July 16, 2014

Three generations of farmers, one community spirit

Many things have changed since Malcolm Knight’s grandfather ran Golden Wattle farm, but the family’s commitment to the community is stronger than ever. Knight discusses the changes, the challenges, and a welcome trend for more young people to return to the family farm.

For three generations, the Knight family has been farming their Golden Wattle property In Quambatook, Victoria. And like his grandfather and father before him, Malcolm works with other, committed neighbours to support the local community.

Knight, who began working on Golden Wattle when he was a teenager, has been an active member of Quambatook Football Club for many years. So when it was threatened with closure a few years ago, he worked hard to keep it open and to ensure it continued to thrive. He is involved with the local Lions Club, and as flood warden, he played an important role during the devastating 2011 floods. He is also a long-standing member of the local farmers’ group, attending the regular half-day meetings which are usually followed by a barbecue.

“It’s a chance to discuss the kinds of industry topics that affect us all, as well as share new ideas and information,” he says.

A changing community

Knight, who features on the June pages of this year’s NAB Agribusiness Calendar, grows grain, cereals and canola and runs 1,500 ewes.

“When my grandfather started out the farm was a fraction of the size it is now – he had just 1,000 acres whereas, today, we’re farming over 3,000 hectares,” he says. “It’s inevitable that farms will keep on getting bigger, but most of the changes in the community I’ve seen over the years are the result of having fewer people around. We’ve probably lost five or six families from our land alone and, of course, increasing automation and bigger machinery means farmers also need fewer labourers. That’s why supporting the community is so important – everything from lending a hand when it’s needed to doing as much of your shopping as you can at the local store.”

Young people returning home

He’s seeing a positive trend in the number of young people returning to the area.

“There was a time when most young people wanted to make their lives in the cities and big towns,” he says. “Then, about 10 years ago, it started to turn around. Now they might still go away to study or learn a trade but they seem more inclined to come back.”

Knight’s own son is currently studying Agriculture at Melbourne University and plans to return to the farm next year. And according to Knight, his knowledge of computers will be as welcome as his farming skills. “As with any business, farming is becoming more and more reliant on technology and I sometimes find that a bit of a challenge,” Knight says. “For example, you only use a harvester for about three weeks a year and, these days, when I get on, it takes me a while to remember out how to work it. You don’t drive a harvester any more, computers do it all for you.”

Certainly, it takes a broader range of skills to run a farm than when Knight started out – and it’s hard to imagine what his grandfather’s generation would think of how Golden Wattle is run today.

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