Keeping young people on the farm
By Bill Thompson – Solicitor-Director, Succession Planning
12 April 2017
The New South Wales Government, along with the support of other political and primary industry stakeholders, needs to take the initiative in addressing the challenge of keeping the younger generation of farmers on the land.
Many farming families, and the rural communities which rely on them, have been struggling for decades to survive the drift of young people to larger regional centres or capital cities to undertake further education and/or to pursue employment opportunities.
I believe one of the biggest obstacles for young farmers is the negativity of parents and grandparents. Unfortunately the old adage “handing on the family farm is a form of child abuse” is being accepted by too many families as reality.
It’s important for the future of agriculture to tackle this issue head-on and that requires leadership from the Berejiklian Government and the support of other political and primary industry stakeholders.
I would like to see an independent expert, such as Charles Sturt University Research Professor Jim Pratley, appointed to examine the problem and look at the different options available for young people to become actively involved in agriculture.
Professor Pratley was the author of the Review into Agricultural Education and Training in New South Wales, commissioned by the state government in 2012. Its findings were released in December 2013. The bulk of his suggestions were accepted and there has been a positive response evidenced by an increase in students studying agriculture.
In my years at Commins Hendriks Solicitors, I have observed various options which have helped enhance the family farm:
- Purchase by overseas investor of farmlands on the basis of a lease back with the vendor/younger generation together with a possible option to renew or purchase. This can provide the older couple with funds to retire and the younger generation an opportunity to be a farmer.
- Young people returning to the country with various skills and combining these skills with farming.
- Joint venture agreements between established farmers and young farmers. We have worked with farmers who have no immediate family, but work well with local young farmers. Under the joint venture agreement the older farmer who is not related can enjoy agriculture whilst handing over responsibility for management to the younger farmer.
- Share farming is a popular option with the dairy industry. Could broadacre farmers learn from the dairy industry?
Our firm has been involved in Q&A style forums entitled ‘Has the family farm a future?’ at Wagga Wagga, Ariah Park, Henty, Coleambally, Barellan, Yenda and Junee. We averaged at least 100 attendees, including young and old farmers and their advisors, and the response was very positive.
Clearly, there is strong interest at the grassroots level in addressing the challenges facing our farming future. Now it’s time for the government to take action.
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