Sports the fabric of farming community in northern Victoria
When times get tough on the farm, it’s local sporting clubs that often help to pull people through.
So say northern Victorian dairy farmers Jade and Belinda Clymo, who devote much of their free time to their small community’s vital sports culture, and are supporters of the Legendairy communications initiative, which next month will celebrate the Australian dairy industry and the connection between football and dairy farming when the AFL hosts its Legendairy Farmer Round between Collingwood and Adelaide Football Clubs on 11 April.
“When farms hit hard times, that’s when your sports become really, really important, because you’ve got a social and support network where you can get together with other farmers and realise you’re not the only ones that are having to cope with it,” Belinda said.
The couple farms in Calivil, 70 kilometres north of Bendigo, in an area that has seen its share of challenges for local agriculture, including a decade-long drought, floods and devastating winds.
“Our area has no town or shops, but there’s football, tennis, netball, bowls and golf all in the one spot. Sport is our biggest crowd-puller and the strongest string that keeps everyone together,” Jade said.
“The stronger the football club is, the stronger the community is, which also makes our business better off because we’re bringing people into a strong, active community.”
While Jade has now permanently hung up his footy boots, he’s still a fixture in the local scene, teaming up with Belinda to help run the local Auskick program.
“Injuries and old age led to the end of it,” he said. “Every now and then I’m a runner for the seniors, but I’m pretty much the Auskick bloke now. After school we run the clinics for about 30 kids.”
They’re also involved in local tennis – Jade as league president and Belinda heading up the Calivil club.
“We’ve been brought up that way; you’ve got to back your community activities and support them, otherwise they don’t happen,” Belinda said.
“It’s important to keep these grassroots clubs running. The Calivil and East Loddon area is not huge, so if they didn’t have their football and netball right here, a lot of these kids probably wouldn’t play sports at all because of the distance people would have to travel to play elsewhere.”
That holds true for the pair’s own kids, Fynn, 7, and Libby, 9, who are both busy with swimming, tennis, footy and netball.
Sport also provides a well-earned break from the farm.
“For Jade, and many blokes in a similar situation: they could work 24/7 and go for weeks without leaving the farm at all. It’s so important for them to have a reason to get off the farm,” Belinda said.
As the Clymos build up their own business, that work-life balance is an important factor.
The couple run their 1000-cow farm with Jade’s parents, Jan and Trevor, both originally from dairying families in nearby Lockington and Bamawm.
Dairy farming is what Jade has always wanted to do – and he doesn’t see that changing any time soon.
“While I’m old for football, I’m only young for a farmer,” the 38-year-old said.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunities in our area. It’s very positive so we want to keep growing and expanding.”
They’ve consolidated four farms into one and installed fully automated irrigation infrastructure to make the business more efficient and able to navigate what can be variable climatic conditions.
“No year here is the same; we can go from wet to dry to hot all in one year. What makes me get up every day is the challenge to get things right,” Jade said.
“I’m not much different to too many other people. There’s a lot of pride in farming, and most people are out there are trying to learn as much as they can and do as good a job as they can with their business.”
The Clymos now employ five full-time staff, which has meant taking a closer look at business operations.
“Labour availability up here is challenging and we’re trying to get more professional with how we employ and keep people,” Jade said.
Belinda grew up in Bendigo and is a trained Dental Hygienist. After 17 years in the field, she took a break from her dental career 12 months ago to focus on the farm business, managing accounts, payroll and HR.
“We’ve put a lot of safety protocols in place, formalised staff inductions and rosters so people have a better idea of what they’re expected to do every day, and we’re encouraging staff to further their training,” Jade said.
And, just like there are benefits to building a strong sense of community through sports, there’s a lot to be said for maintaining a viable, long-term business.
“We all work on the farm, and one day our kids will have the opportunity too, should they chose that career path,” said Belinda.