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Study finds that Australia’s farmer population is ‘competitively young’ 16 Jul 2014

A new study funded by the Rural Industries R&D Corporation has found that, while the number of younger farmers entering agriculture continues to fall, the Australian farm population remains ‘competitively young’ compared to other developed economies.

The report, titled ‘New entrants to Australian agricultural industries – where are all the young farmers?’ used Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) population census data from the eight censuses conducted between 1976 to 2011 to examine the current demographic structure of the Australian farmer population. 

The report quantifies the extent of structural ageing in the Australian farm sector, examines the behaviours that are causing structural ageing and explores the social, demographic and economic conditions that influence these behaviours. 

The study found that the number of farmers aged under 35 years of age has fallen by 75 per cent since 1976. The most important factor in this fall has been falling numbers of farms due to farm aggregation, leaving fewer opportunities for younger people to enter agriculture. 

The author of the report, Neil Barr, from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, said another reason for declining numbers of younger farmers are factors that are common with the rest of the Australian labour market, including structural ageing of the Australian workforce and delayed entry to the workforce due to longer years spent in tertiary education.

“What sets farming apart from other occupations 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. This decreases the proportional measure of farmers aged under 35 and is also an important contributor to the increasing median age of the farmer population. 

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

However, despite these figures the study concluded that there is little cause for concern over any link between farm sector structural ageing, low recruitment of younger people into agriculture and food security. Australia has a younger farming population compared to all but one other developed country - New Zealand. 

Of particular importance is the study’s tentative finding that many of Australia’s younger farmers can be found on the larger farms which produce the bulk of Australia’s farm production. 

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

The publication ‘New entrants to Australian agricultural industries – where are all the young farmers?’ can be found on the RIRDC website: https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/14-003.