A friend of more than 40 years standing called on us recently. He was on a retirement trip from Australia, visiting friends and relations in this country before heading back to what has become his country of choice. I shall return to that preference in a moment.
Born on a farm in Yorkshire, like many of us with a similar background, he was determined to follow the same calling. But when the family farm went bust he realised it wouldn’t be possible. Meanwhile, he won a scholarship to read Agriculture at Reading University where he was awarded a BSc.
At the time, Australia needed to increase its population from this country and was offering £10 trips to approved immigrants. He decided he might have a better chance to achieve his ambition down under so applied for one of those places and was accepted. While waiting for his turn to sail, he took such jobs as relief milking in this country.
Once in Australia he looked for work again and went jackarooing on sheep studs for a few years before landing a junior management post in Western Australia, between Perth and Albany. He met and married a local girl then moved to another job in a machinery dealership. Soon afterwards the dealership failed and he and a colleague found themselves owning the business almost by default.
They built it up, taking on dealerships for John Deere, New Holland and Kuhn among others. When 280 acres came up for sale nearby he was able to buy it, later adding a further 260 acres. That modest acreage is not viable in Western Australia, he pointed out, but he was farming, as he’d always wanted, and together with the machinery business he was able to make a living for his family, which now included two daughters.
That potted history omits lots of detail, but provides a picture of a man who has worked hard throughout his life to achieve his ambition.
“So, are you planning to move back to England in retirement?” I asked him.
“No way”, he replied, “I’d never be able to put up with all the red tape and regulations.”
I invited him to explain.
“Well”, he said, “it’s so easy in Australia. We don’t have the legislation you do demanding that we look after the bio-diversity of our land. We do it because it’s sensible and right. We plant trees to create windbreaks and provide habitats. We study the history of the land and if we get a drought like you’ve had while we’ve been here we decide on the basis of that history whether it’s worth cropping. And when we plant we tend to go for min-till to save both money and moisture.
“We do it all as a matter of course, aware all the time of rain or lack of it, so we work with nature and don’t waste money planting fields that will never produce a return in a drought year. And we don’t get subsidies.
“Incidentally,” he went on, “I’ve just heard we’ve had an inch of rain back home and that’s ideal for planting in a few weeks.”
It reminded me of the days when farmers in this country conserved land without legislation; when the prices and guarantees we received produced stable profits sufficient for us to be able to do such things without special subsidies; when we didn’t have to fill up a form to prove every move we made. And it made me crave the simplicity of Australia.
David Richardson farms about 400ha (1,000 acres) of arable land near Norwich in Norfolk in partnership with his wife, Lorna. His son, Rob, is farm manager.