Way out west, a father and son are working a relatively smaller holding, running sheep and cropping cereals. But they are well on their way to being the best-known farmers in the state, on the coattails of son Mark’s entry to the world of YouTube — and beyond, writes ANDREW MOLE.
Mark Merrett is too busy to simply sit at the controls of his self-propelled Miller Nitro sprayer as he prepares another paddock on the family’s Telopea Downs farm in western Victoria for seeding.
Any normal, blue-blooded 25-year-old country boy might have the music going at decibels sufficient to drown out any challenging sounds, or might even be happy to hook into a humorous podcast for an hour or two.
But not Mark, he is flat out fielding media calls, talking to sponsors, juggling the family farm with contracting work, fitting in wife Chelsey and their children Alexandra, 2, and Jeddy, nine months — and coming up with the ideas for his next YouTube video.
Because while COVID-19 and lockdowns may have got most of us down, they have been the making of Mark and his increasingly popular online presence.
“I started doing a few things on YouTube back in 2019, it was a bit spontaneous, just talking about things we are doing on the farm, but I didn’t really have a schedule or set time for it,” Mark said.
“So it sort of puttered along until 2020 and COVID, when with all the lockdowns and stuff I had a lot more time on my hands so was able to do something more consistently — and it sort of took off.
“It got a lot bigger than I anticipated and has become something far and away from what I expected — initially I just saw it as a chance to show people what happens on a farm in our part of the world.
“Once it got going my plan was then to do it for just one year, to show people who might be interested in Australian farming how it’s done, almost as a resource out there for them to watch.”
It sounded like a good plan at the time — but that was also three years ago.
And Mark is going stronger than ever.
He says once the site started gathering a following — 8200 subscribers and counting at the time of writing — he felt he had to keep going.
At which point sponsors started to approach him, beginning with Ag Leader (with which he has already done of few joint projects, work he describes as “pretty cool”) and followed by McIntosh Distribution, RB Sellars and AgBOT.
Now Mark not only has his own YouTube channel, he has a website, the aforementioned sponsors, and merchandising.
Plus his sporadic early YouTubing days are now a disciplined weekly post (although he admits weekly was his idea, without the pressure he tends to procrastinate and he feels a weekly post is about the right presence).
On his website he has pitched the origin of his story:
So you know food comes from the supermarket, but do you know where it begins its journey?
Well you’ve come to the right place.
After seeing many other farmers overseas showing this process, I decided to make it my mission to show our unique process here in southern Australia through a YouTube channel.
This YouTube channel has brought us many opportunities, including television and radio appearances, multiple newspaper articles, national leadership programs and product reviews.
But at the heart of these efforts is a love for the land and the process of farming, an endeavour to produce quality, healthy products and a generational legacy of farming to keep up.
So why don’t you come along for the journey, Let’s Go Farming!
Because he is now in the fourth year of his one-year project, and has become something of a bush celebrity, Mark also faces growing demands from his newfound ‘public’ and has started offering his appearance at product demos, live speaking, zoom appearances, school Q&A sessions and as a brand ambassador.
“Whenever I think we’re doing something interesting, I make a video and most of the time it seems people like what we are putting up,” Mark said.
“I thought we were doing well with 8000-plus subscribers, but sometimes, when I look at some of the sites in the US, their numbers get me down a bit, but there’s a lot more people there than we have here.
“I do nearly all the shooting, with a GoPro, and while it’s a bit like amateur hour, I have got much better at imagining what will work and what won’t, and going through the editing process before posting has also taught me a lot at the same time.
“I couldn’t see many others doing something like this at the time I started, so I thought I would give it a go, and today there’s quite a few options available.”
While Mark remains the main man, his family can be seen from time to time, and his father Ewan, with whom he farms, makes cameo appearances.
“Dad isn’t on much, but I think he enjoys seeing the finished product more than he cares to admit — and the subscribers have said they really enjoy his input,” Mark smiled.
“Even our daughter Alex has taken to grabbing the camera if I leave it around and trying to make her own videos.”
Between father and son, they are generations five and six in the district, and two and three on the land they currently farm — which has about 1000ha of cropping (wheat, barley, canola, beans and vetch) and 2500 adult ewes, which are Merino based, crossed with Border Leicester sires with the first cross ewes joined to terminal sires for the meat market.
But Mark says the wool also plays a big role in the farm budget as well.
“We are right up against the SA border and just to the south of us is good cropping country but we’re too far north of that, so we do it a little tougher, but we reckon our block is a good size for the two of us to run,” he said.
“On the side I also do a bit of contracting, mostly canola swathing, but right now that’s a little on the backburner fitting in with everything else we do on the farm.”
Mark describes his YouTube adventure as something which has evolved into “a personal journey”.
“Landline is about the only thing on TV which shows off Australian farming, which is one of the reasons I got into it in the first place, and now although most of our subscribers and followers are farmers, we do have a good number of non-farm followers as well,” Mark said.
“This whole journey, as I now call it, has also created a lot of opportunities, appearances on TV, keynote speaker at a Sydney conference, and incredible connections across Australia — I think I can say I have had a lot of growth in myself.
“It has also given me a better understanding of the media’ the pain points in it and the way things can be, and have been, taken out of context. All valuable lessons.”
So with daughter Alex already showing an inclination to be in front of the camera, is this self-made bush celebrity thinking about a digital dynasty?
“Well, I guess, you should never say never.”
If you want to know more about Mark, or need someone to handle your next canola crop, you can email him at [email protected]