said its participants had also received the opportunity to undertake personal and leadership development courses and create their own initiatives and projects.
Royal agricultural societies in different states also have groups aimed at youth membership.
Eligibility for the Cattle Council of Australia’s annual NAB Agribusiness Rising Champions initiative is 21 to 35.
Another event, held annually, is GrainGrower’s Innovation Generation conference aimed at young participants and fostering their industry engagement with a cut-off age of 35.
Dairy Australia has a Young Dairy Network Australia organisation that has no absolute cut-off age but most of the programs - like those aimed at leadership or social events - are generally tailored to industry members under the age of 40.
A 2014 study funded by the Rural Industries R&D Corporation found that the number of farmers aged under 35 years had fallen by 75 per cent since 1976 with the most important factor in the drop being falling farm numbers.