By Melissa Cunningham
Charlie and Judy Hocking and young farmer Jeremy Collins the farm in Tandarra.Credit:Justin McManus
Judy Hocking had never even heard of the dating app Tinder when she spotted an article about an organisation matchmaking retiring farmers with the next generation of aspiring farmers.
The article about social enterprise, Cultivate Farms, described itself as “Tinder for Farming”, aiming to connect younger farmers or interested investors with the growing generation of retiring Australian farmers.
Collins has offered to the lease the Tandarra farm from the Hockings.Credit:Justin McManus
Judy, a retired primary school teacher, and her husband Charlie, a fourth-generation farmer, have run a 1500-hectare farm in Tandarra, 40 kilometres north of Bendigo, for more than five decades. Charlie, 80, has lived in the homestead at the property since birth.
With their adult children not taking over the farm, the couple found themselves in turmoil, knowing they would not be able to safely run it on their own forever.
“For the first time I heard my husband say ‘well, we may as well sell the place,’” Judy, 79, said. “I knew he didn’t want to do that, and it was just a gut reaction. The farm means everything to us. It has been my husband’s life.”
About 50 per cent of Australian farmers are expected to retire in the next 15 years, Cultivate Farms says, and skyrocketing land and production prices have industry experts worried that unless young farmers are millionaires, they are priced out of being able to afford their own farms.
The age of the average farmer is 56, which is about 17 years older than the average Australian worker, according to the National Farmers’ Federation.
Jeremy Collins had worked on the Hocking’s farm previously as shearer when he spotted a promotion that they were looking online for a farmer. After a meeting with Cultivate Farms and the Hockings, the 36-year-old began working on the farm.
Collins, 36, and Charlie Hocking, 80.Credit:Justin McManus
It was all quite serendipitous, Judy said, because Collins had been one of her pupils.
“He has always been a lovely chap, and it was special to have that connection of teaching him,” she said. “He has brought a young body with new ideas to the farm.”
La Trobe University researcher Clare Wilding, who has been studying Cultivate Farms, said the program was providing much-needed alternatives to farmers who fear they have no other option but to sell their land.
“These farmers have a really strong connection to the land, and so they are looking for solutions to keep the farms thriving farms themselves for as long as they can,” Wilding said. “At the other end of the spectrum, there are young people who would love to own or manage a farm, yet don’t have the resources to do so.”
The enterprise helps develop transitions, ownership arrangements or business plans unique to each match. The program has been operating since 2016 and, so far, has placed 29 aspiring farmers with new owners across Australia in the past six years.
Charlie has lived in the homestead at the property since birth.Credit:Justin McManus
Unable to afford his own land, farmer Mitch Highett from the NSW Young Farmers Council, created his own hybrid farming model involving leasing land from existing farmers who do not want to sell, but want to slow down.
He said innovation was crucial.
“If we want to be a growing our own food on our own country then there is a huge requirement of young people to take on the responsibilities of our Australian farms,” Highett said.
Recently, Collins has offered to lease the farm from the Hockings. The deal will allow them to live in their home as long as they want to, while giving Collins the chance to buy the farm in a few years.
“I’ve never had anyone better than Jeremy working for me,” Charlie said. “He’s been tremendous.”
Collins, who comes from a family of farmers, said being able to continue the tradition was “pretty special.”
“It’s really hard to get into farming these days, so I feel very lucky,” Collins said.
Charlie hopes to impart some of his experience and wisdom about the farm to Collins.Credit:Justin McManus
Over the decades, Charlie has endured increasingly unpredictable seasons and record flooding and drought. He hopes to impart some of that wisdom to Collins.
“Life is getting tougher on the land. The floods we had … were the biggest I have ever seen,” he said.
“The more experience you have, the better you’re able to handle things. I help Jeremy a bit, and he helps me a fair bit, and we both just get on really well.”
Collins said it had been great having Charlie around. “It is always handy to have a bit of old knowledge.”
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