Young farmers getting down to business

 Published: November 2018 | By: Jill Griffiths
Aspiring farmers across NSW are getting a leg-up from experts in the Young Farmer Business Program.
Kathrine Zahara, Amy Billsborough and Simone Norrie in a cotton field
Young Farmer Business Program participants Kathine Zahra, Amy Billsborough and Simone Norrie. Photography by Sophie O’Brien.

FARMERS of the future are turning up in droves for the Young Farmer Business Program that aims to give 18-35-year-olds the business skills they need to get a start in agriculture and fisheries. 
Delivered in part by NSW Farmers, the four-year NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) program is proving remarkably popular. 

NSW Farmers’ senior policy advisor Alexandra Bunton says the program is based around business and finance skills. “Farming is a business and you need business skills to do it successfully,” she says. NSW DPI Young Farmer Business Program coordinator Alex Hicks says the program addresses a knowledge gap. 
“This program is about the business skills,” Alex says. “Agronomy information and animal science is readily available; we’re looking at what happens in the office to make the business work as a business.” 


The program has kicked off with the Getting Started series, three workshops delivered as evening sessions at a local venue. The first, Bank Ready, takes participants through the paperwork they need to approach a bank to obtain finance to get started in farming or fishing. Tim Carroll, chair of NSW Young Farmers at NSW Farmers, says plenty of young people have gone through school and university but don’t know how to speak to a bank. “We get a bank employee in the room and they talk through what people need to have sorted before they go into the bank,” Tim says.

Two young farmers on a sheep farm
Young farmers from the Griffith region, Rendall Groat and Amy Billsborough at the saleyards. Photography by Sophie O’Brien.

“The second workshop is called Business Ready, and that’s rolling out now. It covers how you set up a business, whether you’re a partnership or a sole trader or a company. The third workshop, Profit Ready, will cover what to do with the money when it starts coming in, how and when to reinvest and pay down loans, how to ensure your business continues to make a profit.”

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Of the workshops to date, Tim says some have had up to 60 attendees, and none has had fewer than 25. University of New England graduate and agronomist Martin Murray has attended a few workshops and plans to go to more.
“It was interesting to see how things work,” Martin says. “I didn’t know much about how trusts work, for example. It’s useful to get the background information.”


Alex Hicks says the program’s strength is that it is grassroots. “We go wherever people want us,” she says. “If there’s a pub or a hall and someone wants to invite us there to do a workshop, we go.”
“We recently held a workshop in Lismore at a nightclub, because locals told us that would be the best place. It was great. Young people turning up at a nightclub to listen to an accountant talk about finance!”

“We are being nimble in how we deliver the program. Every workshop changes slightly in response to the audience and the feedback. We have rooms full of bright-eyed young people wanting to learn.”

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Alex says the workshops are promoted on social media, which has proved very effective in reaching the target audience. “We want the young people participating to feel they are part of a tribe, working together and telling their stories through social media so everyone learns from everyone else.”

To organise a Young Farmer Business Program workshop in your area, contact [email protected].

Katherine Zahra & Rendall Groat
Kathine Zahra & Rendall Groat. Photography by Sophie O’Brien.

Accountant Dene Kilpatrick has spoken about the tax aspects of starting a business at the Young Farmer workshops and is encouraged by how informed participants have been. “They come into the workshops with quite a sophisticated level of understanding,” he says. “With mobile phones and the internet, young people are generally well informed. But they are coming in asking for validation.”

Dene says there has been a lot of interest around Australian Business Numbers (ABNs), trading names and the timing of when registration is needed and avoiding getting scammed. “If you’re registering an ABN, it should be free,” he tells the participants. “The government doesn’t charge. If you’re being asked to pay, it’s a scam.” He says questions about employing people and what is involved with superannuation often come up.
“Young people want help with getting a start,” Dene says. “That’s the age-old problem. They have knowledge, enthusiasm and capability. Give them the opportunity and it’s like, just add water, away they go.”

- 46% of respondents were from the sheepmeat sector.

- 73% experienced barriers entering the business of agriculture.

- 48% felt they didn’t have opportunities to connect with other farmers or networks.

- 72% wanted a combination of online and face-to-face learning.

- 45% were women.

- 55% were men.

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