‘I want to grow over one trillion sunflowers’: Young farmer aims high with new roadside venture

A sunflower makes you feel better. There’s no denying that.

But for seven-year-old Charlie Smith, from Manjimup, in WA’s South West, the bright, yellow flower represents something more — a business opportunity.

Charlie has been growing sunflowers with the help of his dad Michael over the past few months to earn a bit of pocket money.

“I’m going to spend it on lollies, milkshakes and Chicken Treat,” Charlie says.

But without Charlie realising, his dad is teaching him important aspects of farming along the way.

Charlie Smith smiling in his sunflower crop.

Charlie spent his school holidays caring for his crop. (ABC South West WA: Kate Forrester)

Valuable life lessons

Gardening is educational and develops new skills, especially for children like Charlie who are growing up on a farm.

He is responsible for caring for more than 100 square metres of sunflowers on his family farm, about 300 kilometres south of Perth.

Along with help from his dad, Charlie has planted more than 100 seeds, fertilised the plants and watered the crop ready to sell in their honesty stall – called the Sunflower Shed.

“We water them, and we sell them because I want to make lots of money,” Charlie says.

He maintains the sunflower crop is his, but he likes working with his dad throughout the process.

Charlie and his dad Michael sitting on their motorbike with dog, Lily.

Charlie, Michael and their dog Lily inspect the sunflowers.(ABC South West WA: Kate Forrester)

A small part of a bigger business

Sunflowers are not the only thing grown on the Smith family farm.

They harvest about 2,000 tonnes of potatoes each year for the local processing centre in town.

The potatoes are processed into chips and then sold onto restaurants, cafes, pubs, and clubs.

Charlie splits his time between his own crop and helping with the family business.

“He’s very interested in what we grow commercially here,” Michael Smith says.

Michael Smith of Smith Family Farms resting on the fence.

Michael says the past few months have been “flat out”.(ABC South West WA: Kate Forrester)

The family also supplies local cattle and sheep graziers with hay for feed.

Mr Smith says demand for hay has gone through the roof in the past 12 months.

“Geez, the amount of phone calls asking if I’ve got any hay spare,” he says.

“Everyone’s been so short this year.”

Sunflowers growing on Smith Family farms.

Charlie’s sunflowers are thriving in the warmer weather. (ABC South West WA: Kate Forrester)

The lack of supply of hay is due to the low amount of rainfall over the past few months in Manjimup.

“We are probably 20 per cent down on our hay crop this year,” Mr Smith says.

“The weather has definitely had a big impact.”

Not always bright on the farm

As much as Mr Smith enjoys teaching Charlie about the positive aspects, he sees the value in showing him that things can get tough.

“There is certainly some bad times out there at the moment, especially with livestock, not being able to give them away,” he says.

Smith Family Farms sign in W.A

The Smith Family Farm is in Manjimup, about 300 kilometres south of Perth.(ABC South West WA: Kate Forrester)

The father-son duo have been having to irrigate the sunflowers more because of the warmer temperatures.

But Mr Smith says little things, like a bright yellow sunflower, are always welcome.

“Farming can’t be easy at times and sometimes just a little thing can brighten someone’s day, that’s for sure,” he says.

‘It’s not all going to Chicken Treat’

As much as Charlie would like to spend his earnings on his favourite choice of fast food, his dad has other plans.

Charlie driving his red tractor through a sunflower crop.

Charlie inspects his crop after spreading fertiliser.(ABC South West WA: Kate Forrester)

The money he collects in his honesty system at the front gate will be put towards Charlie’s savings.

“We will encourage him to bank a bit and look to the future, that’s for sure,” Mr Smith says.

Charlie has big aspirations for his little business.

The future is looking bright.

“I want to grow over one trillion sunflowers”.

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