Rural

Lockyer farm families bucking current trends

FARMING FAMILIES: The Huggins family all work together on the farm, with Rebekha and Jake (right) keen to take over the business one day.
FARMING FAMILIES: The Huggins family all work together on the farm, with Rebekha and Jake (right) keen to take over the business one day. Melanie Keyte

JUSTIN Vanstone reckons anybody who has grown up on a farm never wants to be a farmer, but if that's true, he's a living contradiction.

The 24-year-old heads the family's farm, bought in partnership with his 22-year-old brother Zac, a career move that is becoming increasingly rare for young people in country Queensland.

"It's been a bit of a process,” he admitted.

Though they come from a long line of farmers hailing from south of Brisbane, Justin said their principal challenge had been familiarising themselves with the Lockyer Valley land and carving out a sizeable 120ha plot.

"If you don't have your farm handed down to you, that's going to be a tricky one,” Justin said.

"But we wouldn't have done what we've done if we didn't see a future in it,” Zac added.

On the neighbouring farm, Troy Huggins explained how financial barriers were preventing the emerging generation from buying into the agricultural industry.

"It's very expensive to get into farming now, unless you're handed the farm down from someone else,” he said.

"Today, if you went to the bank and wanted to buy a farm, you've got to have 75% of the cash for them to loan the rest of the money for you to buy the farm.

"Whereas when (the farm) has been handed down from generation to generation, kids can afford to get into farming.”

His six kids have all been brought up helping on the family's organic vegetable farm, with the eldest Huggins daughter, Rebekha, and son, Jake, set to take over when their parents retire.

Both said they felt overwhelmingly positive about this kind of future, citing reasons such as camaraderie with workers and a thirst for learning some of life's more unusual lessons.

"I've always said I wanted to come back onto the farm once I left school and now I've come back, so it's a good feeling,” said Rebekha.

"All the stuff you learn is quite interesting actually, and I reckon you get more of a bond working with your parents.

"I can see it being a good future.”

Mr Huggins and his wife Lorena said their children were taught valuable life skills through working the land with their parents, such as an appreciation for food and a strong work ethic, but the patriarch also admitted the kids weren't the only students.

"(Technology) has made it a lot easier and they grasp that, whereas when I finished school they only just had the big computers and typewriters,” he said.

"I think I'd sort of struggle if I didn't have the kids to keep up with all of that technology side of things, so it's good to have them helping out there.”

In the Lockyer and Brisbane valleys, family farms are likely the easiest way for young people to forge careers in agriculture, but it's not the only gateway to the industry.

Agriculture teacher at Lockyer District High School Judy Schultz said schools were increasingly influential in guiding young people towards primary production.

She and three Year 12 students had been having these conversations at school lately as they worked on an exhibit about generational farming for the Ekka, which took home third place.

"It needs to start at home, with families ensuring their kids will stay on or other family members will take over,” she said.

"But then it comes down to agriculture in school and whether there's an enjoyment there for the students, because if they learn to enjoy (the vocation), they'll learn to appreciate it.”

This attitude has held true for student Brooke Pieper, who said she didn't mind what job she took after school, as long as it was with cattle.

"What you learn (in agriculture class) is interesting, especially if you don't come from a farm,” she said.

"It's opened my eyes a bit.”

Looking ahead, Mr Huggins maintained there was a bright future in agriculture.

"You look at the rest of the world, everybody is demanding more and better quality food,” he said.

"You look at China and India and what they're demanding now.”

"There's always going to be a job on a farm - we've got to eat.”

Topics:  family farm food lockyer farmer vanstone farm


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