The Five Things We Wish We’d Known When We Started Farming

When we started farming, we made (approximately) 10 million mistakes – still do! There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s how you learn, after all. But it would have been SO good to have been able to (i) avoid the worst ones; and (ii) speed up the process of learning so we got profitable, faster.

Here we are back in September 2003!
Merv Katie planting last apple tree-480x281
Katie and her Merv (her Dad) planting a new orchard block.

We were lucky enough to have my Dad here to teach us the basics of fruit growing (and still do), and it would have been even slower without him. He’s taught us heaps about the technical aspects of fruit growing, irrigation, grafting and growing our own trees – amongst many other things. I guess he was our first mentor and teacher.

But we’ve had to forge our own way with organic growing, which involves a completely different understanding of nearly every aspect of fruit growing, as well as developing a new way of marketing using farmers markets and social media.

With the benefit of hindsight, if we could have waved a magic wand and got what we needed right at the start, here’s our list of the…

The Top Five Things We Wish We’d Known When We Started Farming

  1. How important soil is
    Who knew? We’d kind of heard of soil before we started farming, but we thought it was just something that held the trees upright. The moment we realised that our soil is a living organism (and that pretty much the whole health of our farm depends on soil biology) was a beautiful day. It’s just a pity it came about 8 years after we’d started farming!
  2. How to control pests and diseases organically
    goldrich-apricots-treeLike soil, we’d kinda heard of biodiversity, but thought it had something to do with looking after native bush. We had no notion of our farm as being part of the landscape, or that biodiversity and working with nature is absolutely key to naturally controlling pests and diseases. We’ve also learned a suite of really useful tricks and techniques for protecting our crops from all the things that want to eat them, and that would have been pretty useful info in advance as well!
  3. Farming is risky
    We learned this the hard way, after many difficult years, crop losses and painful lessons. If only we’d known at the beginning how incredibly risky this business is, we would have built a more resilient business from the start. Then all those calamities (drought, torn netting, flood, bird plagues, disease outbreaks…) would have been expected and planned for, rather than being really depressing and painful body blows.
  4. How to be profitable
    Like many others, at the beginning we had our heads in the clouds and were full of the warm fuzzy visions of ‘living the dream’. Knowing what we know now, we would have put more time into the planning process so we could have got things right at the beginning to ensure our profitability (e.g., scale of the farm, alternative income streams, how to put a value on our time etc).
  5. The importance of having a mentor
    There are many different types of mentors, business consultants, advisers etc., and we’ve worked with lots of them over the last 8 years or so (and always will)! It’s been so incredibly useful to work with someone who can see our business from the outside, take us through essential processes like business planning, and tell us all the things we didn’t even know we needed to know! Through mentoring we’ve established our vision, values and goals, got the right technical info, implemented a business growth plan and set up the right business structures. It’s sort of like having a compass to guide your business in the right direction—and without it, it’s very easy to get lost!

Now that we know what we need to know, we know we’ll always need to know more!

Cheers, Katie

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