Farming is all about the management of five key elements — land, water, equipment, capital and people.
Business strategies are based on creating the best return on all these resources and, more often than not, it’s the availability of water that drives farming decisions, according to one Nuffield scholar.
After expansion in his family operation and helping to restructure their farm management, Daniel Kahl, a mixed farmer from Wee Waa in north-west NSW, set out to explore the limitations around the fifth element — people.
Supported by Cotton Research and Development Corporation and Cotton Australia, Mr Kahl received a 2017 Nuffield Scholarship to examine the ‘missing middle’, a term highlighting the gap in middle management to support both decision-making and practice change on the land.
‘‘I wanted to understand how the many existing programs around the world attract, upskill and retain talent in agriculture and, in turn, how these programs create a clear pathway that engages the next generation of farmers, setting them on their way to a long-term career in agriculture,’’ Mr Kahl said.
One of his report’s key recommendations highlights the need to increase exposure to agriculture in primary schools.
‘‘School children dream of being astronauts, firemen and rock stars because these are the careers they are exposed to at a young age that promise excitement and stimulation,’’ he said.
‘‘Our industry needs to reach children early through curriculum-based initiatives in order to expose them to the possibility of an exciting career in agriculture, something most kids wouldn’t consider if they weren’t from the land.’’
Mr Kahl said as technology became more pervasive on-farm, the future would lie in ‘thinking’ jobs as well as the traditional farming skill set.
‘‘Future farm managers need a broad range of skills to be successful, however, many won’t have the time or capability to undertake full degrees or courses in areas such as finance, business management or human resources.
‘‘I discovered some great examples of educational providers that are offering shorter, more specialised courses for farm managers ... The program requires farm managers to attend a number of short courses to upskill themselves in business management and financial planning in an applied manner and as often as possible on the farms where they are employed.’’
What Mr Kahl ultimately discovered was not that the programs don’t exist to build human capital within agriculture, but these programs needed to be better aligned to create a clear pathway to a career in agriculture.