Farming in Australia’s capital, Melbourne, has seen a massive boom in the past decade, with new varieties of crops making it the third most popular profession in the country, after nurses and doctors.
More and more farmers are finding it hard to find jobs, and in some cases are even paying themselves in the land.
So far, the number of jobs in the capital has risen by 10 per cent a year, and the number employed in agriculture has more than doubled to about 2,000.
A record year for agricultural productivity The number of farms in the city is a record for the city, with an average of nearly 15,000 acres planted.
But there are now a lot more acres planted in Melbourne than there were in 2001, and that is the result of a new kind of crop growing in the region.
The term ‘garden economy’ was coined by a number of people, including Melbourne farmer Peter Stott, who grew up in the suburb of Southbank and went on to study farming at the University of Melbourne.
”When I got there I thought I’d be a farmer, and when I was older, I thought it was all about getting out there, doing the research, getting some of the best seed, and making a profit,” he says.
”And I think a lot of farmers are starting to realise they don’t have a future without some of that research, and having the knowledge and the knowledge that goes with it.
”I think that’s a huge change for me, because I’ve always been a farmer.
”If I don’t know how to do anything, and it’s all just on the farm, then it’s not a good business, I just want to make a little bit of money.”
Farmers say the rise in interest rates is one reason why so many farmers are choosing to work in a more profitable industry, and also a change in the climate.
The weather is getting warmer and the demand for fresh fruit and vegetables is rising.
But Mr Stott says the increase in demand has also meant a new crop of weeds has emerged.
The new crops are mostly weeds, which are more resistant to weed killer and fertilizer.
Mr Stotts new crops include the garden gardener and ornamental herbicide-resistant plants.
”The weeds are the answer to our food security, and they’ve taken over the industry,” he said.
”It’s not the weeds, it’s the crops that are now getting a little more expensive.”
Some of Mr Stotti’s plants have been sold to a new business, with the proceeds going into the community gardens.
”People come to our community gardens and ask us for advice on what they should do next, what they can grow next year,” he added.
Farmers say their main concern is that the price of weed killer is increasing as the demand increases.
However, Mr Stotta said he was not worried about the price going up.
”There’s always a lot to gain from new technology, but in this case it’s about the farmers’ future and how the farmers grow their crops,” he explained.
Mr Gullis said he felt lucky to be able to grow such an important crop.
”To grow it in this climate and in this area is amazing,” he continued.
”We have a lot on our hands and this is what we’re going to do to get this crop to where it needs to be.
”That’s the only way we can do it.”
‘It’s a shame’ The National Farmers’ Federation says there are still problems for farmers.
The federation says the average cost of growing a crop in Melbourne is about $2,200, but some farmers are paying prices that are much higher.
And it is estimated that more than 30 per cent of the agricultural land in Melbourne has been lost to the weeds.
”Some of these people are still growing them for their own profit,” said NFU chief executive Michael Gulliss.
”But some are doing so to protect their crops, or because they’ve been asked by the community to.”
Mr Stittles is now working with other growers in the community gardeners market to find new crops.
”They’re a good resource to have,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.