That's the Spirit: Greg and Tania Moody - Hermidale
Greg and Tania Moody are farmers from Hermidale, where they run a tight ship both at home and in the community of which they are active members. Their son and his wife are part of a new generation breathing life into a small community that, like farmers in the region, is tough and used to getting going when the going gets tough. The couple spoke with JEN COWLEY about the future of farming and the importance of community for coming generations.
Tania: Hermidale has had a bit of a resurgence again lately with younger people coming back. Having young ones back on the land and in the community really helps revive us all.
Greg: The young ones generally these days are encouraged to go away and get a trade or a qualification before coming back to the land whereas when I young, our parents’ generation, they just wanted you back for labour as soon as possible. The thinking was that you didn’t need to go out and get any other skills behind you, you’d just come home, work for the love of it for quite a few years until you took over. That meant you didn’t really get the experience of being a young person having new experiences of the world.
I always told myself I’d never do that to my boys. I’d let them go and spread their wings and then, at an appropriate time if they still wanted to come back to the land, well, that was their choice.
I wasn’t forcing them like it was forced onto me.
And it was our son’s choice to come back. Not only him, but some of his other mates from the bush. They had the opportunities in Sydney, but they all yearned to get back to the country. Over a period of about three or four years when our son came back in about 2010, about six or seven of his mates all came back to the area, quite a few around Hermidale, so going from a community that was dying all of a sudden you had a heap of 22, 23- and 24-year-olds turn up again and it’s just a breath of fresh air.
Greg and Tania Moody, Hermidale NSW
Jen: How do you see that playing out?
Greg: Initially they came back and they wanted to play footy. The football club had folded in Nyngan, so these boys kickstarted it again and once you have a football club in a rural town, it becomes a social hub. It gets older people off their place and back to watching footy and doing what they used to do.
So from a mental health point of view, there’s a huge advantage to having clubs, particularly when you get droughts like we have at the moment. We really noticing Nyngan this year with the (rugby) league and union both being successful, a lot of people are spending time at the weekends going to sport and travelling around and networking again, which is good for everyone. There are even people we’ve been aware of that haven’t been getting off the place and now they’ve been lifted up on the euphoria of their footy sides doing well. They’re going to the footy to follow their teams, so it’s getting their minds off the mundane day-to-day issues, and that was all sparked from those young guys coming back and reforming the club. And it wasn’t just the footy clubs. In Hermidale, they have a gymkhana once a year in April, they have a family fun day – and the young ones are now running the family fun day so they’ve also become involved in those other things too.
Jen: So there’s succession planning going on not just in the farming sector but in the community as well?
Tania: There is now. When the young ones first came back there was also the beach volleyball and that was a really popular event. That sort of fell by the wayside because there was a lot of work involved and it was our age group that organised it. Our age group is diminishing in the community to a degree – they’re either withdrawing through work, the toll of the drought and depression or fractures in the community through marriage breakdowns – that sort of thing has meant some people have left.
Greg: Some of them have had children a bit later and they’re going off to boarding school, so the parents are following their children. On weekends quite a few people disappear to Orange and Sydney.
Tania: When we were younger, there was a great social network and there was a bit of a generation gap for a while. Now we’re seeing the younger age group that’s come back following their parent’s lead and getting involved. They’re maybe a bit later in developing that community mindedness.
Our generation is in our 50s and 60s, so it’s time the younger ones stepped up because when you’ve been doing community events and on boards and committees all your life, by the time you get to this age you’ve got grandkids coming along, you want to step back a bit, so we’re relying on that younger generation to start taking over the community role.
Greg: That’s so much easier when the seasons are good and when everybody’s vibrant. Right now, when you’re in the depths of the drought, that’s when the tough really come to the fore. You need to be resilient; so you can cope with everyday issues and at the same time still contribute to the community.
Tania: Now, more than ever, is when you really to be sociable. This is when you need that connection most.
Greg: It’s sort of masked the problems we have on the farm. There’s nothing we can do here – I keep saying to our son and reinforcing it with him, because he’s so frustrated that we’re not spraying crops or fertilising or whatever, and he says “bloody hell, we should be doing something” but I just keep telling him it’s out of our hands right now.
Jen: What helps you stay positive?
Tania: Our parents’ generation, during tough times like this, they would just buckle down, wouldn’t spend money, wouldn’t go anywhere. But that’s not good for your mental health or your emotional state and we figure that in the overall scheme of things, it’s not going to make a big difference to our overall financial position to have a few getaway weekends, I think it helps with your mental health by keeping our spirits up and staying positive. And that’s an investment in itself. An investment in your health.
Greg and Tania Moody, Hermidale NSW
Greg: The saviour, I suppose, is low interest rates. If they were at 14 per cent that would really be doing people in.
Jen: Tell me about your involvement with the tennis club?
Greg: The tennis club in Hermidale was quite active for a while then it started to go by the wayside. I think people’s busy lifestyles, plus kids’ sports and boarding school commitments make it difficult to fit the time in. We’d actually raised money and constructed the new building during the last drought, and it has now become the community hall. The old CWA hall was sold and the remaining members of the CWA approached us to ask if they could relocate to the tennis club. Some of the younger local girls have now decided they want to be CWA members.
Tania: They’ve gone from about three members to around a dozen and they’re all the young ones, which is great.
Jen: The old “when going gets tough the tough get going” notion – do you see that in your small community?
Tania: I do, yes. I’ve seen people withdraw from the community. You won’t see them for ages when things are tough. I tell Greg and our son that I know they’re good farmers – they put good practices in place and this (drought) is beyond their control. This is Mother Nature and there’s nothing you can do to make it rain. If you’re doing everything to the best of your ability and you’re doing it well and you’re still not getting a crop, well there’s nothing more can be done. But if you’re failing and not getting crops because you’re not keeping your weeds under control or your machinery isn’t maintained and you’re not ready to sow at the right time, well that’s bad management.
The fact that we’re not getting crops is not through bad management, it’s through bad times. It can’t be helped. You’re doing everything you possibly can and the rest is out of your control.
Jen: Is there a misconception that a good year is mostly luck?
Greg: It’s a huge misconception.
Jen: Talk to me about that…
Greg: We pay attention to detail, particularly fertiliser rates and trace element requirements. The country is quite capable of producing good yields, it’s just that it’s intolerable to bad management out here, right on the edge of farming country. Unless you do it right, you don’t survive. It’s absolutely unforgiving.
Jen: Do you find the “our poor struggling farmers” label and the pervasive negativity about your industry frustrating?
Greg: It’s frustrating that this is what happens – governments react by putting Band-Aids on things when there’s a drought. Aren’t we past the Band-Aids stage? Governments need to have better tools in place to deal with these issues, like a government backed multi-peril insurance so we can protect ourselves against a whole range of unexpected events. It is hard to get a product in the current market. The progressive farmers know what needs to be done, but it’s frustrating when you’re treated like the poor little farmers getting ‘round with the backside out of your trousers.
Tania: I find it embarrassing. Yes, we’ve had to go into debt and draw on our equity to get through because you can’t live for three years with no income. And yes, it’s frustrating and I hate the fact that farmers are price takers. Take a good year like 2016 – we’ll learn from that year that we’ll never again sell grain under a certain price.
Greg: Because we actually grew some crop in last year – some barley, some wheat – we just said, no, we will not sell for under $400 a tonne, and we got $450 for the barley and $420 for the wheat. And you know, sadly, that was going to graziers who needed to feed their sheep. That’s tough too because you’re selling to your mates and your friends, but on the flip side, they were receiving very good stock prices.
Jen: Ten years from now, how do you think you will look back on this time?
Greg: I think I’ll look back and remember not to take things for granted; to capture and maximise the good times. That’s probably the biggest lesson because people on the land don’t always capitalise on the good times; if they just get comfortable, that’s disaster waiting to happen. You’ve got to nail it in those good years.
Jen: That’s true for every industry and every family, isn’t it?
Greg: Yes, it is. And that’s probably one of the things I was trying to encourage people to do in those years – ‘14, ‘15, ‘16 – to keep their inputs up because we just knew it would come through in the end. It kept us going in that following two years, and we grew a bit last year (’18), but we’ve sold everything now. We know you have to capitalise on the good times and don’t get comfortable with the attitude that this is going to keep on going forever, because we know it won’t.
Jen: Has that pragmatism been important in your ability to keep going in the face of so much doom and gloom?
Tania: Keeping a positive outlook is very hard when you don’t know when the next rain is coming. We’ve had three bad years – you saw the rainfall charts. I keep saying to Greg that given averages, we’re sure to have a better one next year and we’re fortunate to have had the reserves to get through. We’re out of commodities to sell now but we can get through until next harvest. If you come back in 12 months’ time and it’s still like this my attitude might be a bit different!
Greg: Around Walgett they can face one good year out of five. Some of these farmers in this prolonged drought have only had one crop since 2013.
Tania: I guess the hope is that their equity is a bit more because of land value –that’s all you can draw down on when you eventually run through your commodities to sell.
Greg: We are aware of some people in the district who have been struggling emotionally, which affects their work. They just about had their place paid off and now they’ve had to go back into debt. When you see a person suffering, they may be sunken in the face or show some other signs of stress, that’s when we really need to be there for them.
Jen: Is that something you feel is important in community – that you know how to look after each other; you know the signs of when someone needs a yarn?
Greg: You have to be on the lookout all the time. One of the biggest things that’s come out of this drought is that more people talk about (mental health) – more people (are feeling it) in this drought than any drought I’ve seen before. In the past the old farmers would just batten down, shut up and say nothing. Now there’s guys actually talking about it. When we had a “wellbeing day” in Hermidale, it was so well supported. There were people there opening up about things who would never, ever have done that in their life. I was amazed at the openness.
Greg and Tania Moody, Hermidale NSW
Tania: That day made me more aware of keeping an eye and ear out. You think, oh I haven’t seen so-and-so for ages, or that person hasn’t been out and about recently. I’m now more mindful of how if you realise you haven’t seen someone in ages, it might be that they are suffering quietly at home.
Jen: How does being part of and involved with the community help with that sort of thing?
Tania: There’s a few couples of our age group in Hermidale that we make a point to see regularly, we meet at the local pub for tea on a Friday night. That’s our get together. We always come home from the pub feeling good after these catch ups.
Jen: What’s the best thing about living in this community?
Tania: At the moment I’d say the potential for the upcoming generation. I love the way our son’s age group is reinvigorating things.
Greg: There are a lot of backpackers, particularly au-pairs and nannies, who come to the area for work and have hooked up with the local boys and married them. The single boys are excited about the next lot of backpackers to come because there’s potential for partners.
Jen: Do you see a bright future for your son and his generation and for primary production in the region?
Tania: Only through good management.
Jen: There’s an element of natural attrition?
Tania: Yes, definitely.
Greg: This area has some of the best farmers in Australia. It’s marginal country and what they produce out there, it’s incredible. Not enough people avail themselves of the information about how they do it.
Tania: We have been part of farmers’ groups like the Central West Farming Systems, based out of Condobolin, and also Sustainable Nyngan Agriculture (SNAG) which has presented positive networking opportunities.
Greg: Being part of these groups and going to things like field days is a mental health thing as well as anything else at the moment (during drought) because it’s a distraction to the mundane activities of feeding stock and carting water.