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.
Alister and Helen both grew up on Woodford Island, the largest inland Island in the Southern Hemisphere. Alister was the only son born to his dairy farming parents; with Helen and her siblings raised on a nearby cane farm. Throughout their 50-plus years of marriage they have built up a substantial farming enterprise and raised two sets of twin boys who have grown into successful young men in their own right.
At just 18 years of age and having already spent a number of years working on the cane loading derricks and cane cutting gangs, Alister decided to add cane growing to the mix. After bringing his first stalks of cane home to his parents’ dairy farm in the boot of his prized Holden automobile, the keen young farmer planted his first 4 row sugar cane crop.
After marrying young nurse, Helen, the pair soon purchased their first property and together they set about building both family and farm.
Alister juggled work on the cane derricks with work on the farm, taking advantage of the lucrative pay rates for derrick employees whilst farming in his spare time. Helen managed her own juggling act as she combined motherhood and farming..
By the early 1970’s Alister committed to cane farming full time as he took on share farming of his parents’ property as well as improving his own 20-hectares.
Over the years that followed the couple added to their farming acres through the acquisition of farms as both properties and bank manager loan approvals became available!
Today, Alister and Helen own and farm some 240 hectares, working with their full time Farm Manager, Luke Moloney.
Soon after starting a university degree to become a primary school teacher, Luke realised that teaching wasn’t his passion – agriculture was. That was when he started working as a farm hand for the McFarlane’s. Ten years later, Luke is now taking on more of the farm operational responsibilities and has experience across cropping, cattle, horticulture, mechanics and fencing, just to name a few. He also admits that the lifestyle and climate offered up to a cane farmer in the northern rivers are second to none.
Alister and Helen have managed to grow and prosper as farmers in the Clarence Valley through their openness to innovation and experimentation coupled with an acute business savvy and attention to detail.
Alister has embraced technology and developed a diverse farming portfolio of cane, cattle and nuts built on trial, error and invention. He has done this with the support of Helen’s meticulous eye for detail and understanding of performance and financial reporting indicators.
When asked what has made Alister and Helen so successful in building up their farming business, it is Luke who jumps in and offers up the word “teamwork.”
Whilst he may be the newest member to the team, Luke’s own work ethic and willingness to learn make him a valued member of the McFarlane farming enterprise both now and into the future.