A new endangered species
Low incomes from farming, high land prices and restrictive council regulations are leading to an exodus from the industry by retiring farmers unable to pass their business on to a younger generation.
That’s according to farmers such as Col Brooks, president of the Tweed Rural Industries Association and Byangum farmer Mike Yarrow who this week appealed to Tweed Shire councillors to modify a ban of subdividing rural land below 40 hectare lots.
They say the ban is preventing young specialist ‘niche’ farmers who need smaller acreages from establishing in the Tweed and blocks older farmers from staying in their traditional homes while someone else, such as a son, continues farming.
“If there was a future, where are the young people?” asked Mr Brooks who says he had been forced to supplement his farm income by driving school buses.
Mr Brooks who has an 84-hectare property near Murwillumbah, capable of running 70 breeder cattle and bringing in “around $12,000 a year” said the land was recently valued at $1.6 million.
At that rate of return he said investors were not interested in farming and aging farmers were tempted to sell out.
“Farmers are being treated like dirt,” he said. “We have got a lot of farmers in this district now who are reaching retirement age.”
Mr Brooks said the only way their children could take over the farms was if the land was gifted to them or sold at a low price – with both options resulting in severe penalties preventing the farmer claiming reasonable social security payments.
“If a farmer wants to stay on his farm he should be entitled to title a small area around his house,” Mr Brooks said. But that was impossible under the council’s ban on subdividing rural land into lots less than 40ha.
At the same time niche farmers seeking five, ten or 20 hectares could not buy suitable land because they neither needed nor could afford 40ha. The option of niche farmers leasing an area of land from existing farmers he said was also impractical because “you can’t borrow against lease land”.
“You’ve got to have title before you can borrow money to invest in whatever you want to do,” Mr Brooks said.