Agriculture’s fortunes might look pretty good for many at the moment, but more than a quarter of Australia’s farmers are likely to leave their farms by the end of this decade.
Ongoing research by the University of Canberra has also found farmers who are contemplating leaving their farming roles report “poorer wellbeing” compared to those who have no immediate thoughts of retirement or changing careers.
The university’s regional wellbeing study of 3000-plus farmers in 2014 found the 20,000 slump in producer numbers in the five years to 2011 (down to about 157,000) reflected a clear trend set in recent decades which was not slowing as productivity efficiency measures and farm sizes increased or farm income prospects looked up.
About 27 per cent of those interviewed said they were likely or very likely to leave the sector, or at least stop actively working their own farms, by 2020.
On the plus side, it showed 49pc were determined to stay as farmers, describing their exit as “very unlikely”.
Producers in the winegrape, fruit, vegetable and rice industries were among those most likely to be leaving, while intensive livestock producers were most keen to stay.
Those with mixed sheep-wheat-beef enterprises and cotton growers also tended to be less likely to think of quitting. Farm succession was more expensive and complicated than a generation ago, and likely to impact on a couple’s mental wellbeing for long periods if not considered properly.
“Nobody’s situation is the same, especially if you’re not sure whether your children will return to the farm,” she said.
“And it’s not easy for the kids either, or anybody who wants to get into farming.
“Thirty or 40 years ago new undeveloped farming areas were still opening up in Queensland, Western Australia or the Coleambally district in NSW.
“But finding ways to get a viable farm area today and achieving the profit margins needed to pay for it are issues probably deserving much more consideration from older farmers and the wider community.”