Matt and Mandy Fleming believe they are working towards creating the best possible work/life balance.
Plenty of work on-farm, plenty of work off-farm.
With 226 hectares south of Finley and a successful contract sowing and harvesting business, Matt splits his time 50-50 between farming his property and farming for others — and he’s reaping the rewards of both.
Mandy spends a fair slice of her time working as a nurse and when she’s off duty she is press-ganged as the driver on the chaser bin.
And then there are the children — Charlotte, 13, Savannah, 10, and Zander, 7 — who are clearly having the work ethic drilled into them as well.
How balanced can you get?
Matt says the current schedule does have some serious advantages.
“I can justify having up-to-date equipment and bigger gear because I go contracting with it,” he explained.
Matt and Mandy married during the millennium drought and purchased their property, an ex-dairy farm run-off block, which they have been improving ever since — undergoing a solid lime and gypsum program and addressing trace element deficiencies.
“We’ve done a lot of land-forming work in the past 13 years to make watering easier, allow for better machinery access and we’ve kept the crop rotation simple, with wheat and canola, so it works in with my contracting jobs,” Matt said.
The Flemings irrigate with permanent general allocation water and use off-allocation water when it’s available to water 100ha of their land.
They have grown rice seven times in the past but can only do so when water is cheap and allocation is good.
The family runs 80 to 100 trade cattle each year and grows grazing wheat to suit the cattle as well as making or buying in hay.
“We use Nathan Everingham in Finley as our stock agent and have a good working relationship with him,” Mandy said.
“We buy them in at three to four months and turn them around in 10 to 12 months for market. They grow out to be these beautiful beasts and we benefit from looking after them.”
Matt and Mandy both come from dairy farming backgrounds and were adamant they would raise their kids on a farm.
Farm contracting has enabled them to pursue this dream but, as Matt explains, there are a lot of perks to contracting.
“Contracting work is good because it provides off-farm income in case of drought or no water allocation.
“But it’s also good for you to be off-farm and seeing different farming techniques, learning from other farmers — you have an open mind because you’re regularly talking to other farmers about what they’re doing and why.
“For instance, a client was growing some Scepter wheat and was having good luck with it, so I’ve sown it this year and it’s performing splendidly.”
Matt carries out contract work within a 50km radius of their farm, using a Case tractor, disc-seeder and tyne-seeder, Case big square baler and John Deere header.
But as most farmers know, this year has proved difficult finding people to operate the machinery.
The Flemings usually employ seasonal staff (mostly young agriculture students on holidays with short-term working visas and backpackers) between March and June to help with sowing.
They then rely on the home-grown labour force to manage most of the harvest work — with Matt and his sidekick Zander in the header, Mandy in the chaser and her dad, Roger Modderkolk, driving the Stirling truck.
“We’ve had some great Argentinian and Estonian workers with us in the past — but I don’t like labelling them all as backpackers, because more often than not they’re skilled ag students from farms overseas,” Matt said.
“We also have a young, reliable and enthusiastic guy who joins us after hours and on weekends and that’s such a huge help during peak periods.”
In Matt’s experience, his clients — mostly cropping, sheep and dairy farmers — benefit from the fact he can get in, sow the cereals and the pastures and they can carry on with the demands of their day-to-day routines.
With such an emphasis on efficient work methods it is little wonder the Fleming family has achieved so much in such a short time.
“We’re striving to get the balance right — between commitments with the kids, spending time with family and friends,” Mandy said.
“We’re relatively young, we’re raising the kids on the farm — which is what we had always intended — and at the same time, we’ve been able to build up both the farm and our contracting business.”