Rural dream taking shape

HARD work and dedication are seeing one North-West couple turn their dreams of becoming farmers into a reality.

They may be newcomers to the farming game, but for Ellie and Ben Sutcliffe the lifestyle benefits of having their own land is already proving rewarding.

The couple grew up in the state’s North-West but neither of them
are from a farming background. However, when the opportunity to buy a farm near Elliot came about they jumped at the chance.

Mrs Sutcliffe said when they were looking at starting a family the benefits of having a rural lifestyle had plenty of appeal.

“I grew up on five acres so for me initially it was more about having space for the kids to run around and things like that rather than the farming side of things,” she said.

Mr Sutcliffe said visits to his grandparents’ farm as a child established what became a lifelong interest in farming.

After spending a year travelling around the country the couple made the decision to return home and started considering their next move.

The couple ended up buying their property at Elliot soon after in 2017.

At the time the property needed a considerable amount of work and did not have a suitable house to live in.

“We walked all the boundaries and I said to Ellie this is it, but she wasn’t convinced to start with,” Mr Sutcliffe said.

The farm has access to the Seabrook Creek and Mrs Sutcliffe said it was that area of the farm that convinced her they should buy it.

Undaunted by the amount of work ahead, they set about renovating the existing farm house. They have also made major improvements to the 55ha farm and now lease another 45ha nearby.

To start with, couple set about fixing the majority of the farm’s fences. Weed control has also been another job over the past few years.

During that time the family grew with daughters Indigo, who is four, and Eve who is now two years old.

“It was pretty challenging because Ben still had to work full time while we were doing all this as well,” Mrs Sutcliffe said.

She said they also set about gradually renovating pastures across the property. They leased paddocks each year for potato production then once the crops were harvested, they established multi-species pastures.

They have included a wide variety of legumes and deeper-rooted

species such as chicory and plantain. Mr Sutcliffe said their aim was

to increase pasture production and ground cover, especially during the drier summer months.

The couple have also used pigs in strategic areas of the property to remove weeds before replanting the spots with natives.

They are also gradually removing stands of large macrocarpas and planting natives instead.

They have established a beef breeding herd on the property.

After initially starting out with crossbred cattle, they are gradually improving the herd genetics with a focus on Angus cows.

They have about 60 in the breeding herd on their home property.

They finish the cattle on their leased farm and also buy in store cattle to fatten and run about 180 head across the two properties.

Eventually the couple plan to establish their own Seabrook Valley Farm branded beef and set up a business selling boxed beef.

“It’s hard because we’re really the price takers so you never really know what you’re going to get, it could be $9 a kilo or it could be $7 so that makes it hard to plan and budget,” Mr Sutcliffe said.

“We’re hoping by doing this boxed beef and branching out into other things we can stabilise things.”

To help achieve this they have become involved with the Sprout producer program. Mrs Sutcliffe said being able to visit other producers and talk honestly about the opportunities and challenges involved had been hugely beneficial.

Mr Sutcliffe said they were also working through things like packaging design and marketing. They hope to start their boxed beef business in the next 12 to 18 months.

“I think there’s definitely a market for it, locals just want to be able to buy direct,” he said.

“They want to know where their meat is coming from and see the face of the farmer and know what they’re

getting. Friends and family want to get on board, so I think there’s other people that will too.”

The couple are also looking at different ways to manage their pastures and focusing on soil health.

Mr Sutcliffe said they would eventually like to use organic production principals and are already doing some small trials using organic fertilisers with good results.

Eventually Mr Sutcliffe said they would like to grow their cattle numbers, but they will work on getting the boxed-beef business established first.