Linton’s midlife crisis good news for Uganda

Omer Farming CompanyLinton Brimblecombe jokes that most men his age celebrate mid-life with a new motorbike.

This Gatton vegetable farmer marked his 47th year with a move to Uganda, where he is leading a community-farming venture, The Omer Farming Company.

Linton and his son Mitchell left for Africa in January and have made quick work of preparing the ground and planting the first crop. Wife Melinda and daughter Kate followed recently.

Linton and his wife Melinda plan to spend three years in Uganda, sharing their knowledge of modern farming techniques and in turn raising money for the Watoto Children’s Ministry, which cares for children whose parents have been killed by AIDS and war.“

The seed was sewn about 18-months ago at a family reunion,” Linton explains“Someone thought it would be a good idea for us to go to Uganda as a family team and do a build for this orphanage. We ended up with 27 of us and it was a life-changing experience for Melinda and I. We had the chance to see how these people live, work and play. Seven of us were from off the land and we did some farm consultations for the church, which was trying to find ways to feed the 3000 children they support.

“We identified that they needed a dam and the following August we raised enough money to build one. I went back for 12 days to supervise and it was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.”

During that second trip Linton was taken on a bumpy five hour drive in a troop carrier to visit a farm in north-west Uganda.

He was stunned by the beauty and fertility of the land and knew he wanted to return and grow food here.

“I wrote a business plan and it took off from there,” says Linton.

“We formed a company and we have three investors at the moment. We will end up with eight investors and we’re aiming to raise $3million. We’re well on our way. We have bought equipment out of the USA, modern farming gear.”

The Brimblecombes will need all the help they can get. The 2225ha farm where they will be based has limited infrastructure – mud huts and little else.

There’s no electricity, no roads and the family will initially live in converted shipping containers.

Omer Farming company 2“Everything we do on the farm is a challenge but I think that’s awesome because you need challenges in life,” says Linton.

“That’s what’s exciting me at the moment. This is not about return on investment. This is about making returns to the Watoto Children’s Ministry, to the investors and to the community. We’ll be talking about helping develop schools and health care so there are some good strong community outcomes.”

Melinda, a school teacher, hopes to bring her professional knowledge into the mix. During the week she and Kate will live in the city of Kampala, where Kate will complete grades 11 and 12 at an international school.

The first crops to be planted will be corn and soya beans. The region has high rainfall – about 48 inches over nine months – and is on the equator, but about 1000m above sea level.

“The temperature is really nice,” says Linton.

“Uganda is known for its coffee and its flowers but you can grow practically anything. I’ve spent my life in Forest hill near Gatton. I did an ag exchange after college and worked in the USA and Denmark but this is the biggest off-farm commitment I’ve made. “Most guys hit their 40s and buy motorbikes; I’m doing something different.”

Linton says he changed his perspective on life after the 2011 and 2013 floods hit the farm that’s been in his family for four generations. When combined with the loss of a Golden Circle beetroot processing contract, he started wondering ‘Is this what I want to be doing in 10 years time?’

“We have a profitable and sustainable business here,” says Linton.

“I have this farm set up to the point of wondering ‘What is the next challenge?’ That’s what this African business is offering.”

Paddock to Plate
Big business: Change is constant in Australian agriculture. If you’re not changing, you’re not growing. The key drivers are profitability and sustainability, in regards to our inputs and the way you treat the soil and water supply. You have to tret it as a business. There is some lifestyle attached, but it’s pretty serious business.
Team: We have a very good team on board. Our economist is American, our chairman is Canadian, two directors are Ugandan and most of our finance is out of Australia. It’s an international team. We will have about eight people working on the farm alongside Mitch and myself.
Mechanised: We are going to be fully mechanised. We’re quite serious about taking the modern farming knowledge available to us here, into a setting that is where Australian farming was in the 1950s.
Tough history: We’ll be working in areas where Joseph Kony was operating. There’s a couple of non negotiables for us – our safety and our health. We have sought to mitigate most of those risks.
Planting: With the rainfall and climatic conditions we have to have seed in the ground by the second week of March. Harvest will be in June. We have to have our grain handling equipment in place by June.
Power: There’s no electricity on farm. We will use diesel and solar and we’re also investigating hydro.
Secret to success: The ability to change, but also within that changing environment there’s certainly a need for stability.