Lou Raiteri has been farming since he could crawl up onto the tractor. Now, the third-generation sugarcane grower is preparing to pass the farm to his own son, Gary. But sadly, the long-standing tradition of handing down the farm is on the wane.
The Raiteri family farm outside of Proserpine was founded by Lou’s grandfather, an Italian migrant who came to Queensland when the cane was still cut by hand. Farming’s the only profession Lou’s ever known - and the only one he’s ever desired.
In recent years, Lou has seen the industry battle to attract young people into the food-growing business. The lure of the mines, with their high wages and readily-available jobs has proven too strong. “The growers are getting older, and the younger growers just aren’t there,” he said. “We’re struggling to find the next generation.”
This year, the United Nations is drawing attention to the importance of intergenerational agriculture, nominating it as the International Year of Family Farming. By supporting small-scale family farms, it believes the world can win the fight for sustainable food security.
“Apart from producing a high proportion of the food we eat, family farmers are by far the biggest source of employment in the world,” said Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General José Graziano da Silva in a recent release.
In Australia there are programs which can help family farmers stay on the land. An example is Project Catalyst, a program designed to reduce agriculture’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef by reducing runoff, improving farming techniques and coordinating research, is also helping develop farming methods for the next generation. Jointly funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation, WWF and Reef Catchments, the program helps farmers invest in cutting-edge equipment.
“It’s excellent,” enthused Lou. “It’s given our thought patterns some food to work with, some new ideas, some things to try.”
Lou admits his father wouldn’t recognise many of the modern methods he uses on his farm. “He’d wonder whether we’d had a touch of the sun,” he laughed.
But, despite all the newfound efficiencies and technological feats, some things about farming remain totally unchanged.
“A lot of the young fellas, they’ve got farming bred in them,” explained Lou. “They can pick up a piece of ground when it’s ready to be worked, and smell it, and say that ground’s right. Unless you’ve got that in you, you might as well stay in the mines.”