History proves that farming is forever

History proves that farming is forever

The fruits of hard work... Robyn Dean in a new kitchen with her grand daughters Alivia (front) and Chloe.

The fruits of hard work... Robyn Dean in a new kitchen with her grand daughters Alivia (front) and Chloe.


HISTORY has been a dutiful recorder of the roller coaster ride of farming.


HISTORY has been a dutiful recorder of the roller coaster ride of farming.

On the one hand, it presents a solid argument to governments and financiers that agriculture remains a profitable enterprise, despite the dips into pain-staking droughts and low price markets.

On the other hand, farmers continue to battle - armed with this argument of long-term viability - when it comes to convincing governments, for example, to support risk mitigation strategies such as multi-peril crop insurance.

Financiers also baulk at the idea of 15 or 20 year budgets, many of them pleading risk factors that make it impossible for them to provide longer term carry-on finance above a five-year period.

I have written stories of farming families celebrating 100 years in agriculture which provide testament to hard work along with the "near misses" of bank foreclosures and the good times that come from bountiful harvests.

It's the latter that get politicians and most financiers (there are some good ones) excited, cocooned in a short-term world.

But for all the stories, written and unwritten, the golden thread of farming is one of resilience and hope in the future.

And it's always a good story to tell because it inspires and serves to remind those in the "cocoon" that there is a brave new world out there if only they would break into wings rather than remaining as slugs.

This story concerns the Dean family who farm 24 kilometres south of Mullewa - look for the mailbox on the left.

Peter Dean, his wife Robyn and son Fenton run a mixed farming enterprise while daughter Eloise works as an agronomist at Wongan Hills and another daughter, Neree, is married and lives in Gingin.

Peter's father Harry came to Tardun in 1928 and established the farm in the late 1930s with an obvious love of red dirt and a strong faith in Mother Nature, in what is typically a low rainfall district.

Harry's sons Peter and Kevin eventually took over the farm with Peter taking outright ownership with Robyn in 2000 after experiencing the view at the top of the roller coaster during the bountiful 1990s.

What wasn't foreseen were the strangling droughts of 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007, along with a frost year in 2004.

By 2006, with little cash flow, Peter, Robyn and Fenton decided not to put a crop in and to concentrate on their 2000 head sheep flock, which were duly agisted.

Peter and Fenton went to work on the mine at Golden Grove.

Peter's job involved welding and laying pipes and it occurred to him during his time there that perhaps this was something that he could do himself.

Plan B in 2007 was to lease out a lot of the farm for cash flow.

Robyn looked after the sheep, Fenton put in a small crop and Peter set up a contracting business which he called DRIP (Dean's Reticulation, Irrigation and Piping) Services.

Initial work saw Peter working at Perenjori, as new roads and a railhead were being constructed between Mt Gibson mine and Perenjori.

Peter's job was to weld and lay a pipeline back to the railhead for Mt Gibson at Perenjori.

In 2008, with the rollercoaster moving in an upward incline and crop prospects looking excellent, Fenton oversaw a harvest that delivered slightly better than 2 tonnes per hectare, well above budget.

But there was no resting on the proverbial laurels with the global financial crisis and a mining slow down, so after Fenton and Peter finished the harvest they went contract harvesting at Newdegate and Lake Grace.

The following year Peter continued contracting, involving flow rate testing for a hydrology company, and in 2010 started off-site pipe work for the Karara mine at Morawa, which later led to a full-time contract and work on the upgrade of the Morawa-Mullewa railway line.

That contract with Karara finished last August and during that five-year period DRIP Services employed up to 22 people and welded and laid hundreds of kilometres of pipe.

"We started with two employees and myself and Robyn doing the books and we're back to one or two employees," Peter said.

DRIP Services lives on with Peter still doing work at Mt Gibson and stints at Kalgoorlie and Three Springs involving laying pipeline, bore testing and installing pumps.

While he admits he is slowing down and becoming more of a "gopher" these days, the family effort has seen the Deans reclaim their leased property, setting up a viable mixed farming enterprise.

"Mining was the big change in our life," Peter said.

"And we wouldn't be here if we didn't get that work, it saved the farm."

Now it's time to enjoy a new house - and for Robyn a new kitchen - and garden and spend time doing things that were not possible when the rollercoaster was at its nadir.

A new kitchen is one reward for effort and is the obvious main gathering place to reminisce on times gone by.

"It has been hard," Robyn said.

"But in many ways it was just different from today.

"In the early days we had what we could afford whereas now there's lots of credit available so there's different approaches to doing things."

While she shies away from praise, Peter is quick to acknowledge his wife as the "backbone".

"We've been married 42 years and she keeps us positive," Peter said.

Positivity is actually Robyn's secret to life.

"It's easy to feel sorry for yourself when you're going through hard times but you've got to remain positive, because even though it's hard there is always somebody else worse off than you," Robyn said.

"Families also make a big difference in supporting each other and communicating encouragement to one another."

And Peter's parting comment: "It's recognising there are other skills that we've got and sometimes you don't know that until you try."


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