Young farmers keen, but there're doubts

Mr Leon Hay, business director of Hay Dairies, Singapore's only goat farm, says he is willing to plunge his retirement savings into moving the farm, come 2019, if there is a future for the industry. Jurong Frog Farm director Chelsea Wan showing off a
Jurong Frog Farm director Chelsea Wan showing off an American bullfrog. The 32-year-old NUS graduate says she might consider leaving the farming business, as there is too much uncertainty in the agricultural sector in Singapore.PHOTOS: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Mr Leon Hay, business director of Hay Dairies, Singapore's only goat farm, says he is willing to plunge his retirement savings into moving the farm, come 2019, if there is a future for the industry. Jurong Frog Farm director Chelsea Wan showing off a
Mr Leon Hay, business director of Hay Dairies, Singapore's only goat farm, says he is willing to plunge his retirement savings into moving the farm, come 2019, if there is a future for the industry. PHOTOS: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

They are young, without a tan and business savvy: Meet the second-generation farmers of today who are redefining what it means to be farmers by looking beyond simply raising livestock.

But despite their passion and innovation, farmers like Jurong Frog Farm's "frog princess" Chelsea Wan may eventually have to trade their wellingtons for more office-appropriate footwear.

The Jurong Frog Farm is one of the 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang which will have to clear out by 2019.

Although the farm's 32-year-old director hopes to continue her father's legacy, she says there is still too much uncertainty about the future of the agricultural sector.

"Even if we manage to secure another plot of land then, what will happen 20 years later? By that time, I will be 56 and structurally unemployed. Who would hire me then? " asked the National University of Singapore graduate.

This is not for the lack of trying, though. Young farmers like Ms Wan are often on the lookout for ways to boost productivity, such as through automation, for example.

They are also injecting a breath of fresh air into the sector by trying out new products and concepts, such as farm tours, to draw the crowds to Singapore's rustic countryside in the north-west.

Ms Wan, for instance, considered how the entire frog - instead of just the legs, a la frog leg porridge - could be consumed. Her answer: hashima, essentially the oviducts of adult female frogs. Some people are willing to pay up to $105 per tael (50g) for it.

At the neighbouring Hay Dairies, business director Leon Hay, 38, sells not only goat's milk, but also the chance to see live goats by taking groups on farm tours. Hay Dairies, Singapore's only goat farm, is also affected by the 2019 deadline.

Still, all the young farmers' efforts at diversification and innovation may come to naught if farms are forced to move every 20 years - a costly affair.

On whether he would bid for the new farm plots come 2019, Mr Hay told The Sunday Times: "I am willing to use my retirement savings for the move, if there is a future for the industry."

Audrey Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'Young farmers keen, but there're doubts'. Print Edition | Subscribe