You could say that Lockington farmers Grant and Naomi Sims have their hands full – a 10,000 acre property and staff to manage, daily transportation of grain to organise, accounting records to keep and three young children with a fourth one on the way.
But the reason for this busy lifestyle is pretty simple.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve – and I think if we can leave the soil for our kids in a better condition than which we found it – then that’s the aim,” Grant said.
“We want to be able to hand this on to the next generation.”
The couple, in their 30s, have created their own little slice of paradise about 15 minutes from the Lockington township on a piece of land that has been in Grant’s family for six generations. While their focus is on cropping, they have recently expanded into beef cattle.
“We have also just celebrated 140 years on this land,” Grant said. “It was 1887 when my family first bought this land. It was Samuel Sims, and his family grew produce.
“They were great entrepreneurs and the land has been passed down through the generations since then. I consider us very lucky to live out here.”
Grant and Naomi grew 11 crop varieties last year using flood irrigation. Their irrigation infrastructure was modernised in 2014 as part of the Connections Project with some open channels replaced with pipes.
The couple are always trialling innovative ideas with a focus on diversity and crop rotation.
“We’ve got wheat, barley, oats, canola, beans and lentils among others. We’ve also been trying out companion cropping - growing canola and fava beans together,” Grant said.
“We do lots of trials – probably too many sometimes - to see what works in our own paddocks. Bearing in mind that production costs have gone up and sometimes profitability doesn’t quite match,” he said.
The couple are very mindful of soil health and what they apply to their paddocks.
“It does all come back to sprays,” Naomi said. “We minimise this as much as we can.
“As we stopped relying on synthetic chemicals and fertilisers, we noticed more ants, spiders and insects in the paddock – everything came to life,” Grant said.
“And for every one pest there are far more good bugs. You have to realise that insecticide kills everything – both the good and the bad. A pest is only a pest because of its ability to reproduce so rapidly.”
Grant said pests and disease are often a symptom that the soil and surrounding environment might be out of balance.
“As things get more in balance, there are usually fewer issues. Diversity is important to ensure there’s a range of soil nutrients,” he said.
For Naomi, life on the farm is a very different kind of paradise to the one she grew up with.
“I’m originally from the Mornington Peninsula. I’m used to being five minutes from the beach,” she said.
“Grant and I met in London in 2006 and he asked me to move back here with him. I said to him, ‘Is the farm near the beach?’, and he said ‘no’. So I asked ‘Can I get a pool?’ and he said ‘ok’.
“I’m still waiting on the pool and now have three children championing the idea,” she jokes.
The family try to spend two to three weeks a year at the beach when time allows – bearing in mind that almost four months of the year is spent working long hours during sowing, harvest and hay season.
Grant said his wife plays an important role in the farm’s operation and is very engaged in all facets of the work. He said she’s never been one to sit back while others do the work.
“She helps keep the ship running. At eight months pregnant with our first child she was driving tractors around the property – much to the horror of our neighbours,” he said.
“It is awesome being able to bounce ideas off Naomi, I value her opinion as she brings a fresh perspective to things which as a generational farmer I may not always identify.”
In the last eight months Naomi has been learning how to run the farm’s books.
“I now have a greater depth of understanding of the operational impact on the financials of running a business – It is a fulltime job which will continue to evolve as our business evolves,” she said.
The couple’s three children are River, 9, Shiloh, 7, and Hunter, 4. The latest addition to the family is due in May.
Grant and Naomi agree that it’s been great to give their children the best of both worlds – the coast and the country.
“The kids love it out here. Hunter already thinks he’s a cowboy – he loves animals, fish and everything outdoorsy,” Grant said.
“There are heaps of families around here with children of the same age. It’s a great community and an environment where everyone helps one another.
“We are always saying to them, ‘What’s that plant?’ and we teach them about the soil. We are so lucky we can take the kids to work every day – and teach them about life,” he said.