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need different set of skills
"Minimum farm size is very com-
modity and commodity price-depen-
dent, and also depends on whether
there is any off-farm income," he
"Additionally, land fertility has a
major role, as does access to markets.
Notwithstanding this, indicative min-
imum farm size for a beef operation is
estimated at 200ha for 40 breeding
cows grazing on average soils."
To prevent their diminutive prop-
erty size working against them, Dr
Lapidge advises small-area farmers to
coordinate with neighbours in share-
farming projects, and seek advice
from wherever they can.
There is plenty of help out there for
people who need to be pointed in the
right direction, including the Rural
Solutions SA Gross Margin guide,
formal education courses at TAFE,
university, and WEA, and the knowl-
edge base of agricultural consultants.
"Consultants should be used to
drive small-farm profitability through
land capability assessment, increas-
ing soil fertility, increasing water use
efficiency, developing supply chains,
and examining profit drivers in indi-
vidual agribusinesses," Dr Lapidge
One such consultant is Scholefield
Robinson Horticultural Services
director Peter Scholefield.
But Dr Scholefield is hesitant about
recommending that people try to
make a living out of small-area farm-
ing, and suggests they should treat
any profit out of such exercises as a
bonus rather than the main goal.
"Many people do not understand
rural life but have a strong desire to
get away from the city and enjoy the
freedom of a small farm," he said.
"They do not know how much
work it takes to manage a farm, par-
ticularly when you may be also work-
ing in a full-time job to pay for the
"Often the sums done before buy-
ing are based on unrealistic figures or
a rosy story from the seller about how
much time you have to spend on the
farm -- the desire to live in the coun-
try can be satisfied with a house on a
small property (less than 1ha) rather
than on 10ha."
He says it is particularly common
to see sellers misrepresent water
availability at properties, with
promises of spring-fed creeks, good
bores, or large dams often insufficient
to irrigate the area needed for a prof-
The situation worsens when buyers
choose a property because of the view,
a nearby native forest, or a nice house
rather than its suitability for farming.
He feels most small properties can-
not justify the machinery needed to
operate a serious farming business,
meaning expensive contractors need
to be brought in for tasks such as
ploughing, sowing, and spraying.
Such operations have significantly
less power in conventional markets,
forcing producers to turn to alterna-
tive, time-intensive routes such as
pick-your-own schemes, roadside
stalls, and farmer markets.
For those serious about getting a
farm up and going, Dr Scholefield
recommends low-maintenance, low-
"Annual crops like speciality veg-
etables, herbs, capers, flowers and
berries require less capital investment
than perennial crops and you can
change the crop every growing sea-
son," he said.
"On the other hand perennial crops
like fruit trees, grape vines and nuts
have high capital for irrigation sys-
tems, planting material, trellis, etc,
and it is difficult to change crops. You
have a 20-25 year commitment after
• Need to know more?
Rural Solutions SA 1300 364 322,
Scholefield Robinson Horticultural
Services 08 8373 2488
Smooth sailing with Dexters
FOR those who want to run livestock
on a small property but battling for
space, Kim Baddams has a simple
suggestion -- Dexter cattle.
Kim (pictured) and his wife Sally
run five breeding cows and a bull of
the diminutive breed, which are about
a third the size of a Holstein, on their
5-hectare property near Woodside --
and they don't even use up all the
"They're great for both milk and
beef, and we sell onto mainstream
markets at times, same price per kilo
as big cattle -- if you choose your
market right," he said.
Kim regularly sells calves to other
small farmers, and is now chairman of
the SA Dexter Promotion organisa-
"They can pay for themselves and
give you pleasure and a good
lifestyle," he said.
"They certainly reduce our cost of
living. It's not something I would rec-
ommend small farmers try and make
a viable business out of, but I am giv-
ing it a try."
• Need to know more?
Kim Baddams 08 8389 9282
Rural Solutions SA agribusiness
director Steve Lapidge says people
often overlook how hard it is to
manage a farm.
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