Challenges trumped by farmer's steady resolve

Challenges trumped through farmer's resolve


Life & Style
LONG LEGACY: Wharminda farmer Geoff Prime has farmed for 80 years and still enjoys helping in the sheep yards.

LONG LEGACY: Wharminda farmer Geoff Prime has farmed for 80 years and still enjoys helping in the sheep yards.

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Fifty-Five years ago, Geoff Prime was told he would never work on the family farm at Wharminda again because of ill health but through steely determination, he will mark his 80th harvest this year.

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Fifty-Five years ago, Geoff Prime was told by doctors he would never work on the family farm at Wharminda again because of ill health, but through steely determination, the 95-year-old will mark his 80th harvest this year.

Born in Tumby Bay in 1924, Geoff was raised at Port Neil and began his farming legacy in the area as a young teenager.

"In 1940, I remember walking through a paddock after 75 millimetres of rain had fallen just before harvest and there were lagoons lining the roadside - these days they can grow crops there," he said.

In the 1950s, he moved to Wharminda with his wife Kath and began a family farm of his own, which today includes six adjoining properties operated by his three sons Peter, Andrew and Chris.

Geoff's farming career has been plagued by Bell's palsy, a paralysis of the muscles.

His issues began in 1964, which Geoff remembers being a very difficult year personally, but he said the farm was "prospering".

"The season opened well and crops were sown on time," he said.

"But, while I was preparing the paddocks at night in a tractor without a cab, my face felt frozen and my eye lid was not opening and closing."

Later that week, while Geoff was fixing a fence, he injured his hand and realised there was no pain.

Since then, Geoff has retrained himself to eat and be able to farm with limited feeling and movement on the right side of his body.

"The doctors told my wife I would never farm again," he said.

But Geoff continued to run the family farm and he remembered the challenges of 1977 vividly, as the district was hit by drought.

"It was the toughest year I can remember on this farm, we only sold 12 tonnes of wheat for the entire harvest," he said.

"We only had cultivation techniques so we were extremely vulnerable to soil drift."

Geoff is also a self-confessed "sheep man".

"Sheep are wonderful and I began Nantoura Poll Merino stud in 1977," he said.

"It is amazing to see the change in sheep breeding throughout the years - everyone is trying to breed a larger and plainer style of sheep."

Geoff believed progression was paramount to sustain the family's farming enterprise.

"I am quite proud we ceased mulesing 10 years ago," he said.

Geoff said despite the leaps and bounds in the sheep industry, the traits of a well-bred ram remained the same.

"It needs to stand square, have a large body and plain rump," he said.

Geoff said he believed that passing on the farm to his children was important.

He continued to provide a guiding hand to his sons but the cropping enterprise was handed over in the late 1980s and the sheep stud in the mid 1990s.

"I am a great believer in letting go and allowing the children make the changes they thought were needed," he said.

"It is important to be open to new ways of farming - you have to be progressive."

New practices offer solutions

RAPID technology progression has been the biggest surprise for Geoff Prime, a farmer of 80 years.

Geoff began farming at Wharminda using horses, but today his sons Peter, Andrew and Chris are using the latest machinery.

"We are using massive tractors that have more pulling power than I could have imagined - horses got the job done but farming is much less labour-intensive now," he said.

The first tractor Geoff used on his Wharminda farm was a Fordson Perkins P6.

"It did not have a cab so working in the elements was difficult," he said.

"But we did not realise the comfort we were missing out on."

Last year, Geoff's sons bought a New Holland T9.615 SmartTrax tractor.

"Ironically we bought it from the grandson of the man that I bought my first tractor from," he said.

Geoff said as much as he loved the original tractor, "you would go broke using it today".

Improved weed control chemistry and crop varieties were also areas of progression that surprised Geoff.

"If my sons had to grow wheat today using the same chemicals and on-farm practices I had to, they would make no profit or reap a single grain," he said.

"Fertilisers combined with the new seed varieties can handle pretty much anything these days."

Geoff said modern farmers also had access to multiple solutions for problems.

"There is always an answer for each problem you face these days," he said.

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