This article follows Sam’s last piece on perceived issues retaining youth in agriculture: "as long as we keep telling people there is a problem, there will be one"...
WHILE a life in Australian agriculture is not all picturesque sunsets over postcard paddocks, it’s not all doom and gloom either. With some hard work, a bit of nouse and a lot of confidence, there’s more than a good living to be made off the land – there’s a good life as well.
At 35, Anthony Smith counts his blessings as an amazing wife, two gorgeous kids, a new farm, three tractors and a shed full of machinery - all with minimal family financial help. Anthony is the epitome of ‘young farmers’ in Australian agriculture making their own way despite setbacks.
“If you have focus and hook in, you can do whatever you want,” he says.
Anthony has been contracting since he was 16. He knew he couldn’t afford to buy the farm off mum and dad for their retirement so he went for it, like a bull at a gate.
Growing up at home on the farm, Anthony was far more interested in soil than school, so he borrowed some machinery from home and started share farming in his teens. Weekends were busy carving up new country for cropping, but when work for a contractor picked up, he hung up the school uniform halfway through year 10.
The contractor he worked for offered him the reins at 19, but he thought he’d rather make a buck and pay off his own machinery than someone else’s. So while his mates took on university debt, Anthony took on machinery debt and bought a brand new John Deere with a cotton mulcher and seed planter.
“Debt on my shoulders has always kept me focussed and working hard,” he says. He also attributes much of his progress to mum and dad who gave the bank some reassurance to fund his first tractor. “Mum and dad have always been there, they’ve been such great mentors and have taught me everything I know.”
While Anthony spent much of his 20s fighting the Millennium Drought, through hard work, a bit of blood, a heap of sweat and no doubt a few tears, he grew his contracting operation to a force of five staff, along with leasing country.
Pictured are Anthony and Larni Smith. Click on this image to see more photos in our online gallery.
In 2009 he married Larni, and he’s “her biggest fan”. She also worked hard but in town, giving him great support while he worked around the clock for weeks on end keeping those clients happy. His brother Matthew has also been a pillar of support, a sounding board and a helping hand - especially handy as Matthew runs a spraying contractor business.
Now only halfway through his 30s, Anthony says: “I’ve really had to step up my game these past five years and get savvy in business”.
“Especially now I own my own place, I’m drought-proofing my business and keeping the bread and butter (the contracting) feeding us cash flow.”
Larni and Anthony taught themselves about ‘the books’, which sparked their self-education on money and investments.
“That all started when mum and dad wanted to retire,” Anthony says.
“I couldn’t afford to buy the family farm, so I had another three to four years of tough work getting more clients and keeping my tractors running to get enough capital to buy our own farm.”
Larni now runs most of the business and investments which leaves Anthony to manage clients, machinery and their own operation.
Anthony also understood from a young age the great risks inherent in agriculture, so in partnership with a mate from school, he diversified and invested into some projects in Sydney that are now blossoming. “I read between the lines and didn’t want to put myself in a situation where all my income comes from agriculture”.
He knew he didn’t have to be an A+ student to fulfil his dreams, but also that the minimisation of risk through planning, financial literacy, diversification and an open mind were vital to managing his ag business successfully.
Anthony and Larni’s success is a great example of what the next generation can do - and are doing. You can blow away the motivational fluff you find in cheap calendars or Facebook walls. It’s the stories like this that need to be told, because they’re real and they build confidence: from people outside the industry, from peers, and especially confidence from young people wanting to make a start.
They paint a picture that’s worth investing in. So thanks to Anthony, Larni, Isabella and Monty to opening the front gate.