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What are you investing in?

I was somewhere a little while ago and heard a quote, from whom I can’t remember and I didn’t write it down at the time, the essence of it was to investors in agriculture: ‘if you don’t love your land, find someone who does and let them.’

Many of us will be able to relate to this sentiment, and for me it was one of those random moments which reminds of a very basic principle, this one being that the passion for managing our country in a sustainable and responsible manner is one of our greatest strengths in Australian agriculture.

The strongest agricultural businesses that I have been involved with have been either family owned and operated businesses or long term investment properties that have had long-term managers running them. There are so many intricacies with understanding land and getting to know your property and it is astounding to still hear the comments of amazement from some people who have purchased well managed properties and cannot work out why they can’t get it to achieve the same performance as the previous owners/managers, when they place a somewhat pre-determined management approach over it.

Speak to anyone who has grown up on or spent a long period of their life on a piece of land and you will quickly realise what they know can’t be read about or learned in a classroom or indeed on any other piece of land.

Very few people, relative to the number working in agriculture, will get the chance to do this, particularly in corporate agriculture. But, the opportunity here is to make the most of knowledge and experience from the senior people and through giving the opportunity (where feasible) to younger people to gain exposure to different situations in terms of land, business and enterprise management. By providing exposure to a range of situations, we are enabling a much more resilient and broad thinking cohort of people who will be well positioned to manage agricultural businesses as they progress through their career. This could happen on a local scale for example with three or four producers who don’t have enough work for a full time employee, but between them would have, a salary structure and housing arrangement could be organised and the critical timings worked out for each of the businesses for that employee to be placed through the year most efficiently for all involved.  

We had a field day out here (Hay) last week with a fantastic group of university students studying agriculture and a presenter offered that if you’re going to work with farmers in any capacity, get a job on one and get some good practical experience. I would hazard a guess that half these students won’t be able to find a good on farm job, and will therefore lose out on gaining experience that could otherwise be paramount to a valuable contribution to our industry.

We should all keep that in mind.

Dan Korff is Chair of the Future Farmers. This article first appeared in The Land, Fairfax Ag Media, "Work to ensure an agricultural future"

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3 Responses

    Universities carry a large part of the blame here as they are more interested in banging out an academic calendar then pursuing passion, all Ag students should have to do a one year internship on a farm prior study on campus and then be mentored throughout their career by the institutions which award their degree etc. Also are we seeing the net effect of having to pay for service from traditional extension providers such as the state departments of primary industries, the passion has gone from our extension providers at government level, they struggle from funding round to funding round and most I know are cynical and wary of any other industry or private sector service providers seeing them as competitors rather than collaborators. And don't get me started on corporate investors with their green acres mantra and idolization of annual budgets to control every aspect of cultural practice. It is bloody hard to find passion out there or capacity for practice change within sustainability.

    A nice thought Ian but unfortunately we are plagued by laws that limit productivity rather than needing a lift in productivity. Australian urban populations are so well provided for by hard working farmers that they think it a good idea to prohibit any increases in productivity.

    These comments raise a couple of issues in my mind. Firstly there is a tremendous amount of knowledge regarding "country" held in the indigenous first Australian population. As agriculturists we have done very little to learn from these 30,000 years of accumulated land and weather histories. Made some terrible mistakes that may have been averted if more research was carried out and mores listening done. The second issue is the implementation of constant improvement strategies inherent within the passion of those who love their land. There are a very large number of qualified, skilled, passionate individuals who because of birth haphazardness will never get the opportunity to "love their Land" or their farms. Maybe it is time for an influx of new farmers who can bring the passion to the areas where it is needed. There should be minimum productivity standards set for all farms and those that are not up to it should be assisted to move aside and let others take over.

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