Russell, wheat and sheep farmer
What does a crop farmer do?
Russell sums up farming succinctly: "A lot of it is governed by weather."
When the rains come, Russell can start sowing wheat and barley on his property near Swan Hill. Afterwards, he'll spray weedicide, and do maintenance on fences and machinery. He also runs sheep, which need shearing, feeding in dry times, and marking - taking the lambs' tails off with rubber rings, castrating the males, and inserting ear tags.
"Then I'll get shearers in to crutch them - this involves removing some wool from around their tail so they don't get flyblown." He also checks that the stock have enough water, and if their condition drops, he'll have to make tough decisions about whether to sell them - part of the job's responsibilities.
How did you become a crop farmer?
He grew up on the land: his father was a soldier settler in 1919, and his grandfather owned country near Kyneton. They started them young when Russell was a kid. "I've been at it now for 43 years as an occupation, but I was doing it well before then, you can guarantee that."
He remembers working farm machinery early on - "We could go out and start the tractor and away you go" - and says fewer young people nowadays learn about farming first-hand. But he points out that machinery is a lot more complex now - for example, using GPS for self-steering of tractors - and people are more aware of safety issues.
Are there any tips for getting a job as a crop farmer?
If you weren't born to farming, Russell credits agricultural college courses with turning out decent farmers, and there are farm management advisors who can provide support. He likens this to using a doctor for regular check-ups.
"With farming you employ a farm consultant, so you go and see them or ring them up [regularly] and tell them about your financial position." They also help you deal with the bad times.
What are some of the pros and cons of the job?
Russell inherited financial caution from his parents, and it has served him well. "We nearly had a good crop last year, but two or three days of very hot weather knocked probably half our yield off. If it's not extreme heat it could be rain or hail - a lot of it could have an impact as to what your final yield is."
His grain profits also depend on world prices and how the Australian dollar compares to the American dollar, which are all governed by weather elsewhere, plus diseases, wars and transport issues. "You can't plan for those ups and downs. To a large extent you're a price taker."
But Russell finds farming satisfying, with a measure of control you don't get in the city. He slaughters his own sheep, for example. "It's all prepared for you [in the city], but I can go out and say, 'Well, that's a nice one, I'll put him on the hook.' You've got the choice and you know if you're producing good meat or not."
He's also very aware of his responsibilities as a landowner. "You've got to be conscious of the environment that you live in." He grows trees for revegetation as a hobby, "but you could actually classify it as part of farming."
What sort of skills and qualities do you need?
Russell's three children help out on the farm, and will eventually return from the city when the farm can support them. His sons have mechanical skills, which are useful. "The more [skills] you've got, the better off you are: electronics, computers, mechanical, accountancy, animal health - you name it, you've got to have it."
Having "a strong constitution" also helps, since you're out in all weathers, often for 10 or more hours a day by yourself, seven days a week. But Russell is never bored: "You're always planning in your head, looking forward to your next job."
Find out more about a career in farming
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