This topic was discussed as part of our online bonfire on September 8 at 7:30pm, “Supporting the Next Generation of Primary Producers.”
As a child, Sam Marwood dreamed of running his parents’ dairy farm in Central Victoria. But things didn’t turn out the way he planned.
“In grade one I would give up my recess time to draw trucks and tractors, that my mate and I were going to have on our farm”, he told the Beyond the Farmgate podcast.
But one day, as he walked back from the dairy, at the age of 8, he had a conversation with his dad, that has stuck with him for life.
“I looked up and said ‘Dad, when am I going to own the farm?’
“And immediately he laughed at me and said ‘you’re not having the farm… Mum and I are selling. How else are we going to retire and get the money?”
Young Sam threw out those drawings.
“And I knew I would never be a farmer”, he said.
There’s a prevailing notion that to be a farmer you need to have a farm (or at least one waiting for you). And this can put a lot of mental stress and uncertainty on young people wanting to pursue a career in agriculture, especially if succession planning hasn’t been worked out or they know they won’t be inheriting any land.
For young people in general, those early years of study or work can be very stressful. Leaving the known environment of school is often exciting, but it can also be very daunting.
Research from 2019 found mental health concerns among young people are becoming increasingly common, with a 5.5 percent increase over the previous seven years.
And early research on the impact of lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic suggests the problem has worsened for young people, especially in Victoria.
For those carving out a future in agriculture, they might have to deal with the social isolation of working on a farming property, that’s hours away from their friends. It’s therefore especially important for employers to be mindful of creating a positive and respectful workplace culture for them to be a part of.
According to Worksafe’s guide on preventing and managing work related stress, young people regularly experience low job control and low role clarity (even when working on their own family farm), as well as the psychological stress of remote work.
Acknowledging the difficulties, however, shouldn’t take away from the promising opportunities in agriculture. The industry remains strong, with solid export and local markets and there’s been an increase in young people wanting to study agriculture.
Bill Hamill is the Chief Executive of Hamilton’s Rural Industries Skill Training (RIST) which currently has 200 students involved in school-based training right up to university level courses (run in partnership with CQUniveristy).
Bill says RIST was established to combine education, training and research to encourage innovation and attract more young people to the industry.
“Where I see education, where it is going in the future is completely different. If we don’t keep up with how the younger people want to learn, we are going to be left behind,” Bill told the Weekly Times.
From a mental health perspective, formalised training can have many benefits for young people. These include having the confidence to do the job well, receiving up-to-date training, as well as the opportunity to build networks in agriculture with fellow peers and industry leaders.
Also, the reality of learning from your parents, isn’t always rosy. Working relationships with family can mean your Mum or Dad may not always be the best teacher for you. Formal training away from the farm can provide the opportunity to take new skills back to the farm. This includes opportunities to acquire skills and knowledge relating to agricultural production, as well as skills that can contribute to preventing work-related risks to mental health—such as human resource management, decision making and planning.
That’s of course, if you have a farm to go back to.
So, what happened to 8-year-old Sam Marwood?
Well, his parents sold the dairy when he was 17 and Sam went on to work in environmental policy.
For fifteen years, he accepted that he would never be in farming. That was, until he had an idea that’s now breaking down pre-conceptions about farm ownership.
Sam founded Cultivate Farms, a social enterprise which matches the next generation of aspiring farmers with retiring farmers and investors to own and operate a farm together.
“That idea that there are thousands of young people out there who would love to be farmers, but they have this barrier … is what drives me now”, Sam said.
Cultivate Farms has made 17 successful matches in the past three years, helping people who never thought they could own a farm, realise their dream.
“Work on a farm, build your skills, learn how to become the best farmer and while you’re doing that, keep your antenna up to farmers who don’t have kids to hand their farm onto… and also investors,” Sam said.
“So, our pitch to the next generation is that there is hope.”
When it comes to running the farm, investing in mental health initiatives is not only good for your family and staff, but it’s good for business too. The NCFH is supporting farmers just like you to manage and respond to work-related risks that impact on workplace mental health – these are factors in your work that can affect an employee’s mental health and include high job demands, low job control, low role clarity and more. Managing these factors, means decreasing the risk of work-related stress, which can prevent physical injury, mental injury or even both at the same time.
Find out more about being mentally safe on the farm at www.farmerhealth.org.au/campfire.
This blog is part of the Primary Producer Knowledge Network led by the National Centre for Farmer Health to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Campfire, part of The Primary Producer Knowledge Network, is funded by the Victorian State Governments WorkSafe WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.
Review the online bonfire session, “Strengthening Your Support Team: Rural Financial Counselling Service” from September 8 to hear more from Sam Marwood (Cultivate Farms) and Bill Hamill (RIST) about their recommendations and strategies for a mentally healthy workplace, and how to best support the next generation of farmers.
*Primary producers featuring in this blog are fictional, but based on research interviews with farmers, and developed with the assistance of the National Centre for Farmer Health