Stepping into a career in agriculture. Lets firstly dispel the myths

One of the constants that crop up whenever I attend an industry event and the participants are asked what they believe are the biggest issues in agriculture we should address,invariably concerns over aging farmer populations and the problem of attracting young people to the agrifood and fibre sector are at the top of the list.

There are a few serious misconceptions we need to address first

Firstly Myth 1 Agriculture’s much touted ‘Aging Farmer Population’ problem

There are a number of great articles that put our so-called aging farmer population into perspective

  1. Mick Keogh in The Myth of the Aging Farmer and well explained by Beef Central here

In the flood of recent economic analysis detailing the opportunities that the Asian Century will provide for Australian agriculture, one common issue identified as a potential limiting factor has been the average age of Australian farmers.

The major problem with this analysis is that by comparing the age of farmers with the average age of all other workers, a very distorted picture emerges of farmers.

2.  Neil Lane in ‘Myths and Legends – Dairy farmer average age’ See  here

What the statistics don’t show is the portion of decision making that the owner of the business shares with the next generation – be they family, worker, manager, or sharefarmer. If for example the decision making on a farm is shared  between a 60 year old and a 30 year old then it could be argued that the average age of the farmers is 45 years old.

3.  Neil Barr in ‘Where are all the young farmers’ Report prepared for RIRDC. The summary can be downloaded here.

Neil in fact discovered that Australia has a competitively young agriculture workforce

Secondly Myth 2 The mindset that thinks you have to own the farm to farm the farm.

I recently had a conversation with current chair of the NSW Farmers Young Farmers Council about their initiative to set up a Young Farmer Finance package See here

Minister Hodgkinsons reply was

I am committed to establishing some kind of a finance scheme for young farmers, but only if it is sustainable and cost-effective.

Whilst I salute the passion and the team behind this concept as a wise person once told me “politics is the art of the possible” and we must get realistic in agriculture.  Why should should the government fund young farmers to buy million dollar businesses (especially in a sector as volatile as ours) over any other young person in the community wanting to own their own  business.?

So if you don’t have to own the farm to farm the farm. How do you get into agriculture?

In the first instance we have to be clever and innovative about how we market the agrifood and fibre sector to potential entrants.

A great web based tool is Career Harvest which promotes a career in the food and fibre industry in this manner

We spend over a quarter of our lives at work. So why not make sure your career is one that’s innovative, inspiring and drives your passions globally?

Career Harvest is a hub for the most cutting-edge careers within the food and fibre industries. Whether you’re interested in feeding the world, adapting to climate change, developing the environment or managing future energy sources, this site helps create clearer pathways for you to harvest your agricultural career.

Choose a career that ignites leadership. Choose a career that feeds the world. Choose a career in Food and Fibre.It’s your global opportunity.

 Taking the next step and recognising there is a career in food and fibre from A to Z with multiple entry points ( and industry crossover opportunities)  initiative the creative team behind Career Harvest will be launching a Career Map early next year. The career map will focus around the broader issues facing food and fibre, and be cross sector and cover careers in production right through to the processing stage. The map’s aim is to encourage thought around what roles people might play, and look at broader opportunities, rather than stepping out defined career paths.  The map will cover a wide range of primary sectors including but not exclusive to Horticulture, livestock, cropping, Dairy, Intensive vegetables and also the more expansive list of post farm gate options.

 In the meantime I would love to share this awesome career pathway publication called  Stepping Stones from the Australian dairy industry with you.

Stepping Stones

After been made aware of this new initiative Stepping Stones I immediately shared it with the current NSW Farmers Young Farmers Council committee

Chair Josh Gilbert had this to say

Dairy Australia have just launched a publication that is creating the Stepping Stones for a better agricultural future- so why aren’t we sharing it with the world and shouting it from the rooftops?

Last week, Lynne shared this exciting new document from Dairy Australia that illustrates ‘career pathways for new and current employees in the Tasmanian Dairy Industry’. Instantaneously, I was impressed!

What fascinated me most when I first saw this document was the great, positive imaging of the industry, important information shared in an exciting way and mostly, the package provided a plan. The guide actively encourages users to start a career in the dairy industry, showing the steps involved and where this field can take them.

The publication explores the many facets of dairying in Australia and actively promotes the benefits of each occupation- rather than just saying that you would have a lot of fun doing it. It highlights the steps needed to be taken in order achieve a long lasting career in dairy, rather than seeing it as purely a job.

This is a document we should be sharing with the world, especially to school aged children who may or may not understand that the dairy industry in Australia is vibrant and exciting. It should also be sent to our current farmers, highlighting some further opportunities that are out there for them in the industry and providing a road map as to how to get there. It is these thought provoking ideas and tips that encourage change and long term prosperity.

Dairy Australia must be congratulated on this resource, while the other sectors strongly motivated to create something similar. If we are to continue encouraging young entrants into the field, it is publications such as these that need to be created and shared.

Its time for agriculture to stop worrying about the so called aging workforce, young people like our Young Farming Champions many of whom don’t come from farming backgrounds are excited about agriculture.

As the forward in Stepping Stones says

Career progression and pathway planning is the key to reaching your career goals…….

And remember, sometimes planning your pathway may seem daunting, so break it into pieces and focus on each goal ahead, one step at a time

Its time for agriculture to start creating more great resources like Stepping Stones that not only give great advice to people who want a career in dairy, how to move into share farming and leasing but also provides great advice to people who want to transition out of the industry workforce but not necessarily leave the farm and how they can support young entrants


  1. Lots of good ideas here Shaun. I agree, we should not use simple statistical information to characterise farmers. Often, the farm owner is classified as the “farmer” whereas it may well be his son or daughter or his manager who actually is the skilled “farmer” making the decisions and embracing new technology.

    Around the world, if farmers want to own their own land, they have to work hard for a very long time, or inherit the land or a bit of both.

    The bigger challenge I see is one of demographic change that affects our whole community. In most families husband and wife now both want careers and satisfying work. Not so easy in regional areas where fewer professional job opportunities exist. However, in our region at least, it is the regional areas where unemployment is low. The challenge is to find inspiring work for both husband and wife.

    The other challenge is reflected in the Dairy Australia approach. It is difficult to communicate the excitement and opportunity in agriculture. We have too few graduates to fill available positions, but the various Superannuation investors are not mistaken. Their strong interest in investing in agriculture indicates their belief that agriculture is a sound long-term investment. We will need professional farmers, agronomists etc. to run these and the other farms that will meet the challenge of feeding a growing population.


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