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Australia’s agricultural population ‘comparatively young’

A new study has confirmed the number of young farmers entering life on the land is falling.

The report, commissioned by the Rural Industries R&D Corporation also revealed that it’s not just Australia experiencing this problem – in fact, the Australian farm population is ‘comparatively young’ compared to other developed economies.

‘New entrants to Australian agricultural industries – where are all the young farmers?’ used Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) census data from between 1976-2011 to examine the demographics of the current farmer population. Indeed, the number of farmers younger than 35 years of age has fallen a staggering 75 per cent since 1976.

One key reason younger people are not taking up farming is the sheer decrease in the number of operational farms in Australia. Essentially, there are fewer opportunities for younger people to even enter agriculture.

Neil Barr from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, who authored the report, said other reasons for the decline in farmers mirrors trends in the broader labour market – namely an overall aging workforce, and delayed entry to fulltime employment due to longer years spent in tertiary education.

“What sets farming apart from other occupations [though] is the lowering rate of exit from farming amongst farmers aged over 65 – since 1991 the population of farmers aged over 65 has increased by 55 per cent,” Mr Barr said.

“In addition to these factors, the increasing age of first marriage in Australia has reduced the number of younger female entrants to farming,” he added.

However despite these figures, Mr Barr said there is not necessarily a link between farm sector structural aging, low recruitment of younger people into agriculture and food security. Indeed, many of Australia’s younger farmers are found on the larger farms, which produce the bulk of Australia’s farm production.

“These farms are comparatively immune to the aging seen in the rest of the farm sector. This means that structural aging in the farm sector is probably not a threat to Australia’s food security or to future growth in the sector,” Mr Barr said.