Passion, environment and lifestyle lures young land stewards

The future is bright for the Deguara family, a Mackay Whitsunday sugar cane family who not only works the land, but has expansion of their operations on the cards with a strong focus on improving the environment.

Sugarcane grower Gerry Deguara heavily involves his two sons, Sam and Joe, in his farming operations. Based in the Reef Catchments area of Mackay Whitsunday, Gerry says a key ingredient to keeping younger growers interested in being land stewards is to offer a bit more of a challenge. Environmental issues certainly makes this possible with a great effort into improving their soil, irrigation, chemical and nutrient to improve water quality through their participation on ‘Project Catalyst’, a project with partners including NRM groups Reef Catchments, NQ Dry Tropics, Terrain in addition to the Coca-Cola Foundation, WWF and the Australian Government through the Caring for our Country’s Reef Rescue program.

Left to Right: Joe, Gerry and Sam Deguaras

Gerry’s sons play a vital role in the operations of their farm and Gerry says they are successful at farming because his kids are part of the decision making process which helps them to take ownership of not only the land, but the operations towards their farm expansion.

Gerry said, “I never tried to make them stay on the farm, but it’s something they have done all their lives. Sam has wanted to be a farmer since he was one year old and Joe came back onto the farm after he had a few years with a trade diesel fitter and in the mines.”

All three Deguaras are part of Project Catalyst. Sam Deguara said, “Project Catalyst is looking towards the future and its always good to have young farmers involved. We’ll get more benefit from the project in the longer term.” Sam said a key to engaging young farmers like him was that you need to have the passion for it. “You don’t go into farming for the money aspect, but for the lifestyle. I couldn’t do a 9-5 job. I’d get bored. I’m more hands on and like the freedom of working on the land.”

For Joe Deguara, the lure of coming back onto the farm was that he enjoyed the people, the industry and the work. “From a family point of view, I loved growing up on the farm. It’s what I’m passionate about. The biggest thing I like is working for yourself and being able to expand and get ahead a bit.

Joe said Project Catalyst was a positive incentive, as “we are surrounded by different positive ideas and the people involved are a good bunch.” Pessimism can be rife in some quarters of the sugar industry, so the Deguaras ensure they keep a positive approach and find like-minded people to engage with.

One aspect to engaging young land stewards like Sam and Joe is the cost of living. Joe also belongs to the Young Farmers Group, who he says are all those involved in this group are keen to work on the land. “A lot of my mates would love to be farming full time if they could. Most of them have full time jobs and work on the farms when they can. It comes down to finances. They are saving like mad to be able to buy their farms and ensure their future.”

The Deguaras feel strongly that it is a matter of passion and attitude which engages land stewards. Joe said, “Dad always told us to get stuck into it.” Interestingly, it’s not just the sons who are keen. Joe added, ‘With Sam and I here on the farm, I think it keeps dad keen too.”