There is much discussion and evidence about changes in Australian agriculture as family farms are sold off – either to other families who need bigger operations or to corporations into mega agriculture.
There is another dimension of this story in Australian farming that receives little attention but is increasingly important to Australians and our way of life for the coming centuries.
A remaining issue is the challenge of succession; namely that the adult children of farmers often want different lives and careers outside of agriculture and so are not interested to continue a farming enterprise. For some families, the current farm is too small for the split of assets between children.
Such is the case for Ron and Sue Watkins in south-western WA. They would have loved to pass their certified organic farm on to at least one of their children.
Instead, they are now looking for a young family to take over what has become one of the finest examples of regenerative farming in Australia today.
As a young couple, Ron and Sue moved back to what was his traditional family farm in the 1970s. It was only then Ron was confronted with his mother’s difficulties growing her veggies and fruit trees. What began as a water and salinity issue to be solved, led Ron on a wonderful journey over the last 40 years towards sustainability – the health and wellbeing of his land, his animals, the food he produces – for Australians every week.
You can now witness his integrated systems of water, soil, climate, human energy, to the production of grains, beef, wool, lamb, eggs, poultry, vegetables. The organic produce coming from the farm is held in high esteem and demand is high.
Ron and Sue’s farm sits in complete contrast to the mono-cultures of massive wheat, beef or cotton farms of industrial agriculture.
A certified organic farm means no industrialised chemical regime; careful assessment of anything brought on to the farm.
What it also means is a way of life that echoes the agriculture of old – a love of the land, a love of the way of life, a place to grow family and foster community.
This is not some pie-in-the-sky-dream or uneconomic way to live. Ron and Sue have demonstrated that small is indeed beautiful, you can make a living on a farm that works with its natural systems. A small landholding (552ha) can provide a family with all it needs.
In spite of our mass-industrialised food systems, the market demand for organic food and natural, unprocessed products has increased exponentially. The Australian organics market has grown by almost 88 per cent since 2012. So too, consumers are seeking to know where their food comes from, how it is grown and processed, and the environmental impact. Key figures from the 2018 Australian Organic Market Report show two thirds of Australian shoppers said they started buying organics for personal health reasons, while 12 per cent consider themselves to be ‘highly-committed’ organic purchasers, usually outlaying 40 per cent or more of their food budget on organic food or household products.
Ron and Sue are deeply committed to preserving the legacy of the land and passing on their passion. They won’t simply walk away. As true custodians of the land, Ron and Sue’s greatest gift to the next generation is to mentor and guide them through a transition period. The next family will benefit from Ron and Sue’s priceless wisdom and knowledge. Their knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t), how to pursue new organic crops or the interests of the new owners based on the market demand, as well as what the land can offer.
The gates are open for vegetables, more poultry and eggs, aquaculture, experiential tourism, training and research. For the enterprising and innovative farmer, Ron’s farm provides the legacy and potential that cannot be bought elsewhere.
Regenerative agriculture on small farms and gardens is often based on practical ideologies like permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, restoration ecology, keyline design and holistic management. This is rapidly gaining momentum among the farming community as it is the integration of many approaches that have arisen through the environmental movement in the last 50 years – speaking to all the people worldwide who have wanted a different world, a different way of life to the ever-increasing industrialising of farming through chemical regimes, corporate seed ownership, ever bigger machinery. The values of working with natural systems, not imposing human will on the land or water systems, but working with the earth’s natural ecosystem to harness what the environment will provide in any one location.
So, whether it is permaculture emphasising natural systems and location; organic certification which focuses on inputs and outputs in land; water systems; soil improvement; natural habitat and biodiversity; all the benefits of these features are now available on Ron’s farm.
Of course, Ron’s farm at Frankland River could easily be sold on the open market, where these opportunities and legacy may be lost. There has been ample interest from parties wanting to expand their current farm; corporations wanting to exploit all the systems and land; or perhaps those wanting to move into wine or olives. There are now three award-winning wines in James Halliday’s Top 100 wine list; the region is now being looked at for its community as Margaret River becomes increasingly upmarket and corporatised.
Ron’s main priority is to preserve the eco capital of the property and pass his farm on as if to his family; to share his knowledge, to pass it on knowing the young family as committed to maintaining the organic status even if they want to change the mix of production or enterprises to suit their own preferences.
In choosing his buyer Ron has selected The Eco Real Estate Network as the agency to do this work. This real estate innovator works nationwide only on what it calls environmental properties – property that contributes to sustainability in some way. Organic farms of course but also suburban and lifestyle homes, conservation and eco-tourism. Through its partnership programs it works with the property owner to find the next owner.
Extra benefits are available. For this property there are 4 titles which means innovation financing can come into play. Eco Real Estate works with investors and consultants who can structure innovative financing for any young family who may need help in obtaining farming finance. The investors and consultants share the commitment to retaining organic farms in Australia, for them not to be lost to the open market.
Here is an opportunity for you to be the farmer and ecoprenueur you always dreamed of being. An outstanding economic and environmental choice awaits you, with an amazing 12 month mentoring and training package.