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A love story that led to a farming empire

09:00am June 26 2024

Felicity Richards grew up on a farm on windswept Flinders Island off the northeastern tip of Tasmania, but never thought she’d be a farmer. 

When she finished school, she moved to Canberra and studied law. A high-flying legal career in the city may have followed, had it not been for one eventful trip home. 

“I was staying at my parent’s farm, and I had a ‘McLeod’s Daughter’s’ moment,” she says, referring to the popular drama series about two sisters who inherit a cattle station. 

“Some cattle escaped through the fence from my parents' property into our neighbour Mark’s place. My sister and I rode out on horseback to retrieve the cattle.”

“The worst part is I had to ask my dad for Mark’s phone number!”

When Felicity met Mark to retrieve her runaway livestock, the spark between them was instantaneous. It changed both their lives forever. 

Felicity and Mark Richards now have three young kids and run approximately 7,000 head of cattle across 10,000 acres on three separate properties in Northern Tasmania and Flinders Island.

They are Westpac business customers and inherited a large portion of their land and associated debt thanks to good family succession planning. 

Felicity with Shane Howell, Westpac General Manager for Commercial Banking. (Supplied)

“Mark is a diehard farmer, and we found we had quite complimentary skills,” says Felicity. “I love people and governance and I’ve discovered this whole other side of farming that’s about engagement with the different people that make a farm work, whether it’s your accountant, your bank manager or your livestock agent.”

Felicity is now the chair of Farmsafe Australia, an organisation that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people working in agriculture, which has the highest fatality rate of any industry according to statistics from Work Safe Australia. 

“One of the challenges for me as a mum of three kids living on a farm is to change some of the behaviours that I thought were normal growing up,” Felicity says. 

“With no disrespect to my parents, some of the decisions that were made back then about riding in the back of the ute, or in the bucket of the tractor, that’s not the culture we want to bring to our business now.”

One of the other ways agribusiness is changing is through increasingly rapid technological advancements. 

“It’s an exciting time for agribusiness,” says Shane Howell, Westpac GM of Commercial Banking. “Innovation in technology and regenerative practices are attracting new people into farming and making farms more productive.” 

“What we’re seeing with our agribusiness customers is an ever-increasing investment in AgTech. Whether it’s investing in precision planters and sprayers, or solar power to make their farms more sustainable, farming looks a lot different than it did even a decade ago, and that change is only going to accelerate,” says Shane. 

“I love visiting our customers and seeing how we can help them grow and achieve their dreams, and as a bank I think we have a key role to play in ensuring farming is the lifeblood of regional Australia for centuries to come.”

With technology also comes increased visibility, and it’s something that Felicity says farmers can use to help raise awareness of what farming really looks like in Australia today. 

“We need to bring consumers on a journey with us,” she says. “We need them to understand what we’re doing and understand that as farmers we care about animal welfare and sustainability.” 

If that’s done right, then it will help to inform better policy decisions towards the agriculture sector, she adds. 

“I think we’ve got a real challenge ahead of us, but I like a challenge.”

Hannah is a Walkley Award winning journalist who started her career in television as a producer for The Today Show and 60 Minutes, before moving to digital as Commissioning Editor of and then Head of Video for News Corp Australia. She is now a Corporate Affairs Lead for Westpac.

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