The politics of farming

Hamish Heard
THE very mention of drought makes Simon Ramsay cringe.
Despite now spending a great deal of his time between the clanging of city trams and high-rise buildings in his Melbourne office, he still has a vested interest in the land.
The Victorian Farmers Federation president is one of five generations to farm livestock on his family’s East Mooleric property, near Birre-gurra.
Farming is in the Ramsay blood, although he admits the industry is looking a bit grim at the moment.
But listen closely and it’s easy to detect a degree of optimism in his voice.
“The thing that’s a bit different about this drought is that there’s virtually no water anywhere,” Simon sighs.
“The alternatives are not as great as previous droughts and that’s making it more difficult for people to make tough decisions.
“But, nevertheless, the industry has been through droughts before and we’ll get through this one and we’ll come out presumably stron-ger.”
The big dry is promising to play a deciding factor in his family’s future, too.
Simon’s only son, Andrew, a 15-year-old student, casts an eye over the property when dad is away on business.
The hectic schedule combined with uncertainity over farming’s place in an ever-changing world seems certain to test Andrew’s commitment to the cause.
“I’ve been of the view that I will let him make his own mind up,” Simon says.
“I’m not pushing him into farming – I’m making him aware of what’s available and the opportunties in farming.
“No doubt he’ll want to go through university and get a taste of other career opportunties, though.”
Simon is quick to point out that one of his two daughters – Nicola, 20, or Tiffany, 18, – might follow in his footsteps and take over the farm one day.
“You just never know,” he quips.
Simon loves the lifestyle of Birregurra and it’s the sense of community that keeps him going.
“It’s a little town where everyone knows everyone and are prepared to pitch in and help,” he reckons.
“I found that when I was heading up the school council.
“We painted the whole school – there were 40 of us with paint brushes, spending a weekend together.
“It was an amazing experience, that one, I’ll never forget it.”
Simon attended Birregurra Primary School before moving to Geelong Grammar.
It was during this period when his father died young, forcing Simon to make a tough decision about his own future.
He then chose to enrol at Glenormiston Agricultural College, in Terang, before a short stint as a jackeroo just outside Hamilton.
“I wanted to be a policemen, a lawyer, you know, all sorts of things,” Simon explains.
“The reality was my grades weren’t good enough but at the end of the day this (farming) is what I really wanted to do.”
Now at 50, Simon finds himself on the other side of the fence.
He’s advanced through the ranks of the Victorian Farmers Federation from regional pastoral councillor to
deputy president of the livestock
group on the way to the federation
presidency in July, 2005.
Add an appointment to the National Farmers Federation board in June this year and Simon is right in his element among the heavyweights of agri-poltics.
“To put on a suit and deal with the premier of the day or even the Prime Minister is a wonderful experience,” he says.
“I mean, one day I could be in Canberra talking to the PM and the next day I could be dagging sheep.”