What will our farm struggle stories be?

Every generation has its challenges and at times they can seem insurmountable.

Certainly, some of the stories about hard times in years gone by sound as hard as anything young farmers confront today. So, I did an online search for “young farmers’ challenges” to see what came up and I stumbled across a 2023 Roy Morgan survey of just over 1000 Australian farmers.

The survey found 49 per cent of farmers felt their biggest challenge was economic uncertainty; worries such as global eco­ nomic issues and the rising cost of doing business. For young and/or aspiring farmers trying to get established in the industry, this can be daunting.

Other key concerns in the Roy Morgan report included weather (20pc), staffing issues (13pc), government policy (12pc), rising interest rates (10pc), business/finan­cial viability (9pc), changing climate (8pc), natural disasters (5pc) and biosecurity (5pc).

So why do farmers put themselves through all this?

For many people who have grown up in the industry, they also recall what their par­ ents went through – the survival challenges, mental health struggles, family problems, succession planning, isolation and even substance abuse.

Yet, people push themselves to keep going because they love their job, the world needs to eat and the bills don’t stop. Despite it all, young farmers stay hopeful.

Why? Because they simply believe in what they do and that they can succeed.

They know it’s achievable because others have gone before them and have overcome the obstacles. 

‘The challenges are not always exactly the same, and the context is usually different from that of previous generations. But that different, or modern context, is potentially also an advantage. 

When you talk to those coming through now, it’s clear they know what they are up against. But they also know what they want and they’re better equipped in many ways than previous generations, be it their education and training, the tools now available for everything from holistic analysis to integrating emerging technology, to a deeper understanding of how and what you can grow. 

These characteristics of the modern young farmer are helping them be more adaptable, as well as not being tied down as previous generations might have been in terms of what they produce, how strategic they can be with where they base core production and being more open to layers of business profit and off-farm income. 

So while it’s important to be aware of what’s happening with government policy, economic and financial variability, or geopolitical instability, if you can be creative with how you use the knowledge and tools at your fingertips, then there’s good reason to have hope of a career in farming. 

  • Libbe Paton is a Director at Future Farmers Network, Managing Director at Paton Rural and Grazier at Mitta Mitta, Vic.