Various surveys and data tell slightly different stories, but the average age of farmers is skewing older – in their 50s or 60s – and it appears to be trending that way over time.

With the Gippsland Red Meat Conference, which took place late last month, the organisers, the Gippsland Agricultural Group (GAgG), put the spotlight on young farmers under 35.

Rozzie O’Reilly, from New South Wales, spoke at the event. At age 30, she is operations manager at one of the largest suppliers of prime lamb genetics to Australian lamb producers, Lambpro. After a couple of years of very high market prices, she’s expecting a challenging 12-18 months ahead with “all-time low” prices, but she’s up for the challenge.

“There’s talk of some pretty scary low prices that are going to be paid, but we see it as an opportunity,” she said.

“We’re really trying to position our clients in that premium space so they don’t succumb to the lows of those market prices.”

During her talk, Ms O’Reilly spoke about improving reproductive performance in sheep and the efficiency and market gains that come with achieving that breeding objective.

“We need young people coming in to sustain the agricultural industry,” she told the Gippsland Times.

Ms O’Reilly said that farming traditionally had yet to be seen as a career by young people, which she believes is one factor for why the average farmer is about double her age.

“There are so many opportunities that people don’t know about when they’re coming through school, and that’s really being brought through to fruition now in the opportunities that are available for young people,” she said.

“And it is a career; it’s not a job you do between jobs. It really is a career.”

Swifts Creek farm manager Richard Armit, aged 33, said he attended the conference to gain insight into new trends and challenges in the “dynamic” agricultural industry and learn what others are doing.

“It’s great to be here today and see such a large turnout,” Mr Armit said.

“I was interested in learning about the issues of carbon and methane – that will be a big issue going forward over the next 10-15 years.”

Farm manager from Swifts Creek, Richard Armit. Photo: Stefan Bradley
Farm manager from Swifts Creek, Richard Armit. Photo: Stefan Bradley

Mr Armit shared his thoughts on why the agricultural industry had struggled to attract younger farmers.

“I don’t really know why, but a lot of my friends on farms have taken on other work in the cities,” Mr Armit said.

“Even those from second or third-generation farming families were asked by their parents if they were interested in the farm, and they said no.

“I suppose when we were growing up, there wasn’t much money in the farms.

“And it is a hard-earned lifestyle.”

“You’re often isolated away from your friends. And if you have a young family, it’s more difficult too.”

Mr Armit noted this was reflected in the conference attendees, who were mostly over 35 and that since farmland is expensive, it’s hard for those outside of a family business to break in.

“I think probably lots of their kids decided it wasn’t for them,” he said.

“Must be about $15-20 million for the average-sized farm if you work out all the sums. It’s obviously a lot of money.”