Australian system means fewer farmers, says Rob Warburton

Harvest has started in Western Australia, along with the endless pages of farm sale adverts.


The cash injection that comes with grain sales can often be likened to the rush of a drug, and in this case the rush leaves you with one aim – getting bigger than your neighbour.

Without any form of government financial support in our farming system, size offers the most substantial form of income stabilisation. The “get big, or get out” motto still rides true here.

This is a far cry from the system I encountered on my travels through the UK last year on my Nuffield farming scholarship. The single farm payment was always the talking point and the eldest son, “Grant”, paid a lot of the bills.

Most of the young farmers I met were against the single payment system and wanted a fairer go without subsidies. They wanted the opportunity to grow their farms and business, like the Australians do, and to get big.

What always ended the discussion though was when I put it to them that under the Australian system only one in four of them would be farming in 10 years’ time. So the group of young, energetic farmers would be left to fight over who would farm and who would begin another career.

In my own area, I was one of 25 farmers 15 years ago. But through the purchases of many of those farms by both my neighbours and myself, there are only seven farmers left. And this comes with a social cost. Services are reduced, sporting clubs and fire brigades have too few members to operate and schools shut their doors.

Somewhere between our two systems, I’m sure there’s a happy medium, where the young farmer can expand and the community can grow. But in the end I think that human nature’s desire to expand and get big at the expense of its surroundings may unfortunately rule the day.

Aussie Rob Warburton farms 3,000ha with his wife Jen and two daughters in Kojonup, below Perth in western Australia. Cropping includes wheat, barley and oilseed rape. Wildflower seed is grown for retail. Merino sheep are reared for wool and meat.


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