North Eton cane farmer Joe Deguara loves the farming lifestyle and after a five-year stint as a diesel fitter at Hastings Deering has returned to full-time farming.
North Eton cane farmer Joe Deguara loves the farming lifestyle and after a five-year stint as a diesel fitter at Hastings Deering has returned to full-time farming. Peter Holt

Who will run the farms?

WITH all the 'young fellas' being lured to the mines for higher pay packets, who will be left to farm in Mackay?

The average age of an Australian cane farmer is 60 and many Mackay farmers have already reached, or passed, the age of retirement.

But due to difficult financial situations or a lack of interest from the younger generation, they are being forced to continue working or sell the family farm.

Farleigh cane farmer Bill Benson will celebrate his 78th birthday this year and is beginning to make plans for his retirement.

He has 60 years of farming experience and is still working on his 30 hectare cane property.

"I have three kids but none of them are interested in farming," he said.

"They are all educated and have other jobs."

Canegrowers Mackay chairman Paul Schembri acknowledged the ageing population of cane farmers was a serious issue for the sugar industry but said the Mackay area had a 'trickle' of younger people retuning to the industry.

"I don't want to downplay the issue but we have seen younger people come back...we have seen a trickle back, not a flood."

Joe Deguara is one of these farmers. The 27-year-old said he has been driving tractors 'since his feet could reach the pedals' and loved the farming lifestyle.

Despite his love of farming, he still chose to undertake a five-year stint at mining service company Hastings Deering.

"Growing up on the farm I already had knowledge of engines and machinery, so I did a diesel fitting trade," he said.

Although it was easy for Mr Deguara to step back into the sugar industry he admitted it could be difficult for young people who were keen for a future in farming to get started.

"It is difficult... especially with the price of land."

With new blood comes fresh ideas and Mr Deguara has big plans for the future.

"Like any industry the only way to stay competitive is to get bigger," he said.

"We want to get in the position where we can expand and buy more cane land."


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