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The Treechangers are coming!
The "Treechangers" are coming! *
By Wes Ward
Media Officer, Charles Sturt Univeristy
Australian rural communities can expect major changes in the next ten years, with nearly half of rural properties expected to change hands, according to research from Charles Sturt University. So how will this affect the ways rural people and communities live, breathe and work together?
The Australian rural property market can expect boom times over the next ten years, with nearly 50 per cent of properties predicted to change hands, says land management expert Professor Allan Curtis from Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) Institute for Land, Water and Society.
“This is double the turnover of last ten years, and does not appear to be diminishing,” Professor Curtis says.
“The process is already changing the face of many traditional farming districts. Often the new arrivals have different values and approaches to land management. Many new owners are not even living on their properties. These trends have major implications for rural communities.”
Why more farm sales?
Professor Curtis believes the most important factor driving the increased sale of farming properties is the currently ageing group of ‘baby boomer’ farmers.
“Some of the extra turnover will be due to the retirement or death of farmers in the ‘baby boomer’ generation – the average Australian farmer is currently aged 54 years and rising, and fewer farmers’ sons and daughters are taking over the farms,” he says.
“The current generation of rural property owners have lived for long periods in their local district, often around 35 years. This long average length of residency contributed to tightly knit social relationships and very stable community organisations. This is changing as property turnover increases.”
Another factor is the rapidly growing market for rural properties, particularly subdivided properties within 200 kilometres of major capital cities or one hour’s drive from the larger regional centres.
“Some people are moving from cities and looking for a more laid back, country lifestyle – the so-called ‘treechangers’. They are moving to attractive environments along the coast, major rivers and the mountains, and to towns with well-developed amenities and business opportunities,” Professor Curtis says.
“These treechangers are being joined by farmers wanting to control more land to expand their businesses, including interstate and overseas farmers. Some are also looking to ‘drought-proof’ their businesses by producing in different climatic zones. Others, including New Zealand dairy farmers, have recognised that Australian farms are cheap by world standards.”
Farming families living in isolated, hot and dry regions are also opting to live in larger regional cities rather on their properties. “They have greater expectations for their social lives, so some farmers are choosing to work their farms while living in town – the so-called ‘drive-in / drive-out’ phenomenon.”
These predictions and observations arise from eight major regional surveys conducted by a research team lead by Professor Curtis, which surveyed 8 000 property owners in eight major catchment areas in Queensland, NSW and Victoria since 2000.
So what does it mean?
Professor Curtis sees major changes in the way Australian rural communities work.
“The biggest change is that most new land owners are from outside the local district. They might be from a capital city or regional centre, or from interstate or from overseas, such as increasing number of New Zealand dairy farmers moving into the irrigation areas along the Goulburn and Murray Rivers in northern Victoria,” says Professor Curtis.
“Many of these new owners have different values, have less knowledge of farming and are more conservation minded. They also use different sources of information: they are less keen on farmer groups and agricultural extension officers, and get more from magazines and the Internet.
“There is also more absentee ownership. In one survey area – the Corangamite Catchment Management region in western Victoria – we found ten years ago that around 20 per cent of new landowners were absent during the week. This has now risen to 40 per cent.”
Professor Curtis has found these farmers are also changing local agricultural production, often turning to producing beef cattle as they require less maintenance and supervision than dairy cattle and wool and meat sheep. They are also interested in innovative industries, such as olives, viticulture or farm forestry.
Professor Curtis is concerned about some implications of these trends.
“Increased absentee ownership is likely to mean that there are fewer people committed or available to support community organisations. Most of these new owners, especially absentee owners, will have fewer ties to other locals and have less time to commit to local organisations, so volunteer bush fire brigades, Landcare groups, schools, hospitals, shops and sporting clubs all might suffer from falling and ageing memberships.”
Bushfire fighting and weed management also become greater concerns. “There will be fewer volunteers for local fire brigades and it is likely to become more difficult to control noxious weeds such as Patterson’s Curse.”
Professor Curtis also sees positive aspects in these trends, including how older farmers leave agriculture.
“With strong demand for rural property it will mean that older farmers can expect to exit farming with good prospects for a prosperous retirement. Indeed, in Victoria, rural property values have increased by 100 per cent in the past decade in most areas. This return on investment is as good as most residential housing,” Professor Curtis says.
“New people also bring new ideas and resources to rural communities. What we need is ways of making them feel part of the local community, such as establishing neighbourhood groups where longer term residents mix with new residents, including absentee owners.”
Author: Wes Ward, Media Officer, CSU
Telephone : 02 6051 9906
For more information, please visit CSU's website. Click here.
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