Think carefully before choosing farming as a career, urges Roelof Bezuidenhout.
Many youngsters today are joining their fathers on the farm in lucrative agricultural sectors such as game ranching and fruit exports. But this is not happening across the board in sufficient numbers to replace the older generation and has brought into question the future of farming.
Worldwide, the number of farmers and farm workers is dwindling, and the average age has climbed into the 60-year-old bracket. While rural communities would welcome a rejuvenation of the farming population, the truth is that the world does not need more farmers.
But even the best planners can get caught unawares by sudden upheavals and opportunities. The phenomenal rise in the wildlife and citrus industries shows how quickly demand, fired by investment sentiment and consumer whims, can turn an industry around.
Local commercial farmers will sooner or later experience the effect of improved agricultural production in the former homelands. These areas already house 40% of the country’s livestock and have enough natural resources to produce very large crops. Increased output of quality products from these areas can be a threat or opportunity, depending on how you see it.
As farming methods improved over the past hundred years, we saw a period in which farming came to be seen as a relatively comfortable ‘way of life’. Now, thanks to rising costs that have made food production a highly expensive undertaking, farming has become one of the toughest businesses around.
While children of farmers often want to become farmers themselves, there are now so many uncertainties that many parents wonder whether farming offers a secure future for their children – and if there’s a place for all of them on the family farm.
Too often parents have retired and moved off the farm to make way for the next generation before being ready to do so, financially or emotionally. In some cases, it is better for the son or daughter to choose another career and, ideally, earn good money elsewhere before taking over the farm.
The question of whether to farm or not can best be answered by looking at the reasons young people choose other professions. Research has shown, for example, that children from poor farming households often dream of escape; they don’t want to struggle the way their parents did.
Those who are determined to farm find that it is almost impossible to kick-start a successful farming career without financial help from either parents or the state.
Farmers are probably born, not made, although some unlikely candidates have been successful after having been thrown in at the deep end.
Prospective farmers need to be sure that farming really is what they want to do. Then they should go out and get appropriately trained, make sure they have enough financial savvy to balance the books and grow the business, and develop a clear plan to meet the challenges – both known and unknown.
Then, the sky is the limit for the future of farming.
This article was originally published in the 10 June 2016 issue of Farmers Weekly.
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