In our online series, I quit my job to farm, we look at people and families from across the country who decided they would leave their current lives and give it all up to farm. This time we speak to Josh Brock who gave up his job in retail to travel in the pursuit of farming.
Josh Brock, 27, from Horsham, West Sussex, is currently farming in Australia after leaving his retail job in Kingston, Greater London, to travel in the name of agriculture.
Location and size of farm: At the moment, I am writing this from a 7000 Hectare cropping farm in Lake King, a small town in Western Australia. It only has one pub and one shop, but has some genuinely great people. You meet the locals in the pub, where they all congregate around a few cans of Emu and chew the fat over how their yields are and how their new bits of machinery are performing.
What did you do before you farmed? I was a retail manager for Hollister straight out of university. I completed their management training scheme and went on to help manage their Kingston store for about eighteen months. Even if it was completely the wrong career path for me, it was a great starting point after university. What’s more interesting is that by learning how to manage a store and a large team of staff, I’ve got skills that are transferable in to daily life here on farm. For example, being a decision maker and having to take responsibility for them, time management and learning to be as efficient as possible along with working to a company’s strict standards. The experience I gained is priceless.
What do you farm? I don’t strictly farm one thing - I’m back in Australia for a year to travel and work on different farms to carry on learning as much as I possibly can. Over the last four years I have farmed so many different things: sugar cane, deer, sheep, beef, cereals and even tried my hand at milking cows and calf rearing.
What I hope to farm and where my real passion lies, is sheep. Last year was my first in British Agriculture and I worked for Robert Hodgkins and Jo Franklin on their sister farm to Wairere UK, Kaiapoi farm, helping to run their flock of 1200 NZ Romneys.
When did you decide to quit? There wasn’t one specific moment, it was a combination of things. It all boiled down to the fact that retail simply wasn’t for me. From being a retail manager in a major high-street store to a travelling farmer: You can already imagine the contrast in lifestyle. Knowing how much farming is now right for me shows how much being a retail manager was not.
In hindsight, I knew it wasn’t the sector that I wanted to be in, but in many ways, I was just following suit of a lot of people I knew, getting a job with the promise of good opportunities and a nice salary. I wasn’t however content with the reality of it. It came down to a choice: Carry on working in an industry that wasn’t fulfilling or take a chance to do something I had no experience in, but thought could bring me happiness.
Did you have farming experience? If not, how did you build that experience? Not even a day. I used the means of travelling and rugby to kick-start my career. I played for a rugby team in the Whitsundays, Australia, in exchange for a job on a farm. It all began on a lemon myrtle farm, packing the crop in to sacks on the back of the harvester and by the end of the season, I was driving tractors on a sugar cane farm in Proserpine. I tried to make myself as indispensable as possible. I worked for free at the start and took any opportunity to get on a farm, just to help get me on the radar. My first day on a sugar cane farm was on a Sunday and I was perhaps a little hungover! I was debarking trees in 35 degrees and 90% humidity to use for fence posts to build new cattle yards. I remember, I got to drive my first tractor that day.
Whatever experience I gathered I used to secure my next job.
What was it about farming that you liked? There are many answers to this question. I liked that I would be working outside all year round and I liked the idea of bringing up stock and working them.
It was also the sense that this lifestyle takes hard graft. I knew it would be physical and that gives you a real sense of satisfaction every day. But, the real draw for me was I always felt retail was not a necessity for people. You can live without that new t-shirt or pair of jeans where as agriculture plays a role in everyone’s life. We cannot survive without it. Every day gives me a feeling that I am a part of something important.
What has been your biggest obstacle? My lack of experience. Starting out in agriculture at 24 without any experience, it was hard to get taken seriously. I was faced with the standard problem: I needed a job to get experience but I needed experience to get a job. An agricultural recruiter advised me that going abroad was a great way of getting experience quickly. Doing it this way kind of took the risk out of trying something new, as I could go away and chuck myself in to farming and if it wasn’t for me, then I’d have a great time anyway and some life experience behind me. Thankfully, it was everything I wanted it to be. My four-month trip turned into two and a half years away from home (sorry mum, sorry dad), eight farms and two countries.
Did you have support around you in the transition? Yes and no. The stigma attached to agriculture was the real obstacle for some people. They were worried that I wouldn’t be able to earn enough money to support myself and when the time comes, support a family. Also, career progression came in to the question. Was I just going to be a farm hand for the rest of my life?
These are still things I am trying to work out, especially as it is quite difficult carving a path if you don’t already come from agriculture. But what I do know is that I would rather be doing something I love and that satisfies me than something I hate just for the money.
What do you love most now about your job? On a day to day basis I love the physicality of the job, especially stock work. I love that it’s taken me all over UK as well as the world and to some fantastically wild places. I have worked for some hard people, but they have always been inspiring and passionate about the industry and supportive through many tough lessons. I love how agriculture is based upon a lot of tradition but people are always testing and introducing new innovative ideas and technology. What’s also nice is that you usually work with a family unit which you become part of.
Most of all, agriculture has given me a sense of purpose.
Do you ever regret your decision? I honestly don’t. I am proud of myself for taking the risk and breaking into something that at the start seemed impossible. It seems that I now have enough experience on my CV to get a look in on jobs that I am applying for which is such a fantastic feeling. I feel positive about how I can use my experience and where I am taking my career.
What is the biggest difference in British and Australian sheep farming? I would say the scale. Work wise, farming is farming: You work when the sun comes up until the sun goes down. Currently there is about eight and a half thousand sheep on this farm where as at home I might be dealing with four hundred.
There also seems to be more opportunities over here in terms of local work. It's such a massive industry over here and if you were a contractor you would be able to find something easily and local - that doesn't seem so rife back at home.
What skills will you be able to bring home? I've had massive exposure to vast amounts of land and livestock now. I have thought about South America after this, they're pretty big on sheep but it is like anything, having all the different experience means I can bring the best variations of things home. They are also moving heavily towards using genetics much more at the moment in Australia which is really interesting to see.
What is your advice to others in a similar situation? My advice to other people who are thinking of delving in to farming or anything that is out of the ordinary for that matter, is go for it. It’s easy for me to say, but I always attack these gambles with the attitude of ‘would I regret it if I didn’t?’
With the life experiences I have had, the places I have seen and the new skills I have learnt, I can 100 percent say I haven’t regretted quitting my job in the slightest.