DESPITE the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reporting this week that there was 19,700 fewer people farming in 2011 than in 2006 and that an average of 294 farmers were lost every month during the past 30 years, farmers are fighting back, trying to turn their industry and its image around.
The Year of the Farmer, aimed at closing the divide between city and country, wrapped up with a celebration of its achievement recently in Sydney.
And a group of enthusiastic young agribusiness professionals right here in Melbourne are doing their best to spread the good word about Aussie agriculture.
AgNext was developed by Australian Fodder Industry Association industry development manager Caitlin Scholfield and Redhanded Creative account manager Belinda Bassingthwaighte.
Ms Scholfield said working in an industry with a mainly older workforce, professional isolation from others her own age encouraged her to begin the group.
"We held our first function in a pub in the Melbourne CBD at the start of 2009, and 10 or 12 people came along," she said.
"There was a lot of energy and positivity at that event which encouraged us to keep going."
With four functions held this year, Ms Scholfield said the support had been overwhelming ever since.
"The aim was to build linkages and share knowledge between young people working in professional agribusiness based in Melbourne," she said.
"We have received more and more ongoing support, with many old faces returning and new faces popping up every time we have an event."
The group's most recent event was held at the Victorian Farmers Federation's (VFF) headquarters and sponsored by the VFF's Young Agribusiness Professionals (YAPS) group.
With drinks and nibbles about 30 young Melbournites with varying jobs in agriculture caught up and heard from two of the industry's high-achievers.
RASV president Ben White and Rimfire Resources' Nigel Crawley spoke about their career paths and the future of agriculture in Victoria.
Mr White, who had a career in the army before turning to agribusiness, said it was important for the industry to highlight possible pathways into agriculture that weren't on-farm. "We need to position the industry as strong and robust, and be seen as people with passion and drive," he said.
"People have an emotion connectivity to what they do as farmers – they care, their not just doing business."
Speaking on the labour shortage, which is often put down to the attraction of high salaries in the mining industry, Mr White said "food is forever, while mining is boom or bust".
"Mining is clinical, not emotional, but it does tell us if you have investment and you spend it wisely, you can do anything," he said.
Mr White also told the group that there was often too much fragmentation in agriculture, and individuals needed to work together – especially when it came to the next generation.
"The generation before needs to respect the generation coming through and empower them," he said.
"There is often too much whinging in agriculture, and sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut and work as a team."
Mr Crawley, who works at recruiting people in agriculture, also spoke on industry pathways and said while education was part of what made you successful, it was not the only answer.
"You meet a lot of interesting people in agriculture and there is always something you can learn," he said.
Working at getting people involved in agriculture, Mr Crawley said the industry had to be careful to not create an "us and them" mentality.
"We need to encourage people to come and have a look at agriculture and see if they like it – it doesn't have to be life," he said.
ABS also reported this week that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that food production around the world will need to increase by 70 per cent by 2050, with much of the demand coming from our own region.
AgNext is just one way young people in agriculture are making sure Australia is ready.