I’m a rich farmer

Back before the beginning of time, when Wayne told an acquaintance he was soon to marry a dairy farmer’s daughter, her response was, “Ker-ching! You’ve found the pot at the end of the rainbow there!”

She was a city-slicker who thought simply being farmers qualified our family as wealthy. There’s some truth in that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). In its feature on Australian farms and farmers, the ABS points out that:

“…the average weekly disposable income of farmers in 2009-10 ($568) was considerably lower than that of people working in other occupations ($921)…”

“While the reported income of farmers might have been relatively low, it is important to recognise that income is only one aspect of economic wellbeing. Wealth, in the form of bank accounts, shares, superannuation or property, is another important component, and can be drawn upon to smooth and support consumption over time, including during periods of low income. Indeed, wealth is particularly crucial for farming families given that farming income is often at the mercy of climatic conditions. The average equivalised net worth (taking into account both assets and liabilities) of farming households in 2009-10 was $1.3 million, much higher than the average across other households ($393,000). However, such high levels of wealth are not enjoyed by all farming households. In fact, 10% of farming households could be classified as having relatively low levels of wealth (i.e. in the lowest 40% of the wealth distribution). However, the bulk of farming households (71%) were in the top 20% of the wealth distribution. The high levels of wealth explain why, despite relatively low income, only a fraction (5%) of farming households are classified as having low economic resources, compared with a fifth (21%) of other households.”

One day, if my children decide not to become farmers and sell the place, all that wealth will come in handy! And while my postcode may not be prestigious, my home boasts a rather large backyard, unparalleled privacy and stunning views. But I have something even more priceless: a vocation, as the ABS explains.

“Farming as a vocation tends to be characterised by a high degree of self-employment and long working hours. In 2011, half (50%) of farmers worked 49 hours or more a week. Only 17% of other workers put in such long hours. More than half (56%) of Australia’s farmers were self-employed owner managers (compared with 15% of other workers), with a further 17% working as employees managing farms owned by someone else.”

“Although people who are self-employed generally work longer hours than others, this only goes part of the way to explaining the working hours of farmers. Even when comparing just among the self-employed, farmers were still much more likely to work long hours, with 56% farmers working 49 hours or more a week, compared with 30% of self-employed people in other occupations. This may in part reflect the nature of farm work which can necessitate tending to crops and animals at various times of the day and night.”

I think the last sentence is a little twee, don’t you? All sorts of people must attend to their work around the clock – firefighters, police, nurses, chefs, to name a few – but they share the workload with colleagues. The unvarnished truth is that because farm incomes are so low, few farmers can afford to employ enough help. That, my friend, is the downside of farming.

Still the upsides are pretty darned glorious and something a statistician could never hope to capture.

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