There are so many things a farm can offer, oodles of space, scenic views, the company of animals both domestic and wild. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful breakfast setting than mist wafting over the pastures where cows and kangaroos graze together.
And while a Bed & Breakfast holiday is a nice get away, some city folk like their fresh air to be more permanent.
According to real estate records in NSW the interest in farm purchases for first time buyers has been on the rise over the past six years. There seems to be a trend for semi retirement to farmlands, with baby boomers getting good money for their city properties and wanting somewhere quiet and peaceful to set up and stay busy. If you want to make an income from a farm it’s possible, however, you do need to buy the right property, one that is set up and ready to go, which can set you back anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
Property size is going to be the trickiest part. Most successful farmland in Australia runs on enormous property parcels. As a first time farm buyer you won’t have the resources or knowledge to successfully operate a large area. Look for smaller properties, keeping in mind that you need to produce enough goods for profit. It may take some hunting and patience to find the right property for your needs.
Before you go ahead you need to know what your crop or livestock will be as different farms are suited to different outcomes. As a small farm owner you probably won’t be able to compete against the big, experienced farms. It’s a good business move to think of a farm purpose that has a more unique angle and fewer competitors.
It’s well worth having an experienced farm manager help you with property inspections as there are a lot of hidden factors to take into account. A farm manager can also work with your chosen convenience to ensure any special conditions are addressed before the sale contract is signed.
The soil type needs to be right for your planned purpose, so choose carefully and test the soil in different paddocks. Even if you are buying a property that you know has good production history you still need to test the soil and paddocks for signs of damage and wear. Tests will ensure the soil nutrients are high, salinity levels are low and there are no chemical and waste disposal that has tainted the land. While doing inspections also keep an eye out for signs of natural erosion.
When it comes to contamination risks you need to pay close attention to places that might have been used as sheep dips, petrol or pesticide storage, or slaughterhouses.
Make sure paddocks get enough sun (north facing is best) as frost can be a real risk factor in rural NSW and Victoria.
Water is another important factor. No matter what type of farm you are looking for water will be a resource you need access to. Australia is known to have long spells of dry weather as well as flooding rains. You need to consider both as hazards best avoided (to the greatest extent possible). Do check the rainfall history of the local area, investigate the irrigation rights to the property and factor in surplus costs to pump stations. Some properties have natural bores or dams for livestock, which can be a real bonus.
Having a living space you love is a critical factor for a city property purchase, however, when it comes to buying a working farm, you need to consider the farm house as a secondary asset. The most important thing to get right is the land and land use. A farmhouse that is liveable and well positioned on the property is all you need to take into consideration. If you don’t especially like the home décor or it’s in need or an update or extension, you can rebuild or renovate down the track to suit your needs. It’s far easier to fix up a farmhouse than it is to enrich poor soil or repurpose the paddocks. Do make sure it’s sturdy enough to move into while you get your farm running and find your feet, you’ll want to be close by.
You also need to make sure you have adequate storing and shipping space. You’ll need to move whatever you farm off the property in some way so there needs to be a means of processing as well as easy and safe transport access for trucks and cars.
One of the final traps is compliance and regulation. If caught unawares, a lack of compliance, or the money it takes to meet requirements can be costly.
Some factors you need to take into account early on are regulations around animal care, water restrictions, fencing, fire prevention, land conservation including tree clearing, chemicals and fertiliser use, and weed and pest control methods.
Permits favour free roaming on wide spaces. For those farms that have concentrated animal lots getting permits can be difficult as the care and wellbeing of the animals is harder to regulate. So pigpens, chicken coops and feedlots need to be approached with caution.
Finally, be prepared to work hard. While the setting may be idyllic and well worth the effort, you do need to be ready to roll up your sleeves and take your chances with weather and unforseen events. Get the recipe right with good land under you, and you’ll be living it up until the cows come home.