NSW is home to some 500 sugarcane farming families, many of whom are multi-generational farmers. When you look at the combination of the agribusiness, location and lifestyle of sugarcane farming in NSW, it’s not hard to appreciate why it is such an appealing occupation.
Kevin and Peter Twohill are a dynamic father and son partnership farming over 200 hectares of sugarcane at Tumbulgum in the scenic Tweed Valley.
Kevin’s father and uncle were farmers and having wanted to follow in their footsteps from an early age, he began working on the family property straight out of school.
After tragically losing his father when he was just a teenager, Kevin and his mother, along with his uncle, took on responsibility for the farming operation. During this time, Kevin also worked as a harvester driver during the crushing season and spent several years working for a local hydraulics business.
These early years provided the platform from which he was able to get his own start in cane farming, taking on the lease on a cane farming property at nearby Chinderah. He then bought the family farm, enabling his mother to retire. Some five years later the opportunity arose to purchase his uncles’ property, getting Kevin closer to being able to rely more on farming income and less on off-farm work.
By 1995 Kevin started farming full time for himself.
Like his father, Kevin and his wife Roslyn’s son Peter always wanted to be a farmer. From the tender age of about 6 years old, he recalls grabbing his pillow and heading out to spend hours on the tractor with his Dad.
Peter decided to leave school after Year 10 and was encouraged by his parents to gain paid employment and off-farm experience that he could fall back on. This led to Peter working with a couple of local businesses as well as farm and harvesting crews during the busy time of the cane season.
Having joined the Tweed Central Harvesting group in 2009 as a seasonal harvester operator, he then took on his first share farm of 20 hectares with his Aunt and Uncle in 2011. By 2014 he had a total of 40 hectares under lease with a 10-year term and made the transition to full time farming.
Like many Australian farmers, Kevin and Roslyn started from scratch. He managed to buy and lease additional parcels of land over time as opportunities arose. Likewise, investment in machinery and equipment has been staged.
The sharing of machinery assets has made it more affordable for Kevin and a group of neighbouring cane growers to invest in new equipment. For example, a shared stool-splitter fertiliser box worth in excess of $40,000 is jointly owned and it fertilises some five farms and well over 800 hectares each year.
In recent years, Kevin and Peter have made changes to their farming practice such as wider rows, zonal tillage and rotational cropping. Autosteer and GPS technology aid in what they refer to as ‘zone’ working, which is designed to deliver greater productivity and efficiency gains. As Peter says; “the less you touch the soil the better it is.”
Both father and son share in a great sense of satisfaction as farmers. Whilst they cannot control the weather or the global price of sugar, they do cite their occupation as being; “very rewarding, especially when you get to see the crops grow each year after all of the time, work and effort you put in.”