Sims farm at Cleve, on the eastern Eyre Peninsula was bequeathed to the Government of South Australia in 1960 by Mr Gordon Sims. The government made the farm available to the then Department of Agriculture in 1960 to be used as a training farm, research centre or seed grain farm as was the intention and conditions of the Sims bequest.
“That my said farming and grazing lands shall be made available by the said, the Government of South Australia to the Department of Agriculture as a training centre, research centre or as a seed grain farm”
It was the initial intention of the Department to develop the property as a research outstation to Minnipa. In the beginning however a number of operational issues arose over the development of Sims Farm that were not without trials. For legal reasons associated with the bequest, requiring the land to become available on his sisters death, the Department waited for 12 years unable to work on the site to fulfil Mr Sims’ desire.
While the government waited for the bequest to be fulfilled the farm became run down. Stock had been agisted and work defining the property’s soil resources had been completed but otherwise the farm had seriously deteriorated. The homestead and farm buildings had been ravished by white ants, horehound had over run large areas and fencing had deteriorated.
A neighbour, Mr Leonard, took up an operations lease while the Department used its resources to replace the boundary fencing and with considerable pressure from the local government weed control board, commenced the difficult and costly task of gaining control of the horehound.
In October 1973, Marshall Irving, then the Director of the Department of Agriculture, publicly advised that a 402 ha farm near Cleve, on the Eyre Peninsula would be developed for water conservation research projects, pasture improvement and the study of beef production in cereal areas. The farm would be operated as an out station of the Minnipa Research Centre, the main location for agricultural research on Eyre Peninsula.
In 1975, as planning to fulfil Sims’ Will got seriously under way, it was soon realised that from the Departments point of view the gift was not all it was cracked up to be. To operate the Cleve site as a research out station of Minnipa proved to be impractical because available resources were limited. The Officer In Charge of Minnipa, Tony Morris, was competent to undertake the task but was located 180 km. away and he feared developing it into an outstation would threaten research at Minnipa, unless he had a great deal of extra funding and technical personnel.
The Department, realising the truth of Morris’s argument, examined the possibility of creating a research centre at Sims’s Farm in its own right but found it would cost in excess of $50 000 a year to make it function. This planning also revealed that the soils and rainfall of the site would limit application of research results on Eyre Peninsula. Sites where available that represent local farming conditions more typical of Eyre Peninsula.
The Cleve community and indeed farmers across Eyre Peninsula, held high hopes for Sims’ Farm. It was firmly believed that it was a valuable asset which must be developed for agricultural research. It also was believed there was scope to create a “live in”, teaching college. The Cleve Area School had developed an advanced year 12 agricultural course. The school could use the site for practical teaching. The Department had already allocated 109 ha to the school to assist teaching and there was strong private sponsorship. Plans were already advanced to develop a part of the property as a site for biannual field days.
Rumour spread that the Department was about to sell Sims’ Farm. So strong was the rumour that Elders wrote to the Minister of Agriculture, offering to be the selling agents. The community rallied together in favour of the school development.
By 1976 the Area School had consolidated its occupancy of the site. The school was actively using its allocated area as a school farm. In August a two day machinery field day was held at the site. It attracted 9000 people. The Department regained some credibility by providing a number of exhibits at the site which survived the destructive winds that were blowing on the day. Departmental staff came face to face with the community and Ken Wetherby, a senior officer submitted a positive report highlighting the success of the sheep lice control exhibit. The exhibit drew great interest despite the fact that legal implications prohibited the presence of lousy sheep on the site.
The proposal for a “live in” agricultural training college for Year 11 and Year 12 students had strong community support. A committee facilitated by the Director of Education and comprising community leaders, farmers and Department of Agriculture staff, thoroughly investigated the proposal and found the expense could not be justified for the relatively small number of students likely to be enrolled. However with enthusiastic school staff, persistent community support and Department of Agriculture technical support, a thriving teaching centre was strongly integrated into the region and well established by the 1970’s. A Certificate of Agriculture Course was launched in November 1982. It focussed on broad acre agriculture which was a different market to that provided by Urrbrae Agricultural High School and Millicent High School. Most students came from Eyre Peninsular but some also came from Adelaide. The farm became remarkably well resourced under the direction of the Farm Management Committee and an Agricultural Advisory Committee.
For many years as many as 15 sponsors, some of which have been long term have supplied basic material such as diesel and herbicides. Others have provided practical tuition for fencing, dog training, weed spraying and fire control.
Since the 1950’s, 10 to12 students have graduated each year with higher than average marks for the State, in subjects such as Communications, Agricultural Technology and Agricultural Practice.
In the early 1980s, with 109 ha transferred to the Education Department earlier, the remaining 300 ha was leased to an adjoining farmer to be operated as a commercial farm. The lease payment was that $1000 worth of improvements had to be made to the property each year such as upgrading of the fencing and structures on the property.
The 109 ha is in the ownership of the Education Department and is incorporated into the Sims Farm training facility. The training facilities conducted on the farm are managed through the Cleve Area School and Regional Skills Training Pty Ltd, where Certificates in Agriculture (ll and lll) are provided.
The Department undertook a review of all research centres in August 1983 (Review of Research Centres SAGRIC Technical Report Number 32) and proposed to transfer part of Sims Farm (109 ha) being used by the Cleve School to the Education Department and sell the remainder (300ha) and invest the proceeds into an outstation of Minnipa Research Centre on soil more typical of the major soil types of Eyre Peninsular and closer to the Centre. The Minister at the time appointed Elders to sell the land but under pressure by the Cleve Community lead by the local Pastor, Dr Ivan Whittwer, they withdrew. The Minister then advertised for tenders for the land and the best tender was from the local Pastor. The Government reassessed its position and decided not to sell the property but keep it in the name of the Minister of Agriculture.
In December 1985 the 300 ha of land was leased to the Sims Farm Operations Association Incorporated and they operated as a commercial enterprise by the Sims Farm Advisory Committee. This arrangement has operated until today with the lease being renewed in 2012 for a further period.
The Advisory Committee is comprised of representatives of the Education Department, Local Government, the community and PIRSA, with PIRSA Chairing the Committee until recently. Members of the Committee are enthusiastic and passionate about the long term future of the farm as an agricultural training facility and associate this with the prospects of farming on Eyre Peninsular.
Prior to his death Terry Hampell was the Farm Manager and strong contributor to the Management committee. Terry was passionate about the farm living up to the wishes of Gordon Sims and about the quality of agricultural education provided to students at the Cleve Area School. As Farm Manager he was responsible for the improvements to the farm over time.