Saturday, June 30, 2012

Attracting Young People into Agriculture

For the agricultural sector to be vibrant and healthy it needs to be able to attract the next generation of farmers. There are a few issues with attracting young people to farming in New Zealand, but they are different issues depending on the farming class.
As I mentioned in my last post, the average age of a sheep & beef farmer is 58 years of age, and I believe the main reason the next generation are not attracted to sheep & beef is the lack of profitability and cash flow, which in turn makes it difficult to progress into farm ownership.
The dairy sector has a slightly different problem.  I don’t believe the dairy industry has a problem of attracting people to take up self-employed roles, such as contract milking and share milking. There are more sharemilkers than there are sharemilking jobs at the moment.  The dairy industries progression path way has always allowed people to progress up the farming ladder.  While I do agree that sharemilking has its challenges and its future is by no means certain, the inability of dairy farmers to attract young people is not due to a lack of career pathways, like sheep and beef farming.

The main issue for dairy farmers is they can’t seem to attract and retain good quality employees. It’s important to distinguish the difference between a person working on a dairy farm as an employee and someone working as a self-employed dairy farmer. Dairy farmers are constantly struggling to find dairy employees. The gap has been partially filled by foreign workers from countries such as the Philippians and Brazil.

The question is why?

The sheep and beef farmers don’t have this problem, at least not to the same degree as dairy farming. Any farming position advertised that does not involve milking cows is swamped with applications. The positions I’m talking about are sheep and beef finishing positions, cropping, dairy grazing and general labouring positions on non-dairy farms.

My brother in law is a good example of what I mean. If you saw a picture of my brother in law, you would think he was straight out of a Speight’s advertisement. He’s got the RM Williams shirt, the moleskins, the boots, the belt buckle and most importantly a team of dogs! The interesting thing is he was brought up in town and he chose to go sheep & beef farming, that’s his passion.  His problem is every sheep and beef position that he applies for is swamped with applicants. This is for managerial roles as well as general farm hand positions. He has to compete with far more experienced applicants.
I got a txt yesterday to say he has reluctantly accepted a dairy job near Winton. He needs to pay the bills!
He is a good example of lots of people in the agricultural sector. They love farming but just not dairy farming. Working on a dairy farm tends to be a last resort.

Recently in a short space of time I have had three conversations that have really got me thinking. The first was my hair dresser, we got chatting and it came up that I was once a dairy farmer. She said “My partner worked on a dairy farm, just out of Oxford. He hated it and left after a few months”.
The second was a young couple we met one day. Over lunch I asked him what he did before his current job, driving a fork lift. He said he worked on a dairy farm for a year and then said “It was the worst thing we ever did”
The third was my doctor; he asked what I was going to do after I sold my business. I said I was going back into the dairy industry to which he replied “Isn’t that what you do when you can’t get any other job?”

There is definitely a big difference between a dairy farm position and a non-dairy position.
Over the next little while, I hope to delve into the reasons that I believe the dairy industry is not retaining good people. One of the main reasons I started Milking on the Moove is that I want to test, develop and promote farming practices that make dairy farming in New Zealand better. A dairy system that is attractive to employees will go a long way to making dairy farming better.

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