Farming the knowledge and experience of older generations
Noel, Melissa with two of her children and Tux the dog.

A unique and award-winning program is helping farmers pass their hard-earned knowledge and experience down the line to the next generations.

Farming is in your blood – it’s all you have known. As a child you started with odd jobs as you learned the business from your parents until one day you ran a farm yourself. After a career on the land you have accumulated so much knowledge but now it is time to retire from the land and move to town. All that experience, all that knowledge will no longer be needed.

It’s a familiar farmers’ story. But this one has a different ending, thanks to This Farm Needs a Farmer founder and Kyneton local Melissa Connors, who took out the prestigious 2018 Victorian AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award in March.

The former Melbourne resident, with her family, embraced a tree-change to a hobby farm in Kyneton almost six years ago. But the move proved challenging and highlighted their lack of farming knowledge.

Enter local and retired farmer 78-year-old Noel Jenner. After meeting and befriending Noel, Melissa says the idea for This Farm Needs A Farmer was born.

These experienced farmers have accumulated so much knowledge and experience over a lifetime, and what a waste to just let that go, Melissa said.

This Farm Needs a Farmer is a platform for experienced farmers to pass that knowledge on to the next generation, because we need that knowledge.

Melissa said the program also enabled retired farmers living near farms to enjoy being back on farms, while imparting their knowledge. She also said that many retired farmers find the transition from farming into retirement difficult.

Being a farmer is the fabric of who they are, Melissa says.It’s not just a job, it’s their identity and when some farmers leave the farm due to retirement they feel lost and isolated and not needed anymore and they start to lose their confidence.

Noel’s wife Heather Jenner, 76, says that when her husband retired and they left the farm she started to notice that he was struggling and spending more and more time by himself in his shed.

Since coming on board This Farm Needs a Farmer I have noticed him getting his confidence back and he is so happy going to Melissa’s farm and passing on his knowledge – he feels needed, which of course he is.

Noel previously worked on his wife’s family’s 56-hectacre dairy farm in Gippsland. Although he does not miss rounding up cattle in the dark, moving off the farm and into town proved harder to maintain connections, leaving him feeling isolated.

I’d encourage other retired farmers to get on board with this project – it has really changed my retirement, Noel says.

I guess I was expecting to have to leave farm life behind. But being back on a farm and imparting my knowledge has reinvigorated everything about my life, and I have made great new friends.

To date around 500 people are on the Farmer Needs A Farmer database, of which 20 per cent are retired farmers.

Melissa says the goal of the project is to capture farmers as soon as they are semi-retired, retired or contemplating retirement.

Having this project to support them may help ease the transition and could also aid with succession planning, she says.