OFF-farm income is a phrase that’s been increasingly heard over the past two decades. With rising costs and thin margins, families have sought more reliable and consistent incomes elsewhere.
Some do well, some crash and burn but one thing they all have in common is the list of reasons they start. And for Gina and Mal Terbutt, in 2000 they started Dust’n’Boots, a business that ticked a lot of the boxes.
Newly married and battling with drought in 1992, Gina had just given birth to their first child. While Mal was home at the farm selling Merino weathers $1.50 each and young hoggets for $13, Gina was doing a 250km round trip to town to work in a shop.
As the 90s went on, they had another two babies and struggled with very average wool prices following some tough years. In 2000 Gina started Dust’n’Boots, a business that’s still run from their shearers quarters on the farm in Warialda NSW. They started off supplying good quality, cost effective work shirts to rural and regional areas and now carry a range of gear.
With a baby in the back, Gina hit the road door knocking to build a mailing list for her catalogue, from Central Western Queensland all the way down to Melbourne. And slowly the business grew, helped hugely by the Internet store in 2004. Gina tried desperately to have the gear made in Australia, but at $45 it cost more just to make one shirt in Australia than what competitors set the retail price at, $35.
The kids headed off to boarding school in the mid 2000s - about the same time the Millennium Drought hit. The dry crippled the farm but luckily for Gina and Mal, by then Dust’n’Boots was earning as much as the 9000-strong self-replacing Merino flock and 1000 head of cattle.
The business grew further, and in 2009 Mal hung up the Akubra and leased out most of the farm to further support Gina in the expanding business.
“The farming game is so tough, and it’s been a shame to see the fat shrivel since I took on home 20 years ago. I’m lucky I have the choice not to play the game, but still live a great a life and lifestyle with my family,” Mal said.
John and Lauren Frith will also tell you rising costs and painful weather lead them to pushing their grazing business in South West Queensland aside four months ago to buy the local CRT rural merchandise store in St George.
“The additional cash flow was needed to reduce exposure to seasonal variations,” John said, and with boarding school fees and a need for financial certainly in target, they’re having a good shot.
Lauren said she’s excited and optimistic about having a bank account in the black in the coming years although is mindful John is now running two businesses, with the farms still in operation - and that’s a big load.
As ‘off-farm income’ becomes the bread and butter for many family farms, it will be fascinating to watch the new breed of young farmers that “come home” in future years. What will they be returning to down the track?