Research shows hope for ex-farmers

Research into Victorians forced out of farming by the drought has found many succeed in transition to new employment through local job networks.

Victoria University Centre for Strategic Economic Studies researcher Dr Anthony Kent has interviewed nearly 20 ex-farmers from the Sunraysia, Wimmera, Murray Valley and Corangamite districts about life after farming and the challenge of building a new career.

Dr Kent said the effects of the drought – which ended late 2010 ­–­ continue to effect farming communities across the state, but that many ex-farmers had made the most of changing circumstances.

"This project has uncovered a huge amount of resilience in how these farmers have redefined themselves as mechanics, fencers, truck drivers or tradies since exiting their farms," Dr Kent said.

"Once more, many of them report that they are happy with their new lives, so it seems the life of our ex-farmers is not all doom and gloom."

Many who found new work did so through informal local employment networks, rather than formal employment services. Almost none of them have used formal re-skilling or returned to study.

"This shows the resilience of local communities able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get on with it.  It also challenges the notion of the decline of regional communities because it shows that they still hold a great deal of social capital," he said.

Dr Kent recently spoke about the study on ABC Rural radio.

He also said the question the study still had to answer was how sustainable these career moves prove to be in coming years, particularly considering the lack of formal re-skilling.

"We will continue to follow the progress of those exiting farming but it appears largely things aren't as disastrous as many of us had feared with the collapse of farming communities and no future for ex-farmers," he said. "Paradoxically there are now some labour shortages in regional areas where things are beginning to pick up a bit."

The longitudinal study is continuing and Dr Kent will speak with more people in the regions of Sunraysia, Wimmera, Murray Valley and Corangamite who have left farming.

"It's vital that we understand exactly what is happening to our farming sector and the people who make it: it's important on so many levels, from the individual to the family, community and the nation as a whole."

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