This article first appeared in The Land.
THIS year’s feature exhibitor at the Australian National Field Days was the Department of Primary Industries. On ANFD’s opening day a new era for DPI was launched, a website purely directed at young farmers.
It came about after earlier this year, the NSW DPI approached young farmer and ag-entrepreneur, Airlie Landale with a bold offer.
The department wanted to build website for young farmers and fishers to help with business skills.
Program coordinator Alexandra Hicks knew young farmers wanted an online hub that had to be simple, but she didn’t want to recreate the wheel, so she turned to Ms Landale, who founded the Farm Table website.
“Working with Farm Table just made sense,” said Ms Hicks. “The need for a one-stop-shop website for business information and resources emerged as a result of a survey conducted by the Young Farmer Business Program in 2017,” she said.
“The survey also highlighted Farm Table as a recognised source of information for young farmers and fishers, so the Young Farmer Business Program saw an opportunity to collaborate.”
Based on a mixed farm near Deniliquin, Airlie Landale said she was humbled to be approached by the Young Farmer Business Project working group, which is a joint initiative between NSW DPI and NSW Farmers.
“It was a great honour. Also, having a government department keen to work together with a farmer-led startup, rather ‘doing it on their own’ was honestly a little bit of a surprise and an innovative move for the DPI.
“It’s incredibly significant that the government chose to work with me and Farm Table for two key reasons. The first is that it signifies that they are sincere about working collaboratively with private organisations to make real change. But secondly and more personally, in a sense it legitimises what I am trying to do with the Farm Table,” said Ms Landale.
The hub brings together events, business templates and tools, grants and videos, all targeting the next generation. “Farm Table is proud to have built and host the Young Farmer Business Program hub within our platform and look forward to watching it grow and develop,” she said.
A four-year initiative, the program aims to build financial and business acumen amongst young farmers. The program is working to create resources and deliver workshops across NSW that increase skills and capacity.
“Everywhere we go, we are getting heaps of young farmers and fishers showing up,” said Ms Hicks.
“They are hungry for business knowledge. It’s our job to make it straightforward, accessible and interesting. We can’t afford to be boring”.
The program is organising workshops in the lead up to Christmas.
SITTING quietly amid strolling onlookers, his staff and an historical showcase of engagement with farmers, Primary Industries Department director general Scott Hansen seemed pretty pleased with himself.
Even the department’s staff were staggered at the breadth of what was on show at the Australian National Field Days. Formed in 1890, DPI’s initial task was to work out what was needed so NSW could feed itself.
“Food security issues in the colony were still huge,” said Mr Hansen.
“The job really hasn’t changed that much when you consider the current drought we’re in.
“When we agreed to be the feature exhibitor at the field days, you’ve got to remember we were coming off the back of a record wheat crop, record cattle prices,” he said. It was the patchy and scarce nature of rain since winter 2016 that had department heads wondering whether they should retreat from the committment.
“We asked farmers about it and they indicated they wanted to see our presence,” Mr Hansen said.
That such consultation could be made quickly and with confidence was largely thanks to the foresight of former Agriculture Minister Ian Armstrong 26 years ago, when he set a cat amongst the pigeons and removed DPI from Sydney.
“Really, it’s achieved what Mr Armstrong set out to achieve, we have people making policy decisions living in the communities affected by those decisions,” said Mr Hansen. “It was an inspired and courageous move.” Mr Hansen said DPI considers it has a competitive advantage to recruiting people, offering a lifestyle not comparable with the city. “The entire region is benefitting from DPI’s presence.”