Australia’s farm population remains “competitively young” compared to other developed economies, even as the number of younger farmers entering the agriculture sector continues to fall, a new report has found.
According to the study, funded by the Rural Industries R&D Corporation (RIRDC), the number of farmers under 35 years of age has fallen by 75% since 1976.
The most important cause for this has been falling numbers of farms due to aggregation, leaving fewer opportunities for younger people to enter agriculture, the study revealed.
Neil Barr, from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, pointed out that other reasons for declining numbers of younger farmers 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%,” said Barr.
“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,” he added.
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, according to the study, has a younger farming population compared to all but one other developed country: New Zealand
The study also tentatively suggested that many of Australia’s younger farmers can be found on larger farms, which account for 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,” Barr said.
The study used Australian Bureau of Statistics population census data from the eight censuses conducted between 1976 to 2011 to examine the current demographic structure of the Australian farmer population.