Off the beaten farm

It will be fascinating to see what the next gen of young farmers will be returning to down the track

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?

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


20/05/2014 6:55:43 AM

This is where the average city-slicker is getting confused about the 'plight' of farmers. The words used in this article paint such a gloomy picture about farming. Oh, but they sent three kids to boarding school!
20/05/2014 8:26:54 AM

Sam, if the next generation of farmers can buy and sell "weathers" (as you spelt it) they will be OK because they should be able to buy some rain!
20/05/2014 8:38:53 AM

Take home message farming is no a viable business but a luxury lifestyle. That has to be paid for by an off farm business, or job. Geronimo; in rural areas boarding school is the only option because all other schools have been withdrawn (along with most other family infrastructure).
20/05/2014 8:40:31 AM

Don't know which article you read Geronimo but the one I read describes two families, one a rural merchandiser and the other a clothing retailer. Both of them running, as most Aussie farmers are currently running, a not for profit farming operation/hobby.
20/05/2014 11:19:29 AM

There is a high school 20 minutes down the road in Warialda. It's a fair question and people are interested to know. Sam has used strong words to describe a succession of "crippling" situations for the property. So it may help others to know how they managed to send their kids to boarding school at the same time.
20/05/2014 1:58:53 PM

Geronimo, it is not uncommon for grand-parents to be kicking in with some money for school fees for the grand-kids these days. Not just for country kids, either.
Sam Trethewey
20/05/2014 8:29:44 PM

Geronimo; seems you know their property, and have chosen anonymity? It's a family's choice to send their children to board, and it's not anyone's business. It's also their call to choose to run another business to support their chosen lifestyle in addition to their farm business. Please also note, they never whined or asked for help, they just did it off their own back. Mum always said "no one knows what happens behind closed doors"...
20/05/2014 9:12:34 PM

It just points to our usual way of running farming businesses broken.... we are dumbed down to be low return commodity producers and all the profit is in the wholesale and distribution......surely this, and most stories we are reading now all lead people to be questioning the structure of the supply chain?
20/05/2014 9:54:36 PM

A bursar at one of the large city boarding schools told me a few years ago that 75% of private school fees were paid for by grandparents. I don't think this would be far off the mark.
21/05/2014 6:40:47 AM

Geronimo; Not sure what your problems is but my reading of the article, says they could afford to give their kids every chance at a good education because of the off farm business.
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Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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