Cultivating the next generation of farmers
Sam Marwood, Tim Hicks and Tegan Hicks hope to fulfil the dreams aspiring farmers around Australia
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.”
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.