Wimmera Farmer presents a monthly feature that profiles young people in agriculture and looks at what drove them to a life on the land
MURTOA district farmer Thomas McGrath believes there are many options for young farmers to have a career, they just have to think outside the box.
Thomas, 25, said farmers have to embrace changes in technology and traditional agriculture operations.
The fourth generation farmer has spent time shearing in England and is also on the state government’s Young Farmers Ministerial Advisory Council.
When Thomas finished school in 2008, there were a few options available to him
“The family farm was always there, but I thought I would try some trades – I tried being a plasterer and I worked in a bike shop in Horsham for a bit,” he said.
“I then did roustabouting and wool handling and I continued with that as a career, doing seasonal shearing and working on the family farm.”
Thomas, along with his father Shane and brother Jae, sowed 4000 acres this year with wheat, barley and lentils.
They also run sheep.
Thomas didn’t want to shear at first.
“I was happy doing roustabouting and wool handing, but then I tried crutching and I was alright at it,” he said.
“Then I was encouraged to have a go on the handpiece.”
He told his family and friends that once he could shear 100 sheep, he would stop.
“Once I was able to shear that many, the money was an attraction and it was easy to find work,” he said.
“There is a skill shortage in shearing and I’ve always been able to find a job.”
In 2013, Thomas spent about three months in England and shore more than 13,500 sheep.
He said he found the job online, decided to apply and within 15 minutes he had secure a position on the other side of the world.
“I lived with a family over there, which made me feel more at home,” he said.
Thomas said the biggest difference between shearing in Australia and the UK was the sheds.
“A lot of the jobs were not in a shearing shed, they were just out in the paddock,” he said.
“It was a full on shearing season.”
Thomas said he would encourage other young people to travel.
“The experience you get from seeing different parts of the world is great – you can learn something new from anyone,” he said.
LAST year the state government put together a Young Farmers Ministerial Advisory Council.
The council’s aim is to advise the government how to attract and retain the next generation of farmers.
Thomas said the council was working with two key messages – social and economic.
“The social aspect is about having a sense of community and reducing the isolation often felt by farmers,” he said.
“The economic side is about being better business-minded farmers and managing the volatile market.”
Thomas said young farmers shouldn’t be concerned about acquiring land.
“It shouldn’t be high on the agenda – it’s a great goal but it is often unattainable, so it isn’t advantageous to be chasing that,” he said.
“There is no reason why you can’t work on a large farm, lease land or share farm.
“We need to start looking at other ways of farming.”
Thomas said more and more people were moving to towns and rural cities and commuting out to farms.
“Commuting 20 or 30 minutes to the farm base is not as time consuming as it used to be and living in a town can improve your work-life balance,” he said.
“People are prepared to commute and that’s just the way things are heading so we need to embrace that.”
Thomas believes the best thing about being a farmer is seeing the crops flourish.
“When the crops start coming up and you know you have done everything correctly, or when you are sitting on the header in full crop – it’s the most fulfilling part of farming,” he said.
“You put your whole year into trying to get your crops profitable and when they are, it’s the best part of farming.”
IN 2014, Thomas bought 320 acres of his own land.
He hopes in the future he can continue working that land on his own and possibly build it up.
“I’m not land crazy, but it’s good to have goals,” he said.