Land pays back the love for Daz

Shannon VerhagenCountryman
Toodyay farmer Darren Best.
Camera IconToodyay farmer Darren Best. Credit: Cally Dupe

Growing up on a hobby farm in Gidgegannup, Darren Best grew up with a love for life on the land.

After gaining his apprenticeship at WesTrac in Perth as a boilermaker and welder, he headed back out to the country as an agricultural contractor, working on farms baling hay and spreading fertiliser among other things.

He also began leasing land 15km south of Toodyay and running crops of his own.

In 2008 he purchased the property and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the first generation farmer runs 3642ha — about 800 of which he owns — in the Toodyay area with his partner Jo McKee and four full-time staff, leasing the remainder.

This year they put 1700ha of Pioneer GM and TT canola, 800ha of Zen and Chief wheat, 700ha of Carrolup oats and 400ha of Spartacus barley in the ground, which he anticipated would be ready for harvest come the start of November.

While the property has only received 280mm growing season rain, which Mr Best said was “quite low”, he said it had fallen at the right times and at this stage, he was pleased with how this year’s crops were shaping up.

“It looks pretty good,” he said. “We just had 5.5mm on Thursday night and if we get a bit more September rain it’ll be pretty good.”

At the moment they are prepping to cut about 350ha of hay, which a few years ago was the lion’s share of their operation, but today only accounts for 10 per cent.

Mr Best said his “pretty risky” move to replace hay with canola four years ago was “one of the biggest turning points” in his farming career and he had not looked back since.

“We used to grow a hell of a lot of hay, about 60 per cent,” he said. “Then due to the falling price at that particular time — I always love doing the numbers on things — I did the numbers on getting rid of hay and I took a pretty big risk and exited the hay market.”

“It’s the best move I’ve ever made, it’s just so much more profitable.”

“The canola varieties available now are far superior to years gone by and the ability to grow tonnages is easy.”

Of his journey into farming, he said he had learnt a lot over the years and emphasised how important it was to pick the right team to work with.

“We generally like to employ people that have a trade at the farm,” Mr Best said. “I think they’re a bit more disciplined.”

“You don’t have to grow up on a farm to be a good farmer.”

He said keeping his staff on year-round rather than seasonally meant that when it came time for harvest, they were always able to get the crops off.

Looking ahead, Mr Best hoped to purchase more of the land he was leasing and expand his operations in the area.

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