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Farms no longer a good life

MINORITY REPORT: Danny Lickiss, Rileys Hill cane farmer, says it is a hard but rewarding profession.
MINORITY REPORT: Danny Lickiss, Rileys Hill cane farmer, says it is a hard but rewarding profession. Doug Eaton

MANY Northern Rivers youth are abandoning farming careers due to university opportunities, better pay and the difficulties of agricultural labour.

Still, a minority are determined to wring out an income as a primary producer.

North Coast National Agricultural and Industrial Society president John Gibson, 65, said the situation was bleak.

"It's a bit of a dilemma in the north coast in that farming is losing a lot of young people to universities," he said.

"They usually worry about the pay packet in farms because they know costs are high and profits are low on many properties.

"One of the key problems is, to own a property you need so much capital to start, but that is just is just one of so many difficult factors at work."

Mr Gibson said farming was often hard work compared to white-collar professions, but noted it could be rewarding and "very successful".

"Farming can also be very important to the social fabric of smaller communities," he said.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, the average age of Australian farmers in 2010-11 was 53 - 14 years above the average age for other occupations. Cane growers were even older, with an average age of 64.

That makes Rileys Hill cane grower Danny Lickiss, 32, a bit of a rarity.

"I'd say it's down to the cost of getting involved, because the outlay is just too high unless your family is directly involved," he said.

"If you've grown up in the city it's a big lifestyle change to get used to. I think you've got to run it like you would a small business.

"It's a very rewarding profession - you're supplying food to people across Australia and the world."

Mr Lickiss, who bought his parents' property, said having savings to fall back on and an unwavering determination to succeed were crucial.

"You've got to have drive and passion, be willing to change, and you need to have some business sense too."

The North Coast National Generation Ag committee represents young farmers from Lismore to Grafton.

There is also Future Feeders, which is a Mullumbimby-based grassroots co-operative started this year to help youth enter farming careers.

Topics:  agriculture farming