By Liane Corocher, Hunter Valley. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual
Moving from a beautiful new home in close proximity to friends and shopping centres to a ‘renovators delight’ on a 20 km stretch of windy dirt road may seem crazy to some. However, this represents the start of the journey into farming that I am currently making with my husband and four young sons.
Over the last 15 years we built our dream home on a small property near Paterson, increased our family to six and started raising our own livestock for meat and milk in an attempt to satisfy the ferocious appetites of our growing boys.
We quickly realised that the experience of raising our own livestock, helping our boys to connect with their food and allowing them to grow up with plenty of space and fresh air was getting restricted by the small size of our property, the abundance of rocks in the soil (not a great medium for growing good pasture or vegetables) and the increasing pressure from surrounding development. We also found that other families wanted to experience the same thing and the demand for our produce and ‘lifestyle’ was exceeding what we could produce on our small property.
So we started thinking. Could we do this on a larger scale on a more productive farm? Could we take the risk of moving our boys to a new town, new schools and a new community? Could we leave the dream we had created over the last 15 years on our existing property and create a new dream and future for our boys in farming? Of course we could. But it would take a lot of hard work to get there.
I am not a huge risk-taker, so everything had to be researched and planned with all the risks listed and measures put in place to manage the risks. We also had some challenges to consider along the way—major back surgery for my husband, a child with special needs and the high cost of productive agricultural land!
Selling our property was the easy part—once I realised that confiscating the Lego and keeping the kids outside were the keys to a tidy house! The hard part was finding a farm within our price range that was productive, had future growth potential (or the ability to lease land nearby) and met our ever increasing list of criteria. We also wanted to make sure our adventure was shared by all of us, so we had to find a farm that our boys actually wanted to move to. And we finally found it.
I should have realised that we had found the right farm when we saw our boys stripping off to have a skinny dip in the river. Our eldest son Jesse was quick to point out that he didn’t join in (nudie swims with your family is not something a teenage boy wants to think about). However, we had a few other criteria to check off to make sure this new farm was the one:
- Located on a school bus route—important for our kids to meet other kids and give us extra time to work the farm.
- Located within a 60 minute drive from work—I love my job and the extra income would help in establishing the farm.
- Located within 90 minutes of a major city with access to TAFE and universities so our boys have options for further training and education.
- Good local schools with transition programs and special needs classrooms—to help kids who suffer anxiety to transition slowly and kids with special needs to get the support they need to learn and be happy.
- Water security—access to a water license, bore or substantial dams.
- Good soils—from experience, it can take years and lots of money to build good soils.
- A house (in whatever condition) overlooking the farm—to keep an eye on our boys driving tractors, riding motorbikes, etc…
- Fences and yards in fair condition—we wanted to be able to raise livestock immediately, even if only a small number.
- Immediate access to a large shed—this meant we could make the move gradually (this is due to having a husband who is a hoarder and can’t get rid of anything as ‘it may come in handy one day’).
- A stable river system higher in the catchment—so we can minimise any erosion or weed issues.
- Good community and farming networks—we place a high value on community and
to be honest, as new farmers, we need all the help we can get!
One aspect that made our move less stressful was the good relationship we had built with our agribusiness finance manager and accountant. A business loan is required to purchase any farm over 120 acres, which means a higher interest rate and shorter loan term. Having a good relationship meant we could discuss different finance scenarios, develop financial plans and structure the loan to meet both our immediate needs and future plans for the farm.
I won’t say it’s been easy. It sounds romantic, but spending hours in front of a computer doing budget forecasts, searching for documents you urgently need yet they were filed in a mystery location and dragging four children around farms hasn’t been fun. There have been times when it has been very stressful and we have doubted our decision.
We understand that this is just the start of our journey and that there will be many more challenges in the future associated with making a small farm profitable. However, keeping a positive outlook and our end goal in sight has helped drive us through the more difficult times. And, I will say, the picture of our boys swimming nudie in the river always puts a smile back on my face.