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Studying law to help the family farm

FOR FARM AND FAMILY: Matt Shearing hopes to one day use his law degree to represent farmers’ interests.
FOR FARM AND FAMILY: Matt Shearing hopes to one day use his law degree to represent farmers’ interests. Emma Boughen

THE saying "you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy" could not be more true for Warwick-born Matt Shearing.

The 24-year-old, from the Goomburra Valley, north-east of Warwick, is a fifth-generation vegetable grower and also a law graduate, who said his love for the land and a desire to represent the people that worked it drove him to study law.

A large part of the season I went into law was to protect my family against CSG mining.

When Matt finished Year 12 at The Scots PGC College in 2007, the threat of coal seam gas mining to his family property was all too real.

"A large part of the reason I went into law was to protect my family against CSG mining," he said.

"We had people come out to the property at the time the threat was looming and we knew a lot of people out west who were really struggling with it."

Matt said his love for the land came from the amazing lifestyle the job allowed you to lead.

"It's hard work, but it's clean work - it's just you and the soil," he said.

"Out here you get to breath clean air, drink the rain water and enjoy so much space all to yourself."

Before Matt left to pursue his studies at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), he was at a loss as to what he should study but quickly realised he had a knack for debating at school, coupled with a love for the bush, and law seemed like the natural path to follow.

Finally graduating at the end of last year, Matt was away from the farm for four years, from 2008-2011, living and studying in Brisbane.

At the end of 2011 he returned to the farm to see out the last two years of his degree externally while working on the family property.

Not long after he left to study, the threat of CSG mining subsided thanks to some clever operating from Matt's grandma.

"Grandma should have been a lawyer herself," Matt said. "She found some discrepancies in their proposal and they weren't able to go ahead."

Though the immediate threat of CSG mining to his family has passed, Matt said his passion for the land had not.

"The interests of the bush are severely under-represented and it's crazy - it's one industry we should really be looking after," he said.

"You only have to look at all the farmers shutting down now purely because of a lack of support.

"From a vegetable grower's perspective, there are two supermarket chains that hold a monopoly over the industry with their 300-400% mark-ups."

It is largely for these reasons Matt not only wants to represent the agricultural industry but that he also saw no future for himself in taking up the family business.

"About 20-30 years ago there was a future. My grandad and my dad have been able to make comfortable livings of the farm but now, if you're not a huge operation, there's nothing for you," he said. "It's the only industry where you provide a service and you don't determine what you get back.

"We're being squeezed from both ends."

About halfway through his degree Matt said he wasn't sure if he was going to finish.

"I did some cold calculation, and I needed to have something behind me," he said.

"Knowing what I was going to use my degree for but also the threat of farming not being a viable future for me made me realise that, even if I wanted to go back to farming permanently, it mightn't be realistic."

Matt will finish up on the family cauliflower, cabbage and lucerne farm in July to pursue dreams of overseas travel for a year.

After that, he intends to return to law and, hopefully, one day get the ball rolling on some kind farmer representative body to protect the interests of Australian farmers.

"My dream is to get involved in a farmers' union of sorts - they just have no bargaining power at the moment," he said.

"I know at least with vegetables, they're a perishable - you can't just hold out for the right buyer as the produce will go bad and you'll be left with nothing.

"Other countries have unions and subsidy schemes but here there is this assumption that farmers must be making all of this money.

"In Australia it's very much a case of out of sight, out of mind."

Topics:  coal seam gas csg mining goomburra horticulture law degree