Family heads down diversification road

27 Oct, 2012 01:00 AM
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Cherith (left), Ken, Gerry, Jasper (2) and Darian Smith's Wyalkatchem wheat stood up reletively well to this season's dry conditions.
Cherith (left), Ken, Gerry, Jasper (2) and Darian Smith's Wyalkatchem wheat stood up reletively well to this season's dry conditions.

FARMERS are innovators and the Smith family are no exception.

The family farms about 5000 hectares and includes Darian and his wife Gerry, Darian's father Ken, mother Cherith, brother Cameron and Cameron's partner Danielle Booth.

After experiencing the price shortfalls of running a 14,000-strong Merino ewe flock in the late 1990s, the Smiths sold their sheep and established their farm as a full scale cropping enterprise.

Since then they have experienced good years, battled tough ones and continued to think about different ways to diversify their farm business in order to build resilience.

This season, the Smiths have about 3300ha of Yitpi, Mace, Wyalkatchem and Westonia wheat, 1000ha of Tanami canola and 700ha of Vlamingh barley nearly ready to harvest.

And with only 130mm of rainfall for the growing season, the crops were in relatively good shape.

But it wasn't the Smith's cropping program which first drew Farm Weekly's attention to their North Hyden property.

Darian, Gerry, Ken and Cherith have established a side business in a bid to capitalise on Hyden's bustling tourism industry and do their bit to draw travellers to the local community.

In September 1989 the Smith's farm hosted its first competitive off road race and for the last 24 years has been home to the State Off Road Championships held on the September-October long weekend.

Since 2005, the Smiths have also hosted the first round of the National Off Road Championships which usually attracted more than 95 cars to compete on their farm-based track facilities, complete with bar, canteen, pit sheds, showers, toilets, timing tower and commentary box.

Though not racing in his own car anymore (it was sold after he won the 2005 National Championship), Darian's love of off-roading was soon realised and the idea for a side business grew legs.

Armed with three Polaris 570 side-by-sides Darian, Gerry, Ken and Cherith recently kick-started Smithy's Offroad Safaris, with an idea to give tourists visiting Hyden a one to two hour real life and hands-on Wheatbelt farm experience.

"The majority of the tours will traverse the paddock and bush tracks that the race cars have been competing on for the last 20-odd years," Darian said.

"The idea is that we would take one cart as a tour guide and then the other two carts would follow, allowing for visitors to drive themselves."

Darian said there was also the potential for the family to purchase smaller 'trophy cart' models which would allow for children as young at 12 to take part in the driving experience.

"Travellers come to Wave Rock and ask, what more is there to do?" Darian said.

"The Hyden community is pushing for 'the two-day experience' so this kind of attraction might help to get tourists to stay overnight."

Just three kilometres past 'the Humps', another of Hyden's popular tourist stops, the farm, like many in the area, boasts abundant wildlife including red kangaroos, echidna and mallee fowl as well as lots of natural bush and wildflowers in good years.

"The tours are really flexible," Darian said.

"During harvest and seeding passers-by will have the opportunity to see machines working in the paddocks, witness beautiful sunsets and get an idea of what farm life is really like.

"Lots of our potential clients will be grey nomads and we'll be able to offer them an experience that they wouldn't normally get to have - one that farmers like us take for granted every single day."

Equipped with the on-farm racing facilities, Darian and his family also had long-term plans to turn the safari into a nature stay camping experience.

"We hope that might encourage a few more four-wheel-drive clubs to base themselves out of here when they do the Holland Track," Darian said.

"There's no writing off the idea that we might also be able to offer a two-day Holland Track tour some time in the future.

"It's early days yet but it's something else to work towards and it combines our family's love of off-roading with the cropping commitments we have here on the farm."

Darian said his crops were "a fair way behind" compared to this time last season even though they started off the season in great fashion.

The Smith's North Hyden farm received about 22mm of rain when 80 per cent of the canola was planted in a dry ANZAC Day start.

"We had another good rainfall event a couple of weeks later," Darian said.

"We had 40mm in June and everything looked magic."

Two millimetres of rain followed in July and since then the Smith's biggest rainfall event saw nine millimetres recorded in the gauge.

"It's the one and two millimetre dribs and drabs which have kept the crops ticking along," Darian said.

"Between November and January we had about 112mm so our crops have tapped into that deep subsoil moisture to survive."

Like the majority of eastern Wheatbelt growers, Darian said his wheat had stood up to the dry weather substantially better than his barley plantings and he still wasn't sure how much everything would yield.

"Our really early wheat crops are looking really good," he said.

"At this stage they're almost looking as good as some of the better years but we won't really know until we get a header in there."

When Farm Weekly went to print at the beginning of the week the Smiths had swathed about 80 per cent of their canola and hoped to be finished within days.

"We won't get harvesting until Wednesday or Thursday next week," Darian said.

"For now, like all farmers, the cheque book is in the bottom draw and we'll look to consolidate until after harvest."

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