Life on the land in Australia



BUYING the family farm has become just about impossible for young farmers and fewer people are taking over when their parents hit retirement age.

However, there are some young farmers, like Michael Nichols, who are still keen to pursue the farming lifestyle.

The 28-year-old farmer is managing his parents’ 600-hectare farm at Sisters Creek, Redbanks Farm, Tasmania.

“Working in a company structure is a lot easier than taking ownership of the land,” he said.

“It is big dollars to buy the land and most young people can’t go and ask the bank for a loan of several million dollars.”

Mr Nichols said there had been no expectation from his parents for him to take over the family farm, but it was something he’d always wanted to do – the farming lifestyle had been instilled in his blood from all his years working and living on the land.

He said there were many farmers in the region who were reaching retirement age and would have to sell the family farm because their children did not want to take over.

“The mines have pulled a lot of people away,” he said.

“It’s high money for less work whereas farming is a lot of work and late nights and you are not guaranteed a profit at the end of the year,” he said.

However, Mr Nichols also has friends in their early 30s who are running their parents’ farm or are starting to buy.

He hopes agriculture will be sustainable into the future but says there has to be a guaranteed profit at the end of the day.

“It will be interesting to see how the water scheme in the Midlands will kick off,” he said.

“Maybe if they’ve got that security it will boost farmers’ confidence.

“There are also people who have grown up on a farm and done ag science at uni.

“They aren’t interested in taking over the farm, but we do need people who are farm-minded to work as agronomists.”

Mr Nichols believes the government can do a lot to assist farmers, such as stopping cheap vegetable imports and offering subsidies like they do in Europe.

He doesn’t think he will be able to buy the land but his feet are firmly planted in the rich, red dirt on the property and he hopes to continue in his current role.

The farming lifestyle has its pros and cons.

The hours are long, the work is hard and the rewards are not guaranteed but Mr Nichols loves the challenge.

He has a wife, Lauren, and three-year old son, Jack, and said he could choose when he started work so he could spend time with his family.

“I can have part of the day off, but I have to make it up that night,” he said.

“It can be flexible, which is good while my son is young.”

He said the nature of farming had changed and farmers now needed to be multi-skilled as they would be moving irrigators one day and in the office the next working out a budget or talking to the accountant.

“People used to think you could always fall back on the family farm. But now you need a whole range of skills to be a farmer,” he said.

Mr Nichols said his father had stepped back and allowed him to make changes on the farm.

“When I finished school I worked on a farm in the UK for two years, which is the best way to learn. You can’t be stuck in a rut and do things the same way year after year,” he said.

“It’s not hard to make things better, you’ve just got to be willing to change.”

One of the farm’s strengths is its diversity which means it is not dependent on just cropping.

“You’ve got to be diverse,” Mr Nichols said.

“If you are just a crop farmer and there is a bad year, it will be a really bad year.”

Cropping is the main focus of the farm, but it also has chickens, beef cattle, plantation trees, Hill Farm preserves and Mr Nichols has a combine harvester for contract work.

January 16th, 2012

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