Sisters sowing success in agribusiness

The death of interest in staying on the nation’s farms by young Australians has been greatly exaggerated.

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Just ask Virginia and Olivia Gleeson.

"It’s the passion of younger Australians like Olivia and Virginia that will be the backbone of innovation as the agriculture sector grows.”

The sisters grew up on a cereal cropping and sheep farm near Manangatang, a town of just under 300 people in north-western Victoria, perhaps best known for its local footy club and annual country horse race day.

Olivia, the older of the sisters, first left the farm to study psychology at Melbourne University. It was on trips home back to the family farm she realised how much she missed the land.

“I didn’t study agriculture from the outset, I naively didn’t realise how many opportunities there were outside of being a farmer. It was after I saw family friends working as agri grads at other banks and having a great experience with agri that I decided to do it,” she says.

Olivia switched to a masters in agribusiness and the rest is history. She went through the ANZ Agribusiness Graduate Program and has worked in the agri team for seven years.

Her younger sister Virginia was similarly interested in striking out and studied law at Monash. It was while working at a regional law firm during her studies Virginia realised she wanted to take a similar path to Olivia.

“I love the work I’m in, I build strong relationships with customers and I get great opportunities to have interactions with farmers, go out on farms and see what they grow, what they do – it is not something I got to do as a lawyer,” Virginia says.

Agriculture is one of the most significant industries in Australia with national exports expanding by $111.5 billion in the last decade alone. But like any industry, it is changing.

The average Australian farmer is now 50 years old, with only a quarter of Australia’s agricultural workforce under 35 years of age.

Emerging technology

The good news is, while small, the percentage of agri workers under the age of 35 is increasing. The percentage of young people in agriculture increased in the latest census to 25 per cent – up from 24 per cent in 2016. The overall agricultural workforce rose 4.7 percent in the five years 2021.

It’s the passion of younger Australians like Olivia and Virginia that will be the backbone of innovation as the agriculture sector grows. Agribusiness in Australia has become a much broader proposition, including the emergence of technology.

For ANZ, this is a great opportunity for growth. But to succeed will require the skills of a younger generation with a passion for agriculture and for fostering the next generation of agribusiness in Australia.

Virginia says there are plenty of young people wanting to break into the sector.

“I’m very passionate about educating kids about where their food and clothes come from and for them to develop a passion for agriculture,” Olivia says.

Now in its 15th year, ANZ’s Agribusiness Graduate Program helps foster that next generation of young people on the land.

I have been involved in running the program since its inception and I love to see the graduates – most of whom have a farming background – engage their passion for the industry and the land. This year’s group kicked off their rotations through the program this month.

During the 18-month program, the graduates work with farmers, relationship managers and business owners to understand the challenges and opportunities that face three different agricultural sectors, in three different regions, across ANZ’s regional Australian business centres.

Some people come from sheep farming and end up fishing in South Australia out of Port Lincoln. It exposes them to parts of the industry they’re not necessarily aware of as well as understanding the unique opportunities and challenges of each industry.

For example, Virginia is 12-months into the program and is currently based in Toowoomba.  Her first placement was in Leongatha in Victoria and her last will be in Adelaide.

Career fulfillment

The sisters say the agri sector provide career fulfillment and a great lifestyle.

“We have the best of both, going home keeps us grounded and feels like real life,” Virginia says.

A younger workforce means more consolidation of smaller family farms into larger properties. This changing structure of property ownership also means there are more entry level positions as well – even for those who did not grow up on the land.

Within eight years up to 40 per cent of farms will remain as “single generation” family run enterprises, 30 per cent will be purchased by the neighbour, 15 per cent will be passed on within the family and another 15 per cent will be sold to outside investors, according to ANZ’s Greener Pastures 2 report.

“The grad program forces you to adapt and love change, you’re thrown into a new town and get on with it. You learn to come out of your shell, integrate into the community and make the most of your time,” Olivia says

While both sisters are tied to corporate life – they love the regions. “We love going home. The best part of the year is going home to the farm,” Virginia says.

At ANZ we know the next generation of people and technology will bring innovation and excitement to the agriculture industry.

That’s important as new thinking and ideas will be critical for agriculture’s development.

It’s really exciting to see the next generation coming back to the farm.

When they return, many realise their love for the land and the family business and that’s exciting for Australian agriculture.

Stephen Radeski is State Agribusiness Manager at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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