Cultivating the next gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers

Sam Mar­wood, Tim Hicks and Te­gan Hicks hope to ful­fil the dreams as­pir­ing farm­ers around Aus­tralia

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAR­RAH LOH jloh@ ne­me­dia.com.au

THE Wan­garatta branch of the Vic­to­rian Farm­ers Fed­er­a­tion re­cently amal­ga­mated with the Moyhu branch.

Wan­garatta and Dis­trict VFF pres­i­dent Greg Mirabella said the rea­son be­hind the merger is in­dica­tive of the prob­lems agri­cul­ture is fac­ing across the coun­try.

“The VFF has the same prob­lem that a lot of vol­un­teer or­gan­i­sa­tions like the CFA and CWA have,” he said.

“Younger peo­ple just aren’t join­ing and the mem­ber­ship is ag­ing.”

Last month, the new-look Wan­garatta branch hosted Sam Mar­wood from Cul­ti­vate Farms, who spe­cialises in this very prob­lem – help­ing young peo­ple buy their first farm and join­ing them to the agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity.

Mr Mirabella said Cul­ti­vate Farms are at­tempt­ing to ad­dress the gap­ing prob­lem of the ag­ing farm­ing com­mu­nity.

“A lot of older peo­ple on farms haven’t got kids to pass the farm onto any­more,” said Mr Mirabella.

“And Cul­ti­vate Farms are try­ing to get com­mu­ni­ties to­gether to put young peo­ple on farms in a dif­fer­ent way.”

“Sam spoke well and there was a big au­di­ence – cer­tainly a larger crowd than usual,” said Mr Mirabella.

“Ev­ery­one said it was re­ally in­ter­est­ing and is an is­sue that has been build­ing for decades.”

Sam Mar­wood, who grew up on a dairy farm north of Bendigo, knows first­hand how hard it can be.

“We know it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for any young per­son to be­come a farmer these days,” said Mr Mar­wood.

“Un­less you in­herit a for­tune, or a farm, then it’s im­pos­si­ble.”

But he be­lieves Cul­ti­vate Farms have found a busi­ness so­lu­tion that is a world first.

“Our busi­ness model is based on match-mak­ing,” he said.

“We con­nect young farm­ers with re­tir­ing farm­ers, and then con­nect them with in­vestors.”

He said the model ben­e­fits all par­ties.

“We know that there are young peo­ple that would be farm­ers to­mor­row but just don’t have the money,” he said.

“There are re­tir­ing farm­ers with no one to take over their role.

“And there are in­vestors look­ing for an es­tab­lished farm that will con­tinue to an­other gen­er­a­tion.”

Mr Mar­wood came to the Wan­garatta VFF look­ing for es­tab­lished lo­cal farm­ers.

“We have many in­vestors and as­pir­ing young peo­ple, so now we want to talk to as many re­tir­ing farm­ers as pos­si­ble.”

Though there were a lot of ques­tions be­ing fielded, Mr Mar­wood said it wasn’t all smiles from the crowd at the VFF meet­ing.

“I had some good feed­back, es­pe­cially from the young farm­ers,” he said.

“But I no­ticed a lot of crossed arms and scowl­ing from the re­tir­ing farm­ers.”

Mr Mar­wood said he un­der­stands that it will be a long process to gain the trust of older farm­ers, but as­sures them he is there to help.

“I tried to ex­plain that it isn’t about my com­pany try­ing to take your farm – I’m happy for peo­ple to run with this on their own,” he said.

“It’s about find­ing a suc­ces­sion to your farm and legacy.”

He hopes it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore oth­ers realise the value in what his com­pany is of­fer­ing.

“Once their ac­coun­tants, lawyers and suc­ces­sion plan­ners start to speak on our be­half, they might trust us more.”

Mr Mar­wood started Cul­ti­vate Farms with hus­band and wife team Tim and Te­gan Hicks, who were fac­ing the same prob­lem as many as­pir­ing farm­ers.

Mr Hicks sim­i­larly grew up on a small town farm and be­gan run­ning some cat­tle on ag­ist­ment around Albury.

“My wife Te­gan and I got mar­ried and as soon as we got home from our hon­ey­moon, we went and bought a bunch of veal­ers and got se­ri­ous about it.”

Now, aside from run­ning Cul­ti­vate Farms, the cou­ple have their own pad­dock-toplate op­er­a­tion in Hicks Coun­try Beef – not to men­tion their four young chil­dren.

“In 2013 my hus­band and I de­cided to sell our grass fed beef di­rect to friends and fam­ily,” said Mrs Hicks.

“We have been over­whelmed with the response.

“We man­age all as­pects of pro­cess­ing and work with a lo­cal butcher to de­liver a pre­mium prod­uct.”

Mrs Hicks grew up on the Mur­ray River in the border town of How­long and says their dream is to own their own farm, how­ever, like many young fam­i­lies, it is fi­nan­cially out of their reach.

So, with her hus­band and Mr Mar­wood, they have been build­ing the so­cial en­ter­prise Cul­ti­vate Farms to reach their dreams and help hun­dreds of other fam­i­lies achieve their own.

The com­pany is now pi­lot­ing the en­ter­prise by es­tab­lish­ing a hand­ful of pro­to­type farms across North East Vic­to­ria and South East NSW.

Once proven, it can be ex­panded across Aus­tralia.

“I be­lieve the root cause for the de­cline of re­gional com­mu­ni­ties in Aus­tralia is the in­abil­ity for young farm­ing fam­i­lies to pur­chase their own farm,” said Mrs Hicks.

Her back­ground in con­veyanc­ing and fi­nance has been a strong as­set when build­ing both their farm busi­ness and Cul­ti­vate Farms, and she has al­ready seen a run-on ef­fect in the com­mu­nity.

“At times, Hicks Coun­try Beef has such a high fre­quency of or­ders we can­not meet the de­mands of our cus­tomers, so they pur­chase cows from other lo­cal farm­ers who ap­ply the same farm­ing prin­ci­ples.”

She is con­fi­dent their new en­ter­prise can work, but the team un­der­stands it will be hard to con­vince some.

“Older farm­ers are harder and more sus­pi­cious,” said Mr Hicks.

“But we don’t want to sell any­body; we want them to come to us be­cause it’s what they need.

“For in­stance, they can stay on the farm, and have some­one help­ing them and only give up part own­er­ship.

“It can be the best for both worlds.

“They don’t have to leave the farm, their com­mu­nity, or sell all their land.”

PHOTO: Cap­ture by Karen

A BRAVE NEW WORLD: Cul­ti­vate Farms co-founders Te­gan and Tim Hicks with their chil­dren (from left) Rosie, Ge­orge, Thea and Belle.

THE CREW: The Cul­ti­vate Farms team (from left) Sam Mar­wood, with fel­low founders Te­gan and Tim Hicks.

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