The Future Farmers Network of Australia (FFN), welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the global conversation designed at better equipping young people and women to proposer in agriculture.
FFN is Australia’s national, independent organisation providing opportunities and services to support the future of Australian agriculture. FFN represents members on a national, cross commodity basis and supports its members through educational skill development, communicating industry news to members and by advocating to governments and industry the needs of young people working in any aspect of Australian agriculture.
Supporting young people in agriculture
A large focus of FFN’s advocacy work focusses on addressing issues industry faces attracting and retaining young people choosing agriculture as a viable career. Recently FFN surveyed its members about their needs and identified barriers to enter and remain in agriculture for the Australian Government’s agriculture competitiveness white paper.
Through the survey our members told us that they very much believe they can have a prosperous career in agriculture, particularly as demand from our Asian neighbours intensifies. FFN recommended the Federal Government through the Department of Agriculture establish a next generation program to help further support young people in agriculture, addressing industry issues and making it easier for young people to stay in the industry.
Australia, like many other nations, is facing an ever ageing population and agriculture is not immune from the demographic shift. As the vast majority of farms in Australia are operated by family farmers, Australian farms are undergoing a generational handover from parents to their children. This process brings with it legal and financial issues which must be addressed to ensure the next generation of landowners have the best opportunity to manage a successful farm business and continue to contribute to the country’s overall agricultural industry.
So it was no surprise to hear from our members that succession planning and financial management were two major issues needing to be addressed to keep young people in agriculture. FFN recommended that the Federal Government, through the Department of Agriculture, create a succession planning program, aimed at helping finance family farms to implement succession planning as the farm transitions from one generation to the next.
The final main outcome of the member survey was that young people believed that they lived in vibrant regional and rural communities, but residence of these communities were most at risk of social isolation.
No matter the country, social isolation is an issue faced by any regional or rural community. In Australia it is very common for there to be community and sporting groups operating, which help to give community members a sense of belonging and combat social isolation.
FFN recommended that the Federal Government, through the Department of Agriculture, create and support a community grant scheme where communities experiencing or are at risk of social isolation, can apply for funding for community activities aimed at reducing social isolation.
It is important to note that industry is very willing to work and support young people, just as long as they know what support is required and whatever support or development created is carried out in a manageable, meaningful way.
The full submission to the Australian government’s white paper is attached to this post.
Supporting women in agriculture
In Australia women have a very large presence on-farm and in agribusiness. Gender and suitability for farm related work is becoming a less important factor for the next generation of Australian agricultural professionals.
Organisations like Australian Women in Agriculture, Queensland Regional, Rural and Remote Women’s Network as well as the Country Women’s Association have helped foster a culture where the role of women and the contribution they make to Australian agriculture is widely understood, accepted and appreciated by the industry. These organisations also help develop and support women in a meaningful way. This is not to say that it has always been an easy journey but the perseverance of organisations like these has helped find solutions to any issues or barriers faced by women in agriculture.
To make any noticeable difference for women and their role in agriculture, the conversation must not only be discussed by women for women, men have an equal part to play in the progression of women in agriculture and more widely in society. To not include men in the conversations and work being undertaken by women’s rights and empowerment organisations can create a culture of women talking about women’s issues amongst themselves and seriously impede long lasting, wide ranging changes.
As men make up the majority of decision making and executive roles in the workforce, they are also well placed to bring about true gender equality in agriculture and indeed all sectors and industry. However they will never do this if women’s issues are seen by both genders as being simply issues for women to discuss amongst themselves.
The question we should be asking ourselves as a global industry is, why does the glass ceiling have to be smashed from the bottom up, surely it can be smashed from the top down as well?
Equally it is very important to be certain what we are trying to achieve, is it greater women’s participation in agriculture, but at the expense of men? Or is it true gender equality, where men and women are provided equal opportunities regardless of their gender and once in the agricultural industry are supported to do the best job they can through further support and mentoring?
For the empowerment of women to come at the expense of support and opportunities given to men, is not empowerment at all and swings the pendulum too far the other way.
In Australia and indeed globally, a lot has already changed for women’s participation in agriculture within the last generation. Women are on-farm, in the sheering shed, running agriculture organisations as CEO’s and in the board room. This is a trend the next generation of farmers will continue to develop.
Hopefully one day soon true gender equality will be achieved in agriculture and society and answers to the “how to empower, support and develop women?” question will be irrelevant and instead we will all be answering the question “how can we best support our farmers?”.