Farmer Focus: The benefits of not farming with family members

This year will be my 20th year of farming and at the age of 41 I’m thinking I’ll have another 20 years left in me. So it seems like a good time to reflect on my mid-life crisis in farming and life.

About 99% of farms in Western Australia are family farms, sometimes with up to three generations working on them at the same time. This has both benefits, such as inexpensive labour and vested interest, but also it has its problems such as succession planning. Which is not only a problem in Western Australia, but worldwide.

I’m the sixth generation of my family to farm in Western Australia and I’m also the third in line to not farm with any other family members. I’ve never farmed with my father, likewise he never farmed with his father and so on. This has given me a unique perspective on farming that most of my peers have never had.

On the one hand, I’ve never had someone looking over my shoulder pulling me up when they think I’m going to make a mistake; but on the other hand I’ve had a lot of freedom to try new things and carve my own place in the world.

In the absence of not having someone looking over my shoulder over the past 20 years, I’ve developed a very large farming network both locally and around the world. It’s this network that has driven much of the successes over that time.

The network has changed over the years. In my 20s I looked to people in their 40s for guidance. Now in my 40s I’m still listening to those same people, but also I find my self being drawn back to those in their 20s, with all their energy, drive and acceptance of new things.

Last year a young farmer asked me if I would mentor him as he tried to better his business. I was in shock for some time, as it slowly dawned on me that I’m no longer the young farmer. I’m having my mid-life farming crisis. So I bought a red sports car. Now I’m ready for the next 20 years.

See also: More from all our Arable Farmer Focus writers