Farm Gap-year Welcomes Its Biggest Crop Of Participants

The National Farmers’ Federation’s flagship gap-year program AgCAREERSTART has hit a milestone, with 80 participants now on-farm for 2024 and the program boasting an 83% retention rate of graduates staying on in the agriculture industry.

Despite the positive outcomes, the NFF is calling on the Federal Government to commit to the program in the May Budget as funding beyond 2025 has not been confirmed.

Daniel and Duke’s on-farm gap year

When Sydney-sider Daniel Gierek attended the Western Sydney Careers Expo last year, he never anticipated he’d find himself working on a macadamia farm near Maryborough, QLD. But after stumbling across the AgCAREERSTART gap-year program, he decided to apply alongside his best mate, Duke Richardson.

“We weren’t necessarily looking to work in agriculture, we just knew that we wanted to take a gap-year before uni,” Duke said. “I had heard about other gap-year programs, but this one caught my eye because it looked like it would open more doors, with networking and education opportunities.”

Daniel and Duke are fortunate to have been placed with the same employer, corporate Rural Funds Management, where they say they’re thriving.

“I’ve loved every second of it. I’ve learned a lot so far and met so many new people. Once I got used to the early days and the humid weather, I really felt at home here in Maryborough and I’m starting to love the farming lifestyle,” Daniel said.

“I never realised how much I would love working outdoors, and everyone in our community has made us feel very welcome.”

A host farmer’s perspective

Mungindi farmer, Sam Heagney, is now in his third year as an employer with the program, having hosted four AgCAREERSTART participants.

“It’s been great for us as a gateway to welcoming more young people into our business. They’re green, which certainly comes with its challenges, but overall, it’s been a really worthwhile experience. It’s rewarding to see them develop over their time on farm, and we’ve been fortunate to retain one of our participants beyond the end of her placement last year.”

Sam’s 15,000 hectare broadacre property employs about 14 staff, and he’s proud the average age of his employees is under 30. Originally from Melbourne himself, he believes strongly that industry has an obligation to create better pathways into agriculture.

“We have to. We historically haven’t been very good as an industry at helping young people get into agriculture, and programs like this are critical.”

Agriculture’s success story

The AgCAREERSTART gap-year program, now in its third year, has seen 180 young Australians take up posts on farms across the country. Run by the National Farmers’ Federation, the program has welcomed a diverse range of new people to the industry, with 6% Aboriginal participation, and 64% female participation.

The program has been growing year-on-year across the pilot, placing 30 participants in 2022, 70 in 2023, and now 80 in 2024. Already, the Federally-funded program has seen some exciting results with 83% of graduates being retained in industry.

With the future funding of the program unclear, National Farmers’ Federation CEO, Tony Mahar, is keen to see the program continue.

“We know there is a demand to bring future farmers into the industry and the program’s success rate speaks for itself. What we really need now is for the Federal Government to commit to further funding in the budget to provide certainty and ensure the program’s future.”

For Duke and Daniel, they’re unsure where their future will take them, but their experience so far has already opened their minds.

“I think AgCAREERSTART has influenced my future career choices. Originally, I planned to become a speech pathologist, but now, I’m not so sure,” Duke said.

“Regardless of whether I decide to take up a career in agriculture, I believe my time in this program has increased my employability and work ethic, as well as making me feel more comfortable to take calculated career risks, such as trying new things and moving long distances for work.”

“We’re both keen to fully utilise our AgCAREERSTART bursary to undertake as much training as possible, attending industry events like FutureAG and Innovation Generation to see even more of the agriculture industry.”

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