Initiative looks beyond farming

Lauren CelenzaCountryman

A new project is helping battling WA farmers get back on their feet by looking outside of agriculture for commercial opportunities.

For farmers thinking about moving into small business, it could help to talk to someone who has tried it and made it a success.

The WA Council of Social Services’ Beyond Farming project is putting producers in touch with mentors, who used to be farmers, about what worked for them in tough times.

Program officer Gaynor Mitchell grew up in Bruce Rock, but her family moved on to pursue other commercial ventures.

“I know that a lot of people are doing it tough at the moment, so this is a really valuable and worthwhile initiative, ” she said.

Mentor Andrew Bush, who used to run about 15,000 head of sheep at Eneabba, started looking around after the wool and sheep market plummeted in the 1990s.

Mr Bush started a coffee machine business in 1998 and said he has never looked back.

“I miss a lot of things about farming, but I don’t miss the financial side of it, ” he said. “If farmers have got a goal to strive towards, it’s a lot easier to make the transition.”

Fellow mentor John Collins ran a pastoral operation in the Gascoyne as well as farms at Geraldton.

“I left farming; I had thought about doing something else for a while, but I had a problem with my back and had to find something that wasn’t really hard work, ” he said.

Mr Collins worked for the Department of Agriculture and Food for 15 years in the Kimberley and then decided to upgrade his qualifications.

“I ended up at University of WA doing a basic science degree, which I followed up with honours and then a PhD, ” he said.

“I want to help other farmers. Anyone thinking about making the transition from farming into something different, it would be worthwhile talking to one of us.”

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