FARMER FOCUS: Are there too few farmers?

After my Nuffield scholarship I wrote a report titled Diversity decreases risk and increases opportunity in agriculture. It was focused at on farm activity and the business of farming. Two years later I’m starting to think it is wider than that, relating to the individual and wider community as well.

Western Australia sees a constant rationalisation of its farming community with 30% leaving the land every 30 years. What effect does this have on the long-term viability of farming and how important is the number of farmers? Is there a point where there a too few farmers to share ideas, exchange innovation and provide for communities?

As someone who has participated and benefited from rationalisation by purchasing neighbouring farms, it’s becoming evident our local community is coming to an end. We’ve even had the discussion about whether we should “fly in, fly out” and live in Perth to school the children.

Our communities need diversity to create opportunity and reduce the risk to individual business, as do the people that live there. As we continue to reduce the numbers of farmers, the diversity the individual farmer is exposed to decreases and maybe the ideas and skills that the person needs to develop to reduce risk in his business disappear, so becoming even more dependent on corporate support.

When travelling through the UK as part of my Nuffield studies I was critical of CAP and the support farmers received. A group of us even coined the phrase “the farmer’s favourite son, Grant”. Now, as I think back, you have a pretty good system of ensuring diversity, opportunity and certainly risk. It’s not perfect, but in an age of food security issues, maybe it’s a good start.

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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