Toby Locke has always been passionate about supporting youth in agriculture. Growing up in Walcha, NSW on his family's beef and lamb property, Toby’s love for the industry grew with the knowledge that there were so many great opportunities available to young people just like him.
Although he had a very successful career in marketing and PR in the end Toby wanted to work in an industry he held so dear, which was why he decided to put his foot back in the agricultural door.
“For my sanity, I knew that I needed to work in an industry that I loved so I started asking around how I could take that step back into agriculture,” he said.
“In my eyes, nothing beats the people in agriculture – they are down to earth, hardworking and enjoy a yarn!”
Unbeknownst to him, a nice neighbourly chat over the fence lead Toby to Future Farmers Network board director Anna Speer. The conversation eventually got on to the topic about agriculture and where Toby wanted to go in life. Anna passed on his resume to the FFN board and as Toby says “ it was all guns blazing since then.’
As the now Executive Officer of the FFN, Toby’s passion for providing opportunities and services to support the future of Australian agriculture has been matched with the organisation, who have a network of more than 20,000 young aggies.
“It is vital we are supporting and encouraging young people to join the ag industry because they are the people that are feeding and clothing this hungry planet,” he said.
It is vital we are supporting and encouraging young people to join the ag industry because they are the people that are feeding and clothing this hungry planet.Toby Locke, Executive Officer of the Future Farmers Network
“Older farmers have a wealth of knowledge and experience, generally speaking they have ‘seen it all.’ It is important that this information is passed through generations but what we also need to remember is there is so much to be learnt from the younger generation of farmers. Young farmers are hungry for information and willing to adapt to the ever-changing market.”
The FFN is predominately run by volunteers and provides support for 18-35 year old agricultural professionals through education, bursaries, events, access to corporates and by simply providing a community of like-minded people. Toby is currently in the process of relocating form Sydney back to Tamworth, which will see the NFF being based regionally, and he hopes to help divide the gap between city and country.
“A goal of mine is to bridge the city/country gap and voice the growing opportunities throughout agriculture. It is so interesting to watch agriculture growing and changing with the times. We’ve seen pickup in niche markets such as different varieties of fruit and vegetables to cater for export markets,” he said.
“We’ve seen young cherry farmers incorporating tourism to boost profits whilst other young lamb/beef producers are adopting the paddock to plate concept through opening their own boutique butchers in Sydney. As part of this, no longer are we just farmers – there is jobs for marketers, sales reps, finance, science and technology, which is a completely different game compared to 15-20 years ago.”
In the various roles he has undertaken, in a wide variety of careers, Toby has seen many changes throughout his time and hopes to use this knowledge in his new role.
“The fact that ‘consumers are always right,’ whether you are in in retail, hospitality or ag, in this day and age it is ingrained into agribusiness more than ever,” he said.
“Growers have had a history of pushing food to the consumers and deciding what is put on our plates, however with the world growing smaller and smaller due to social media and the internet, growers must invest in ways to benefit consumers. Examples of this include a demand for healthier produce, organic lines, natural, paleo and paddock-to-plate. The producers who can talk to these trends are the ones who will succeed.
“In my short time in the industry I have watched consumer behaviours have an effect on Agriculture, however one in particular that stands out is the emerging Wagyu trend. Wagyu is a premium, high quality beef cut that has seen a popular demand domestically and abroad.
“In 2011, Wagyu joinings were at 90,000 – forecasts for 2020 were predicted at last years Wagyu Revolution Conference at 821,000. This equates to an 812 per cent increase over 9 years, no matter what the sector, I regard that as consumer behaviour driving an industry. To keep up with this consumer demand, producers must be willing to adapt which we need to see in our younger farmers.
“Young farmers are fortunate that they have grown up in this smaller environment however the challenge that lies ahead is to keep up with this market.”