Australia's farmers: past, present and future

1 Jan 2005

An examination of the trends in the demographic structure of the Australian farmer population between 1976 and 2001 highlights a number of changes in recent years. The long term decline in farmer numbers which was evident through much of the 20th century has slowed and almost stopped. Since 1981 the average farmer age has increased steadily, and the average age of new entrants has risen from 34 to 39. There are a number of major factors contributing to these trends. Between 1986 and 1996 there was a significant decline in the number of teenage males entering farming, primarily due to increased participation in tertiary education. From 1981 to 1991 the number of men entering farming in their 20s declined by 40%, and the rate of exit of young men from agriculture also rose in the 1980s and has stayed high. Between 1971 and 2001 there has been a continuing decline in the number of women (aged 20-34) entering agriculture. The decline does not appear to be related to the state of the agricultural sector but to other factors including increased workforce and educational participation. Since 1991 the rate of exit of older farmers (60 plus) has been declining. The decline in younger people's participation is not expected to reverse in the near future. Modelling the average age of farmers suggests the increasing average age of farmers will peak in 2011 to 2015. Overall the report suggests there is no looming crisis in the Australian farm sector but that the sector is in a state of transition and the profile can be expected to continue to change over time.

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