Keeping families on farms is a challenge that entrepreneur, Sam Marwood, has taken head on – but it has not been easy.
He remembers the conversations while growing up as one of six children on the family’s dairy farm at Dingee in Central Victoria. It was clear from the age of 8 he wouldn’t get the farm.
Now 35 and living in the regional centre of Albury, he works as the operations director for not-for-profit organisation, Odonata, which fosters investment into biodiversity-focused businesses, including in agriculture.
Odanata also is funding his start-up, Cultivate Farms, a matchmaking service for farms and want-to-be farmers.
“That’s where I got the idea from. I was one of six kids and Mum and Dad couldn’t figure out how to get the money out – they had to sell,” he said.
About four years ago, with co-founders Tim and Tegan Hicks, Mr Marwood set-up Cultivate Farms before making a pitch to potential investors. The concept caught Odanata’s eye.
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Mr Marwood admits he’s lost all his practical skills “so should probably never be a farmer”, so sees his role now as somebody who can help others get into the business.
“I can remember at a very young age thinking I’m not going to get the farm,” he said.
Essentially, Odanata helps get ideas business ready and matches them with capital. His Cultivate Farms model is a digital platform on which people with land can register, as can people with a business plan.
Cultivate farms then works to get the business plans investment ready and match them with potential investors, and a farm.
Mr Marwood said this model would allow people who owned land to retain land ownership, but help them meet people with business ideas who could run the farm as a separate business.
He said the business was currently working with about 40 retiring farmers, and was in the process of finding the right aspiring businesses to which they might match.
The advantage of also attracting investors, meant aspiring farmers with a good business plan could find the farm and the capital in the one place.
He said it has taken a while – including working through about 1000 business proposals – but they might finally have their first match.
Mr Marwood said Cultivate Farms was a long term project, including the process of gathering enough farms and business plans onto the books to make it viable.
“From an aspiring farmer point of view there is no hope for them (if they want to buy a farm) – there is no-one else doing this,” he said.
“And we’ve got a lot of retiring farmers who don’t just want to sell. They want to work with an aspiring next generation farmer and take it to the next level.”
Mr Marwood said all the investors he had dealt with were Australian based. The message for aspiring farmers, meanwhile, was potential investors were everywhere.
“The problem is that you haven’t got an investment opportunity on paper,” he said, emphasising the importance of an investment ready business plan.
Cultivate Farms was working on a range of avenues through which it could attract investment, including crowd funding and targeting self-managed superannuation.
Friends, family and others in the community who might want to invest were also an option, the idea being they could help an aspiring farmer over the line with initial outlay to secure a bank loan.
Beyond these options, there was also the high net worth individual sector, where potential investors could also be sought.
“There must be so many people out there who want to be involved in, but not run the farm,” Mr Marwood said.
“If you’ve got money and you know where you want to buy, we can work out a tender to match with an investor.”
Set up the mind set for success
Keeping families on farms and attracting people to a country town are achievable goals, says Sam Marwood, co-founder of digital succession business, Cultivate Farms.
His business is an online service which facilitates the introduction of landholders, business proposals and investors and was a recent winner of the Regional Institute of Australia’s Lightbulb Moments competition.
The barrier was that people lacked the right mindset, or the hope, to get the skills their community needed.
“We want people to treat becoming a farmer like being an entrepreneur – hustle to make opportunities happen,” he said.
“And then regional communities can treat it like being an incubator, and they can help stitch up the opportunities for the very best entrepreneurs.
“It’s a mindset thing – we can tell retiring farmers they can leave it, or sell it to the big boys, but how’s that good for the community?
“There are so many solutions, but people haven’t got the mindset to find them… people want to live in your town, but they don’t know there are opportunities.”
He said it is the people in these communities, on the farms and in the towns, that know best where the farms are that could be part of this.
“All this is just about conversations. We need to get people together and talk about how do we run this farm.”