It’s a well-known fact among the younger generation of farmers that unless you’re a millionaire or inherit land, getting a foot into the industry is becoming almost impossible, but the ‘Tinder of farming’, Cultivate Farms, is determined to change that.
Co-founded by Sam Marwood and Tim and Tegan Hicks, the social enterprise aims to rejuvenate regional Australia and provide opportunities to the next generation by matching aspiring farmers and retiring farmers or interested investors.
Initially, the friends set out to solve a problem for themselves, with Tim and Tegan dreaming of owning their own land but not having the opportunity to do so.
“We were talking one day and said imagine if there was this business that could find a farm for Tim and Tegan and how interesting that would be,” Sam said.
“But then we realised if we could unlock this concept for Tim and Tegan, we could replicate this for anyone with that crazy dream to own a farm.”
Now in its third year, Sam said Cultivate Farms had seen great success in the past 12 months.
“We’ve really realised we're onto something, and people are coming to us now,” he said.
“We've had seven farm matches so far and there’s another 20 on our website ready to go, and probably another 50 or so in the background that are just getting to that stage to be matched.
“We've got four investors who have come to us asking to be involved, so we're matching them with aspiring farmers now, and it’s just really exciting.”
Sam said he was constantly surprised to see people reaching out to Cultivate Farms.
“Some people just don't get it or don't want to use it and the idea of transitioning ownership to someone else's kids is like the most offensive thing you could suggest to some people, but to other people it's like oh that would be the most beautiful thing in my life to know that someone loves this farm just as much as me,” he said.
“From the aspiring farmer point of view, they've always loved it, because finally someone's telling them that their crazy dreams are possible, which no one does so we've definitely got their love and their bit of passion.
“We have a farm in every state at the moment except for ACT, so there's no real geographical limitation; it's just whether people have the right mindset and are open to this idea of transitioning ownership or wanting to invest.”
‘It was exactly what we needed’
For Charlie and Judy Hocking, Bendigo, Victoria, this matchmaking service was exactly what they needed.
Judy said with their children not interested in taking on the farm, they had planned to transition ownership to one of their workmen, but when he opted to take a job elsewhere, they were left at a loose end.
“For the first time ever, my husband said we might as well sell the place,” she said.
“We really didn’t want to do that because he still wants to keep farming, but we’re both in our mid-seventies.
“I didn't understand the word Tinder, as in the matchmaking thing, but I saw an article in the paper and it had Sam’s photo in it.
“I used to teach Sam, so I read the article and it was about Cultivate Farms and I said to Charlie this is what we need.”
Working with Sam, the Hocking’s were able to find a local aspiring farmer and once the drought breaks, they will begin the journey of transitioning ownership.
“Between Sam and Jeremy they're just keeping our dream alive,” Judy said.
“We really needed something like this and I dare say there's a lot of people who are in the same boat.”
Cultivate Farms is not just about matching retiring farmers with aspiring farmers.
In the case of Christie and Michael Delphin, Hazelbrae Hazelnuts, Tasmania, finding someone to become a sharefarmer in their operation was the ultimate goal.
“We’re increasing our production activities because our orchard is maturing to its commercial quantities in the next few years and we've been getting busier and busier every year,” Christie said.
“We’re only in our late 30’s, so we’re not retirement age, but we've been working really hard the last few years to build this up and we’re really looking to step back.
“When I say step back, I'm stepping back from a seven-day-a-week job to maybe four days a week, so it's not really stepping back huge compared to some people, but for us it's sharing what we're doing with someone that has some more energy and ideas to take us to the next level with things and continue what we're doing.”
Through the help of Cultivate Farms, Christie said they were able to find someone whose values aligned with theirs without having to filter through a list of people on their own.
“The advantage of Cultivate Farms is that they take the time to get to know both the farmers, all the opportunities and the aspiring farmers,” she said.
“And it turned out that one of the applicants that they sent us through was somebody that I actually knew and didn’t realise they were looking for an opportunity, and it’s working out really well so far.
“The value of what Cultivate Farms is doing is that’s it’s got something that's really, really needed in the industry and something that's going to be really valuable in years to come as they build that capacity and build that awareness around them.”