Dairy farmer Damien Murphy. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Victorian farmers have called on the Commonwealth to establish a special fund to help would-be farmers buy their first property, a move they say would help Australian agriculture regenerate.
With farmers often facing huge initial outlays, the Victorian Farmers Federation says the Future Farmers Fund would help young people get started, while tackling the advancing age profile of the nation's farmers, which it says is on average now over 55.
The fund was the idea of South Gippsland dairy farmer Damian Murphy, who studied young-farmer finance schemes around the world. Mr Murphy says getting the next generation of farmers established is ''critical to the future of agriculture, especially given that we're meant to be the food bowl of Asia''.
To address other challenges in agriculture, the federation has urged the Commonwealth to make substantial changes to rules affecting a farmer's right to farm; to ensure planning rules are ''not getting in the way''; and to commit significant funds to improve rail and road links. It also called for more protection for farmers ''in the face of supermarket control of production methods''.
To tackle the supermarkets' power, farmers want a clearer definition of ''predatory pricing''; more transparency in the supply chain for prices, costs and profits; a statutory definition of ''unconscionable conduct''; stronger labelling laws and enforcement; and examination of how to prevent ''unfair trading practices''.
The calls were made in a submission to the federal government's Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, announced by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce in February. The federation says money in its proposed lending fund would be available for farmers to borrow at concessional interest rates, and with a smaller deposit than would otherwise be required.
The federation identified a pool of money held by farmers in ''farm management deposits'' - special bank accounts held by thousands of farmers - as an ideal source of money to establish the fund. At the end of 2013, more than $3 billion was held in the deposits. ''If only 1 per cent of this was directed at the [fund], it would release $32 million,'' the federation said.
The establishment of an Agricultural Industry Superannuation Fund could also be considered to create the funds needed, it said. Established farmers could contribute to it in the knowledge that they were helping farmers starting out.
Federation president Peter Tuohey said the fund was essential.
''For a young farmer wanting to start off it just costs a huge amount of money and it's now pretty well nigh on impossible unless you're supported,'' he said.
''We need to provide the … ways and means for the next generation of farmers to come on [to the land] and be farmers or farm managers,'' he said.