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10 January, 2022

60th harvest is a Oehm family affair

John Oehm left school when he was 15, in 1961, to start farming with his family.

By Emily Middleton

John Oehm is completing his 60th harvest, pictured with son Scott and grandchildren Lila and Jack Oehm.

Sixty years later, John is currently working on his 60th harvest, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I left school to come home to give my father a hand with harvest time, which in those days was pretty primitive. I just missed the horse era, so the machine that we used for harvesting that time had been pulled by horses,” said John.

His milestone isn’t the only one in their family’s paddock. John’s grandson and granddaughter, Jack and Lilla Oehm, are working on their first harvest this year.

“It’s been pretty good despite the bogging and rain. I’ve really been enjoying it,” said Jack.

“Jack is driving the header, and Lilla is driving the chaser bin,” said John.

“Jack was there the other day when this last rainfall was going to come through and we knew we were going to get wet. So, we were trying to get off as much as we could before it broke. And the young fella, he’s 15, he was on the header all day, and up until midnight that night.

“That to me says he’s interested enough to have a go.”

Reflecting on how harvest has changed since his beginnings, John is grateful for the modern technology of today.

“Dad converted the machine we used to be tractor drawn rather than horses when I first started. Tractors were just arriving on the scene in those days,” said John.

“That in itself, required one man to drive a tractor and another guy to sit on the header on a steel seat with a lever to lift the comb up and down as the crop went. You were sitting in the dust and in the sun, no shade or anything. Fantastic conditions.”

Over the years, machinery advancement has increased significantly, especially in farming technologies. When John first started, he didn’t even have an inkling that this is where we’d be in 60 years’ time.

“I had no idea whatsoever. And I just find it hard to think what lies ahead as far as advancement in all aspects of like, particularly agriculture. We’ve come so far in 60 years; it just amazes me.”

Science technology has also significantly improved in 60 years, according to John, with different wheat varieties becoming stronger and more resilient.

“We used to have a problem with rust. In a wet year like this, 40, 50 years ago, a fungus called rust would get into the wheat and you’d harvest none at all. It’d wipe the crop out,” said John.

“Scientists have bred into the plant itself to be resistant to that disease.

“Chemical weed control has been a big one that’s been fantastic. We’re now at the stage where roundup has been part of our toolbox for many years in the farming industry, but it may not be in there for much longer.”

The Oehm family have been on their property Mayfield since November 1911. Just over 110 years to date. For John, the most memorable harvests were the ones that didn’t have weather interruptions.

“The ones that do have weather interruptions are memorable for different reasons, because of how difficult it is.

“But then, life on the land is a challenge every day, we do the same thing year after year, but we never do the same thing because the challenges are always different. In that the weather is never the same. The breakdowns are never the same. The bogs you get in are never the same. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I think we must be pretty strong.”

John doesn’t think he could ever get tired of being farmer and has no plans of stopping any time soon.

“It’s a great way of life, to be outside, to be working in the fresh air all day. I’m not sick of it and I won’t get sick of it. It’s been my life for 60 years and I never ever want to do anything else. Can’t get better than that.”

John’s son and daughter in-law, Scott and Sally Oehm, have since taken over the family business, and are now the custodians of Mayfield.

“They’re taking the farming enterprise forward, and it’s my hope that in the future, their kids will also have an integral part of advancing agriculture,” said John.

“It’s been such an interesting ride up to this point, but I just can not envisage where it’s going to go from here.”

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