How to: Buy your first farm

Australian farms are a hot commodity among overseas buyers

For many city folk, the attraction of a farm and the country life proves irresistible.

But how can you turn your dream into a reality?

Horses

 

Darren Wamsley, Director at Manning Valley Property and Livestock on the mid-north coast of NSW says that interest from first-time farmers has risen during the past six months.

“Most of the buyers we are seeing are first timers, a lot of them from Sydney but also from across NSW and Queensland.”

“Prices have snuck up and properties which weren’t moving are now selling; mostly to baby boomers cashing in their city house prices to buy a farm.”

Making that tree change does come at a cost. In most areas, you will need a budget of $500,000 – $1.5 million to buy a property which is capable of being a viable enterprise.

The land

Making a living as a farmer is not easy and getting the land equation right is a critical factor for success.

Start with the crop you want to grow or livestock you want to raise then ensure your property has the right:

  • Soil type – you can commission your own test
  • Size – sufficient to grow enough produce to be viable
  • Aspect – north facing slopes tend to be frost free
  • Location – ensure trucks can and will access the property

Inexperienced buyers should conduct an inspection with an experienced farm manager or consultant and look for signs of degradation such as salinity, erosion and chemical contamination, as these can be costly to repair.

Wamsley recommends looking for signs of past use, particularly diesel storage, abattoirs or sheep and cattle dips.

The house

Farmhouse

 

The most important aspect of the farmhouse is that it is liveable, provides adequate accommodation and is well positioned.

Wamsley suggests buyers think of the house as secondary saying, “If your farm is for income, the house is not important because you can’t change the land but you can change the house.”

The house is secondary – you can change the house but you can’t change the land.

Water

Australia is the driest inhabited continent with many districts going through extended periods of unreliable rainfall. The critical factors to understand about a property’s water supply include:

  • Reliability – Wamsley suggests looking at rainfall records over 20 years
  • Source – bore, dam, river, irrigation
  • Quality – ensure it is right for the intended purpose

Irrigation rights are a plus, but farmers should factor in the cost of electricity to run the pumps.

Regulations

Commercial farms have to comply with a number of government regulations including:

  • Fertiliser and chemical use
  • Control of pests and weeds
  • Treatment of animals – stock and native
  • Fences along boundaries, roads and waterways
  • Fire prevention
  • Clearing of trees or scrub
  • Land and water conservation

Generally speaking, you have the right to continue an existing use and land can brought into production if it meets local zoning.

Wamsley says that it is intensive uses, such as feedlots, piggeries and chicken farms which have the hardest time getting approvals.

Feedlots, piggeries and chicken farms have the hardest time getting approvals.

Be a little different

Most of Australia’s best farmland is held in large parcels by experienced operators which can make it hard for first timers to find a viable farm within their budget.

Wamsley says the best opportunities lie in ‘niche’ uses, such as guinea fowl or ducks, and incorporating on-farm accommodation to provide extra income.

Then with a little luck and a lot of hard work your farm dream can come true.

Read more: Betting the farm – what’s impacting rural land values