Focus on next generation

THE new head of Tasmania’s peak farming body has set his sights on bringing younger farmers and the next generation into the fold.

Ian Sauer was elected president of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers’ Association at the recent AGM when Marcus McShane took on the acting CEO role.

A farmer with more than 40 years’ experience, Mr Sauer has an enthusiasm and passion for the sector that is infectious. He’s excited by the rapidly changing industry and the potential offered by new technology, products and methods.

However, as a farm veteran he also recognises that many next generation farmers have lost touch with the TFGA and for different reasons don’t engage or actively participate with the organisation. He said the key was finding new ways of engaging with the younger farmers.

“I mean it’s not rocket science, if we keep on engaging with the people that we’ve predominantly engaged with before in 10, 20 years they will be dead or retired,” he said.

“I think in the past life was much simpler and much easier and people could contribute more to any organisation, the value proposition was a lot easier for an organisation like the TFGA to spell out, now with the younger generation, I mean I think it’s harder to get that value proposition out there.

“We are in the process of developing a communications’ plan and part of that is what do the next generation or farmers want and how do they want it delivered. “Agriculture has changed, it’s fairly dynamic and high tech now.

“The younger farmers are not scared of new technology, they are not scared to try new things, their change management skills are just extraordinary, they just do it at a blink, where 50 years ago you had to see, taste, smell it then you’d look at someone else doing it, then you’d think about it for two years and then you might do something but now it’s just snap bang do it and they have a quick go.”

Mr Sauer said roles on the farm had also changed with increasing numbers of women driving agricultural businesses, which presented additional challenges for participation in the peak body.

“I mean the women are the mainstay of those businesses, they are making decisions about that farm, they are working outside, they are doing the books, they are doing just as much if not more than the male.

“So when we communicate with those guys, that’s a challenge, may be we have to provide childcare to get women to meetings, in all seriousness, we need to look at these things.”

Mr Sauer said while the TFGA’s member base remained steady, it was not unreasonable to suggest that for some primary producers its relevance had waned. He said this could partly be attributed to a growing workload that resulted in a reactionary rather than proactive and strategic approach.

“If you are going to tackle something head on, you’ve got to do it properly, professionally, you’ve got to get outside advice in to help you formulate the policy and the argument, so it’s huge.

“The current board of the TFGA has said it is going to become much more strategically focused. “Some small things will float by but we will grasp those much bigger issues, those issues that fit within our strategic plan so that we will hopefully end up getting more wins on the board.

“And that will mean that farmers will be more than happy to pay their subscription and be members.” Tapping into new and emerging issues is also seen as a key step to bolstering credibility and connecting with the next generation of farmers.

“If the TFGA wants to be at the forefront of advocacy and policy setting then it needs to be tapping into the people who have the absolute passion, experience and expertise in these new and emerging issues,” Mr Sauer said.

“And the next generation of farmers have shown that they have demonstrated experience and expertise in these issues such as the carbon market, climate variability, GM issues, pasture species, different grazing regimes, using satellite technology and remote sensing.

The TFGA has already taken steps to increase engagement in the dairy industry and plans to become more visible to farmers putting representatives on the ground at sales and events. “I guess that’s a bit of old fashioned advocacy,” Mr Sauer said.

“You’ll go to the Oatland sheep sale and you will know after a while that such and such from the TFGA is going to be there and you can say right there’s your problem.

“People will see TFGA as the go-to organisation, it will be the professional organisation, they’ll know that the stuff that they are doing is backed up with a high degree of rigour and science, so that when we start talking about issues fuel price labour supply chain issues and start talking around policy people will listen to us because they will have a degree of confidence.”