Love of the land brings Rochester man to  Pompapiel farm

The dairy farmer from Pompapiel spent 17 years working in a bank before his love of farming drew him back to the land.

John grew up on a dairy farm in Rochester. 

And then there was the day his dad bought a motorbike.

“I would have been about 12 or 13,” he said. 

“It was awesome.”

Although he wasn’t forced to work on the farm growing up, he said he always enjoyed getting out on the land with his father.

“I wasn’t really made to help but when I wanted to I did,” he said.

John began his career working as a banker in various places throughout the state and in 1975 married his wife, Margaret – who also comes from a dairy background – and they had four children, Melissa, Aaron, Nathan and Joshua.

But a move back to farming was inevitable. 

“It was a natural progression,” John said. “It just drew me back.” 

“I don’t miss (the bank) one iota. I just love the whole thing of farming.” 

The Gledhills sit on 160 hectares at Pompapiel and have had to rebuild their farm and stock numbers several times over the years.

They started with 100 cows at a property in Rochester 24 years ago before making the move north.

At its peak, they had 350 cows and a worker. Then the drought hit hard.

“We had to look at our profitability, so we sold all our cows and kept some heifers and re-started at 100 cows.”

JOHN Gledhill says he thinks he has a built-in love of the land.

Continuing the Bendigo Advertiser’s series for the Year of the Farmer, ELOISE JOHNSTONE speaks to a farmer who returned to the land after a career in banking. 

“But we still keep going.”

Some of his earliest memories are of putting out hay for the cows on a horse-drawn sled during wet winters, and using horses to round up bullocks to sell.

“We’ve continued to improve. When I got into dairying we didn’t have much and we’ve worked our way up.”

While there are still some difficulties facing central Victorian farmers, John said he felt positive about the future of farming in the area.

High grain prices, the carbon tax, cheap imports and the monopoly of Coles and Woolworths were all making life harder for farmers, but he said overcoming such difficulties was nothing new.

“We’re trying to implement the best practices to improve production and farm more efficiently,” John said.

“But that’s just what I’ve been doing since I started farming.

“Our costs go up around 10 per cent every year, so I have to improve 10 per cent every year.”

John said things had changed a lot since he started his own farm.

“It’s a lot harder to start with nothing and work your way up now,” he said. “When I started, dairy farmers generally spent about $20,000 to $30,000 on machinery, whereas now farmers would have $500,000 worth to do the same sort of things. 

“It is a little bit less labour intensive with some of the machinery that we have now.

“It may cut your time back a bit but milking cows is still labour intensive.”

Two of his children are working on the land. Nathan is married with one child and three step-children and manages a dairy farm in Colac. Joshua is a mechanic but helps at the farm on his days off. 

Melissa has two children and is a department manager at a supermarket and Aaron is a mechanic and works in the mines in Queensland.

“My thing always was ‘the farm is here. Get out, do something. You might find something you love. But the farm is always here as well if you want to come back to it’,” John  said.

Like John after his banking career, maybe his children will feel the call of the land and find their way back to farming eventually.

Once they had built up their farm again, the floods wiped out it out in January 2011.

“We had three feet of water through the farm. Our house had to be gutted, it was just a shell. We had to re-fence the farms.

John said he was proud of how they had stuck at it through adversity and continued to build up their farm on their own.

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