Loddon Shire Council will contribute $30,000 over three years to the Birchip Cropping Group Young Farmer Network despite one councillor's concerns the shire's farmers may not participate.
At its April 2022 council forum, councillors received a presentation of the Young Farmer Network proposal from the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG).
The group is a not-for-profit agricultural organisation led by farmers from the Wimmera, Mallee and North Central regions of Victoria with an aim to improve the prosperity of farmers and agricultural communities through farmer-driven activities.
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The Young Farmer Network program provides opportunities for young famers aged under 35 years to learn together, create and strengthen professional networks as well as build social fabric within rural communities.
The project has engaged nearly 500 growers in the Wimmera and Mallee, and BCG is looking to align with local government areas in future, ideally Buloke, Yarriambiack, Hindmarsh, Loddon, Gannawarra, Swan Hill City, Mildura City Council and West Wimmera councils.
It is hoped the program will enable young farmers in the Loddon Shire gain the skills, knowledge and experience to increase farm profitability and productivity.
Program activities include crop walks and farm tours both locally and more broadly, mentoring opportunities and on-farm trials.
This in turn is expected to provide flow-on benefits to broader shire economy.
However, in discussing the matter at last week's Loddon Shire Council meeting, Cr Wendy Murphy expressed her reservations about the return on council's proposed $30,000 investment.
"I'm certainly not downplaying the intent of the Young Farmer Network proposal or what it intends to do and certainly not downplaying the importance of agriculture in the Loddon Shire because it is pretty much the lifeblood of the shire," Cr Murphy said.
"But from the presentation I didn't get an indication of the buy-in from the Loddon Shire young farmers and whether we'd be spending of $10,000 each year with no uptake from our young farmers."
Cr Murphy said council's Economic Development strategy focused on bringing more intensive farming like piggeries and poultry to the shire.
It also mentioned few broadacre growers were relocating to the shire.
"Just existing operators aggregating, already established operators buying up land as people exit the farm," Cr Murphy said.
"It seems bigger corporates are buying up (the land) and put a manager on to manage the farm."
Cr Murphy questioned the return on the investment to the broader Loddon Shire and ratepayers.
"This is targeting one sector of farming - cropping," she said.
Shire executive and commercial services manager Lynne Habner said by agreeing to be part of the Young Farmer Network, it would be the test to see what the uptake would be.
"Birchip Cropping Group has said it works with a lot of of Loddon Shire farmers already and is involved in a lot of organisations and networks that Loddon Shire farmers belong to," she said.
"So it gave us a bit of confidence they would be able to to reach out to Loddon Shire young farmers and give them the opportunity to take it up.
"But until it's it's out there, we won't know."
Cr Neil Beattie said BCG was a really well run organisation and was happy to support the concept.
Cr Linda Jungwirth agreed, but recognised Cr Murphy had raised some really good points.
"I can see a return on investment because it ties in with the work being done by Loddon Healthy Minds with the connection between farmers and working together," Cr Jungwirth said.
"I think there will be a lot of environmental benefits and it will be a good support for our farmers.
"And it's a matter of testing it. I can see some really good benefits come out of it."
Council resolved to contribute $10,000 per year for three years to the proposal to be funded from its Economic Development budget.
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