Why farming families need to focus on estate planning

Date: Jan 04, 2012

For many land owners, 2012 is set to be a bumper year - with a mix of good weather and ideal market conditions combining to provide a reasonably profitable season across the industry.

Small wonder then that a peak industry body - the National Farmer's Federation (NFF) has identified the next 12 months as the Australian Year of the Farmer.

According to NFF president Jock Laurie, 2012 is set to be one of the more positive years on record for the agricultural industry.

Laurie said: "The beginning of 2012 brings with it improved seasonal conditions across most of Australia, favourable commodity prices, a weakening Australian dollar and a forecast that the value of farm exports is expected to rise some six per cent."

The demand to feed and clothe an increasing number of domestic and international consumers was also discussed, with the implications for agricultural property owners and their families being made clear.

"World population growth will continue to expand to over nine billion by 2050, driving demand for both quality and quantity of food and fibre, as well as availability of arable land and water," said Laurie.

"The growth in the farm sector over the past 20 years has consistently outperformed other sectors, and was a key reason Australia avoided a recession during the global financial crisis."

However, 2012 will not be without some challenges, as the increasing competition between resource and mining projects begins to have an impact on the local employment markets.

This scenario has already begun to play out in Queensland, with sugar-cane farmers around Mackay finding it hard to hold on to valuable workers.

The higher wages and availability of positions means that younger generations have begun to drift towards the mining sector and away from agriculture.

As 78-year-old cane farmer Bill Benson told the Daily Mercury on January 4, even the children who grew up on established lots have decided to leave.

"I have three kids but none of them are interested in farming," said Henson.

Chairman of the local production association Canegrowers Mackay Paul Schembri echoed these concerns, noting that the average age of farmers in the district was pushing 60.

"I don't want to downplay the issue but we have seen younger people come back ... we have seen a trickle back, not a flood," said Schembri.

While property settlement agreements can be used to help plan ahead for a farm's future, the issue is that many children are simply not interested in the industry.

As Henson put it: "They are all educated and have other jobs."