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Young farmer overcomes challenges, improves farm

In 2016, at the age of just 24, Diapur farmer Tom Cook found himself in the deep-end when his father died after a six week battle with small cell lung cancer, leaving him to manage the family farm by himself.
It was without a doubt, an incredibly challenging year for the entire Cook family when Mark Cook, aged 59, passed away, but four years on, Tom Cook is a testament to the resilience of young farmers and has managed to improve the farm while grieving his father.
“From 2016 on, I had to look at employing people to get the work done and of course just figure out how to manage the farm which was a big challenge,” he said.
The year before, the 5,000 acre farm was managed by his father and himself.
“I’d had 10 years farming experience beforehand but the management is obviously a very different side of things,” Mr Cook said.
He said he faced many challenges but “confidence was the biggest one”.
He had the support of his uncle who had worked on the farm previously which he relied on for reassurance.
“I’ve come out of the other side of it a lot better person for having that reassurance rather than having someone to bail me out of problems,” he said.
Pru Cook has watched her brother's development since taking over the farm and describes him as “phenomenal”.
“He's made some substantial agronomic changes to the farm which have helped get on top of some long term weed issues while also chasing higher value crops,” she said.
“This has been in conjunction with upskilling in farm business, administration, marketing and managing people.”
Mr Cook said he focussed on transitioning the farm towards a more corporate style with a focus on preparation.
He said, “We would do more set hours throughout the year, less lazy periods and I can see a heap of benefits from being so prepared.”
Mr Cook said getting in touch with his emotions over the difficult time assisted him in running the farm.
“I think grieving my old man and then making management and financial decisions on the farm was probably quite good because I think I had gotten in touch with a lot of my emotions,” he said.
“Because I had been through some tough patches, when a tough decision came up, I wasn’t influenced by the emotions of that decision and instead I would think more rationally.”
He acknowledges that the presence of the community also played a vital role in getting him through.
“It was local support that was the best thing for me.”
He said the Nhill Football Club provided the mateship that he really needed.
“It was just that outlet where people would come and discuss everything outside what you’re thinking about which is a very necessary distraction in a tricky time.”
He was also able to ask football club members in the agriculture industry for advice when he needed it.
“That really helped me through a tricky spot,” he said.
Pru Cook said, “Support from family members and peers has been vital but he's also invested the time and effort in his professional development by pursuing off-farm training such as an online agronomy course through Longerenong College and attending farmer training events.”
Mr Cook said a strength of young farmers is their motivation and passion that they pour into their farms.
Pru Cook, who is part of the Grains Research and Development Corporation Southern Regional Panel said more can be done to support young farmers.
“Organisations that support farmers could look at farmer engagement activities specific to young farmers who are in a 'build phase' of their careers, and work with the likes of the Nhill Young Farmers group,” she said.
“Focusing on the human element of succession is also critical. Often accountants are the primary support used when navigating succession planning, and while this provides a successful financial framework, the challenges of navigating multi-generational conversations can be overlooked, causing strained relationships and ongoing stress.”

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