In Focus – Matthew Edwards
This month, we talked with Matthew Edwards from McGrath Ballarat and Ballan to understand current conditions in the Victorian region.
For decades, Victoria’s Ballarat and Ballan regions have been regarded amongst Australia’s most productive food bowls. Rich volcanic soil has given rise to a broad range of vegetable farming but it’s best-known for the humble potato with the region producing around 130,000 tonnes of processing and seed potatoes every year.
The potato industry, which spans more than 2000 ha in the region, has been challenged by the soaring price of farm inputs as well as 2022’s La Nina weather patterns.
Tough growing conditions in the district and in other food bowls contributed to the eastern states’ potato shortage, with the scarcity of the vegetable reflected in the price per kilo at the supermarket through to the portion size at the local fish and chip shop.
Despite the challenges, farms remain tightly held according to McGrath Ballarat and Ballan Co-Principal and Rural specialist, Matthew Edwards.
“Very rarely do you see a farm change hands,” said Mr Edwards. “The majority of transactions come from buyers who have approached their next-door neighbour looking to increase their farms.”
Like much of the industry, Mr Edwards said the next 10 years will be an interesting time for local potato farmers in terms of succession.
“The potato industry is now getting into its fourth and fifth generations and those family members have been off chasing careers in Melbourne,” he said. “Cropping is probably less exposed to external influences like dairying and grazing, but it comes down to whether the kids want the farming or the corporate life.”
Like many regions within a commutable distance of cities, Ballarat and Ballan benefited from Covid-19. With many employers accommodating some level of flexible work arrangements, the regions have become more accessible to professionals. The commute by train into Flinders Street station from Ballarat is only 90 minutes and 75 minutes from Ballan.
The established rural lifestyle market was in strong demand with anything from 5-20 acres attracting interest from Melbourne buyers, said Mr Edwards.
The region boasts a cluster of character homesteads that date back to the mid 1900s Goldrush. Taking a drive around the district will uncover well-kept homesteads on generous parcels which are a reminder of the wealth-creation that the Goldrush period brought to the region.
“As interest rates have increased, the established rural lifestyle market – especially at the upper-end - has held-up better than the residential market,” said Mr Edwards. “There’s a very small amount of rural lifestyle listings available at the moment and the ongoing demand is keeping a floor under prices.
“We’ve seen demand for new acreage lots decrease because of increasing interest rates, increases in construction costs and delays. Established dwellings on acreage that don’t require a lot of work are in high demand, especially those that hold the character of the post-Goldrush era.”
The conditions and climate of Ballarat, along with its proximity to Melbourne, has also attracted the interest of the thoroughbred industry.
Ballarat Racecourse is Victoria’s premier regional track and prominent trainers including Ciaron Maher, Tony McEvoy, Matt Cumani and Robert Hickmott have operations in the area. Wyndholm Park, Jubilee Stud, Arrandale Stud and others are also showcasing the quality breeding and spelling opportunities of the area.
“The thoroughbred industry is well-established and is continuing to grow as facilities in Melbourne are at capacity,” said Edwards.
“The region has attracted some of the best minds in racing and has created a very strong community in the area.”