AgVic Talk podcast series

This podcast series delivers knowledge and information in a format that suits the way farmers and agricultural professionals work and live today.

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Podcast series

Episodes cover contemporary problems and solutions on how members of the agricultural community recover, grow, modernise, protect, and promote Victorian agriculture.

All information included in our episodes is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on-farm.

Season two:

Episode 17: Creating a career in horticulture with Cliff Bramich and Peter Finlayson

Narrator:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Getting established in an industry can often be a long and potted path. Not all sectors though are the same. G'day, I'm Drew Radford and with agriculture, limited experience in training is not always a barrier to getting into the industry. It's more about a willingness to get stuck in and learn on the go. This pretty much sums up Cliff Bramich, orchard manager with Geoff Thompson Orchards, a role he's only been doing for a few years after a couple of decades in a totally different sector. To find out how he made the change, he joins us for this AgVic Talk podcast. Cliff, thanks for your time.

Cliff Bramich:

Not a problem. Good to be here.

Drew Radford:

Cliff. You're in the horticulture game now, but I understand that's not where you started your career.

Cliff Bramich:

No, I've been in horticulture for three years now. Previous to that, I've spent 20 years in retail working for one of the big chains and then, lucky enough to have our own supermarket for 10 years and successfully sold it and looking to get outside and work out outdoors and fell into horticulture.

Drew Radford:

Cliff. That's quite a big move. Twenty years is a career in anybody's book. And then to switch over to horticulture, how easy was that or difficult was that?

Cliff Bramich:

I think I was lucky enough to come across a large enough company that we had enough people out there and I'm definitely a people person. Working in retail, you're constantly with customers or with staff and dealing with issues and things like that. I don't think I'd be able to work on a farm by myself, it'd be pretty lonely. But we've got quite a few people here. So during picking, you can blow out to a 100 people and during other times of the year, we've got 10 people. So it's best of both worlds, I think, working outside and having different jobs. But then yeah, having the people there that I missed from retail, it was great to be able to have that human interaction.

Drew Radford:

Cliff, they use that wonderful term these days, transferable skills. So it sounds like the people skills are your important transferable skills. But I imagine you still would've had to do a reasonable amount of training to get your head around horticulture, surely.

Cliff Bramich:

Yeah, so I pretty much started off just working on a casual basis, pretty much on tractors and digging holes and fixing, all that sort of stuff. But luckily enough, they highlighted me to move up the chain, move up into management and I was sent off to do a Horticultural Certificate 4, and did a few other training things like forklift license, chemical certificates, first aid, sort of things like that. But the company's been fantastic. That's all been provided for and put those skills into me that I had the basics of before, but tuned them into horticulture, which was fairly easy to adapt to.

Drew Radford:

Cliff, you said that you blow out to a 100 people during picking time seasonal employees. What about ongoing employees? How many people are at the company, normally?

Cliff Bramich:

We're a large company with quite a few farms, but the farm that I'm managing at the moment is roughly 120 to 130 hectares of planted trees. So there's a lot of new development, a lot of fixing up of old infrastructure. So we have about 10 people here during the year, doing various different jobs from driving tractors to repair work, just day to day maintenance and care of the trees. But then, coming up towards thinning and harvest picking, it can blow out from 50 to 75, to a 100, depending on how many people we need and how quickly we want to get that fruit off the tree.

Drew Radford:

And with that full-time workforce that you do have, how many of them are new to horticulture?

Cliff Bramich:

So there's a couple of new young blokes that we've got. They've finished high school a couple of years ago and had different ideas of being diesel mechanics or getting a job somewhere else. But they've fallen into place and working on a casual full-time basis as you call it. We get a lot of migrant workers coming into the farms. It's hard to get Australian residents to come out to the farms and give it a go. But generally, the majority of our workforce are new Australians that have come in and generally want to work a little bit harder to make money for their families that are here in Australia and back home. But slowly we are getting more and more younger ones coming through.

Drew Radford:

In regards to some of those permanent people that you do now have on your books, Peter Finlayson, I understand he's one of those. How did you come across Peter?

Cliff Bramich:

Being in a large organisation that we are, we are lucky enough to have nine farms out there and packing sheds and all that sort of stuff. So Shepparton is a big enough area. There's a lot of different people, but everyone knows someone along the way. So I think it was word of mouth that Peter had finished school and was looking for something to do. So we needed a active young bloke to come out and work for us. And yeah, he fell in our laps.

Drew Radford:

Is that a lot of work though, bringing a person up to the skill set for working in horticulture? It sounds like Peter had some farm experience, but I don't know if he had horticulture experience?

Cliff Bramich:

No. So I think you're either a hands-on person or a person that likes to sit behind a desk. The thing that I find with farming, with horticulture that we're in, every day is different, but as long as you want to have a go and get in there and learn different skills, there's people there to teach you and show you how to use things. It's the mentality that I don't want to work outside in the hot sun that sorta keeps people away from horticulture, but other people love working outside in the outdoors.

Drew Radford:

Cliff, you talked about the willingness and the keenness to be in that environment. But what about actually then making sure you've got the skill sets to do that? You went off and did some training or is it really much on the job?

Cliff Bramich:

Yeah, a lot of it is on the job, learning along the way. As you go through the season, there's different jobs to do. Like I said, there's tractor work, there's infrastructure. So what we like to do here is not set one job for one person. We like to have everyone across the board, learning all the skills. So whether it's a young guy, old guy, everyone's in there, everyone gets their hands dirty. But then, also, we try and teach everyone about tree health, nutrition, all that sort of stuff.

Cliff Bramich:

The difference is if someone asks questions and shows an interest in it, you can tell that they're enjoying their job. So Peter, for example, is always asking questions about what's the next step in the trees and those sorts of things. We have sent Peter off for a few different courses, chemical course, which we need to use for chemicals and definitely there's opportunities there to do what I did and go off and actually get a certificate which will back up your knowledge set.

Drew Radford:

Cliff. Is it hard to hang on to staff in your sector?

Cliff Bramich:

I haven't actually had any issues hanging on with staff. It's more of a turnaround in yearly pickers, but the current staff that we've got, they've probably been a good group for the last two or three years. We just try and make it a nice, happy environment to come to work to and safe environment, and they go home knowing that they've achieved something for the day. So I've been very lucky with people here that no one's left in my time that I've been here. In regards to my previous history with retail, we had a constant turnaround of staff, people using the retail industry to step up to go to uni and just filling in time or getting a bit of pocket money on the side. But horticulture, there's a huge range of different possibilities you can have if you want to.

Drew Radford:

That's a really positive thing to actually hear. I would've imagined that hanging onto staff and salary pressures would be a really difficult thing.

Cliff Bramich:

Maybe I've just been lucky. I'm sure there are some farms that can't retain staff. But like I said, we try our best to make everyone happy and have a safe working environment and go home knowing that they've done something, achieved something for the day, which I think everyone's looking for. It gets a bit monotonous if you just go to work and doing the same thing, day in, day out, you don't feel like you're achieving anything. But the beauty that we have here is you see that small piece of fruit hanging on the tree through to the end of the season when it's picked and put in the bin. And then when you go shopping, it's there on the supermarket shelf. So for me personally, it's very satisfying. And I think a lot of the staff here have the same view.

Drew Radford:

That's Cliff Bramich. And making it a satisfying job in a happy environment seems to be the key to hanging onto staff. It's certainly the view of Peter Finlayson, who started working for Cliff about a year ago. Indeed, working in an orchard was not a job he even considered a few years ago, back in school.

Peter Finlayson:

No. Growing up, I wanted to be more along the lines of an engineer or an architect, something a bit more technical. And then when I was in high school, I got offered a work experience at a architect firm. After doing that, I discovered that I really disliked being in an office or doing office jobs. So coming out of high school, I looked for work that was mainly outdoors or was a lot more active. After a year, so in the end of 2020, I was offered this position at Geoff Thompson on an orchard in Merrigum, which I've been working at ever since.

Drew Radford:

Clearly, Peter, you sound like you're more suited to working outdoors. Is there something particular about horticulture that appeals to you?

Peter Finlayson:

Compared to other outdoor positions, I don't think so. I think it was just mainly luck that I got to horticulture first before other positions. I have done work at a sheep farm before, so it's not my first outdoor role, but it's certainly the one that I've enjoyed the most. I'm not sure whether that's to do with just the work we do or the people I work with, but it's been the one that's most enjoyable.

Drew Radford:

You're not long in the game then Peter, have you had any specific training so far?

Peter Finlayson:

Most of my training has been on-the-job training with various equipment we have around the farm. I was lucky enough a couple of months ago, Geoff Thompson's actually provided a chemical handling course that me and a couple of the guys did, which was through TAFE. Apart from that, most of it has been taught to me by my managers at the farm.

Drew Radford:

I'd imagine those managers are pretty important for setting the tone at workplace and making it that enjoyable workplace to turn up each day.

Peter Finlayson:

One hundred per cent.  Between them and all the other guys I work with, they take a huge amount of stress off my shoulders coming in the door every morning. I'd like to think that I try and make their lives a bit easier too.

Drew Radford:

That's a great perspective. So Peter, do you have a typical day? And if so, what's it look like?

Peter Finlayson:

A typical day? It probably changes from month to month or even week to week, depending on what time of year it is. At the moment, a lot of what we're doing is spraying or just general maintenance in preparation for the upcoming harvest season. But then once harvest starts, days will change once again. Towards the end of autumn and start of winter, we enter a new phase and that will continue for a couple of months.

Drew Radford:

Peter, what surprised you about working in horticulture?

Peter Finlayson:

I don't know if there's been any surprises that has come up. Coming into the position, I didn't really have any expectations, I was pretty open-minded.

Drew Radford:

Peter, there's a lot of jobs on the go around the country at the moment off the back of the pandemic and the country's getting up and going again. So there's competitive pay and conditions out there. Has it worked out for you well in horticulture?

Peter Finlayson:

I think so. Yeah. I mean the conditions are great. I absolutely love them. As I said before, working outdoors and working who I'm with, that makes the job enjoyable. But as for the pay, one thing that has turned out really well is there's opportunity for career growth. Even just starting out, I've been quite happy with what I've been given, but the fact that there's opportunity to grow and improve that over the next five or 10 years is a real upside.

Drew Radford:

That's a really interesting point that you make. And also your boss too, Cliff, he came in and worked his way up the ladder as well. So you may have the same opportunities.

Peter Finlayson:

Yeah, I certainly hope so.

Drew Radford:

Peter, what would you say to other young people who are interested in a career in horticulture, but don't know where to get started?

Peter Finlayson:

I guess the best thing to do, especially with our picking season coming up is just give a phone call to whoever runs the local orchard. I basically just walked in one day after a quick email to one of the managers and sat down with him and asked you know, "What can I do?" And have just continued on from there. So it's no real skills or training is required. It's just willingness to get stuck in, I guess.

Drew Radford:

Peter, with that attitude, there's no doubt, I imagine that you will go far and do well in the sector. Thank you very much for joining me for this AgVic Talk podcast and sharing your experiences in horticulture and how you got started.

Peter Finlayson:

Thank you very much for having me on.

Narrator:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 16: Farming the Grewal way, with Aman Grewal

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Twenty years ago, three brothers from India's Punjab region arrived in Australia. For them, it was a journey that took them first to New Zealand, then Renmark, before they finally established themselves as farmers in Sunraysia. Perhaps farming was inevitable as it was literally in their blood. They are from a caste that's been producing food for India, for countless generations. However, the land in this corner of Victoria is vastly different from what they grew up with. That though has been anything but an impediment. Two decades on, they're involved in horticulture, feed lotting, broadacre cropping, and are now even stone milling local grain. It's a remarkable story of success that is attributable as much to hard work as it is to support from the local community, industry bodies and government. To find out more, I'm joined in the AgVic Talk studio by son of one of the brothers, Aman Grewal.

Drew Radford:

Aman, thanks for your time.

Aman Grewal:

Thank you, Drew, for having me on here today.

Drew Radford:

Aman, tell me about your farm. Where is it and what do you farm?

Aman Grewal:

We're located in northwest Victoria in the Sunraysia and Millewa area. Our main operations are in Lake Cullulleraine, so it's about 50 kilometers out of Mildura, and we do cereal cropping and we also do horticulture crops. So the general broadacre crops of wheat along with almonds, grapes, citrus, developing that now, and also doing a few types of berries as well.

Drew Radford:

Aman, the farming enterprises were started up by your dad and his brothers, I understand.

Aman Grewal:

Yeah, Drew. So there's three brothers in the family and they've started up their farming operations at Cullulleraine. Initially we were in Renmark, just over the border. Started off with a small farming operation there. And then a few years later, we grew out into our larger operations at Cullulleraine, which is our base at the moment, doing our various cropping there, and then expanding into the milling part of the business as well.

Drew Radford:

We'll drill down into that a little bit further in a moment, Aman, but your accent's arguably thicker than mine. You grew up in Australia, but your dad and his brothers didn't though, I understand.

Aman Grewal:

Yeah, Drew. The family started to migrate from Punjab in 1988 and they first migrated to New Zealand doing various operations there, from restaurants to grocery stores, and then eventually making the move to Australia in 2000. So it was all well in New Zealand, but coming from a farming background, farming was still in the blood. There was something that the boys wanted to come back to. So we had some family in Renmark and that led us to moving to Renmark. I was actually born in New Zealand, but I was only a year old when we moved to Australia. So I've pretty much been raised here for all of my life. Yeah.

Drew Radford:

You said, farming's in the blood. And literally though, that's the way it works in Punjab, in terms of that's pretty much what your family, generations before, did, if I understand correct.

Aman Grewal:

Yeah, Drew. So in Punjab, it's all farming and that's where the households live off of. Farming is what they do and what they know of. And as long as I know, all of our generations have been doing farming. I guess farming is in our blood. We've been doing it for generations and here we are doing it today as well.

Drew Radford:

Well, you are doing it today. And indeed it's been a story of remarkable growth from landing in Australia only back in 2001.

Aman Grewal:

Yeah, Drew. So always working hard, working towards their goals. I guess, working as a family, with many members, it's really been helpful. And I think that's the main reason why we've got where we are today.

Drew Radford:

Well clearly, you're all very hard workers. From what I understand, you're working long days, full time in the family business, whilst also studying for a master's in business administration.

Aman Grewal:

Yeah, Drew. So I've done my undergraduate in agribusiness and marketing. Yeah. So I just wanted to come back to the family operation and come back into the farm. And then I started doing a masters, a MBA. So finishing that off now. Yeah. I think it's always good to work and study at the same time. I think you get to implement what you're learning in the real world experiences. And I think it's great to come back into the family business, to keep it alive, keep it going. Especially in regional towns, like where we are, young people tend to go to the cities and that's where they get settled. So yeah, I think it's good to come back to our roots and grow where we are.

Drew Radford:

Now, Aman, in terms of that growth and what the family's managed to build, how have you been assisted in that process in terms of information and resources that have helped your family develop? You're farming different land compared to what they were farming back in Punjab. So, have you been assisted by certain resources and programs to help do that?

Aman Grewal:

Yeah, Drew. There are various sources that are around. I think you just have to reach out to them as well. There are many industry bodies that are more than willing to help, and they've got programs that help growers to develop and innovate what they're doing. Just to put out a few examples, with the almonds you've got the Australian Almond Board. You've got here locally with the wine grapes, Murray Valley Wine Grapes and Citrus Australia. So it's organisations such as these, they help out with different aspects of growing. They've also got these programs and events that you've just got to regularly attend, and they're really helpful. You've also got some government bodies, like the DPI, Department of Primary Industries, Agriculture Victoria. These government bodies also provide a lot of support as well, and there's funding available and training opportunities as well, for those in the industry.

Drew Radford:

Has the family been able to do courses which have helped them get their head around things like irrigation or benchmarking stuff.

Aman Grewal:

Yeah, definitely. On how to improve your efficiency through irrigation, or how to increase your efficiency and effectiveness, I guess, and also with irrigation programs, how to irrigate, at what times and when to do it. So, there are various programs out there that also help with chemicals and fertilisers, what to use, when to use them and what the benefits are. So yeah, there are a heap of programs out there. I think you've just got to keep looking for them, and I guess ask people. People that have been in the industry, people that have been in the farming, just ask them, "Hey, I've got this problem. Can you guys help me out?" They'll help you, or they'll point you in the right direction.

Drew Radford:

Aman, how important is it to be looking for different market opportunities? You've got land, you might want to use it for something, but maybe you can't, and then you're going to have to look at, well how can we use it? So how important is it to be looking at different market opportunities with the resources you do have?

Aman Grewal:

Yeah, Drew, so our resources, obviously they're limited, so it's always good to be looking out for new opportunities that are out there. So with the land, certain land is suitable for certain crops. Other land may not be suitable for it. So that's where you've got to think outside the square. What else can be done on that land? So the land that's not suitable for almonds, you can use it for citrus or grapes or whatever it may be. You can also go back to the cereal cropping of wheat. We've also set up feed lots on the land that is not used for anything else. So it's always looking for how best you can utilise the resources that you have. It's always good to look outside the square and see what we can do best with what we have.

Drew Radford:

Well you certainly are looking outside the square with that range of commodities that you're producing. But you've also gone into value adding, I understand. Your dad and his brothers, they started Golden Grain Mills. What is it, and why did they do that?

Aman Grewal:

So, Golden Grain Mills is another segment of our business. So we do different types of flours, wheat flour. You've got your chickpeas, maize, gluten-free. We also do feed plants as well for stock feed. We started this operation in 2009. This was after the drought that we had. As you would know, with times of drought, it's always tough for everyone. We came up with the idea of setting up a mill. We've got our own grain and we needed to value add to it, to get through those tough times, I guess. And here we are, we're supplying throughout Australia and New Zealand and looking for different market opportunities as well, and expanding our business.

Drew Radford:

So Aman, what's particularly unique then, about the product that Golden Grain Mills is producing?

Aman Grewal:

Our wheat that we're milling is grown in the Millewa area. So that's something unique. It's all grown locally. But other than that, the most important part is that we use the traditional method of stone grinding. So we use stone to grind the flour. So from the grain to flour. So this is, I guess, a unique point of difference that we have. So this is a slower process, a process that tries to preserve the natural goodness of the grain within the flour.

Drew Radford:

So Aman, what's the market demand for that then? What sort of people are buying Golden Grain Mills' product?

Aman Grewal:

We've got a few different market segments that we've targeted. But this is mostly because we're from Punjab and India use a lot of stone ground flour in their cooking. So this was initially started off for the Indian market because there wasn't anything else similar in the market when we took off. But since then, over the years, it's evolved. People are becoming more conscious about their health and consumer demands, I guess, are changing as well. So we've managed to get into different market segments, even into the mainstream market.

Drew Radford:

It's a great example, Aman, of, well, how do we create a revenue stream during a drought? And now it sounds like it's become quite a big part of the family business.

Aman Grewal:

Yeah. So this is a significant part of the family business. As I was saying before, we've been expanding over the years and the best part is that we get to grow the grain and also process it. So we've got that whole chain that we're looking after and we get to supply the market, the community with some great products.

Drew Radford:

Is a good part also, Aman, working with your family?

Aman Grewal:

Yeah. It's absolutely great working with the family, helping out. So it's definitely great to support each other and keep going.

Drew Radford:

Aman, your family's got a great story in terms of coming to the region, and 20 years later, what you've built. Where do you see the future in the Mallee for your family from here on in?

Aman Grewal:

The whole family is involved, and the future generations, they're also getting involved in the family operations. And the Mallee area has been absolutely great for us. Over time, we've built our relations with the people here, which has been absolutely great. So I think there's a long-term future that we see in horticulture and in this area of the world, I guess. I think there's a bright future ahead for the family in horticulture.

Drew Radford:

Aman, it certainly does sound like the family has got a great future there. And the region is also benefiting from all the work that your family and you are doing. Thank you for taking time and joining me in the AgVic Talk studio today.

Aman Grewal:

Thanks, Drew. Thanks for having me on here today.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 15: Planning and preparing for a harvest fire, with Ian Hastings

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Ian Hastings:

The fire on the ground was burning across my hands and my face. And I was reasonably severely burnt, both hands, front and back of my hands. The palms of my hands, of course, were on the ground in the burning fire. And the fire went over the backs of my hands and burnt that quite severely as well. And, by this stage, I'd exposed both sides of my face to the fire. So it also was reasonably badly affected.

Drew Radford:

This is the horrendous story of Ian Hastings, a farmer who's always placed safety at the top of his list of priorities. So much so, he even spent years running safety expos for schools on his property. G’day I'm Drew Radford and Ian Hastings joins us for this important AgVic Talk podcast on harvest safety. To not only tell his story, but crucially to share what he's learned so that others can avoid the same. Hello Ian.

Ian Hastings:

Yes. Hello, Drew. Happy to be here.

Drew Radford:

Ian before we get to the details of what happened on that day, tell us about your property. Where is it and what do you farm?

Ian Hastings:

Okay. We farm in the Victorian Mallee, south-west of Ouyen, and we are dryland croppers. We grow all of the normal things depending on early season rainfall. Sometimes take some grains out of the mix and obviously also world prices. So at the moment we're growing wheat, barley, lupins, and some vetch for hay.

Drew Radford:

That's a reasonable mix Ian. And over what sort of space are you growing those crops?

Ian Hastings:

We're currently cropping about 4,400 hectares.

Drew Radford:

Ian, that's a fair bit of cropping. I get the impression that you are a reasonably safety-focused bloke, because we're going to talk about the accident that happened to you in 2019 with a fire, which was horrible. But you are a safety-focused guy because I understand you actually already had a firefighting rig on your chaser bin. And I don't reckon that'll be that common.

Ian Hastings:

Well Drew. Yes. No it's not very common and we do have it, but look, I need to go back a step. I was quite involved in the local VFF branch and my wife and I, and some neighbors actually set up and ran a farm safety expo. And we had at one stage 15 schools sending their students to that. And we did it for 12 years. So we had a safety outlook, I suppose you could say, about 18, 19 years ago was our first one. And we've tried to be safety conscious ever since. And yes, the fire that occurred two years ago on our property was really the first time we've put our thoughts and our skills to the test.

Drew Radford:

Ian, that's a really strong focus on safety and something to be proud of. And I imagine few could even match it. And you also live and breathe that as well. Because as I understand on the day of the fire, during harvest, you had a firefighting unit with you in the field. What went wrong?

Ian Hastings:

Yeah. Okay. Well look just running through the scenario of that day. We had two harvesters in the paddock, two headers. And when one of those headers turned, there was a reasonable but gentle breeze and it must have blown some smoldering straw off when he turned. And the wind direction then was in the opposite direction. That started the fire. My header was heading towards where the fire had started, so I saw it. The other header was going away and didn't see it. And initially I yelled, "Fire, fire, fire!" on the UHF radio. And the chaser bin, at that point, was about a kilometres and a half away, maybe even two kilometres away, at the other end of the paddock, emptying into the field bin of the truck. And so I asked him to travel back to where I was as fast as he possibly could. And on the way to start the Honda motor, which was the driving force for the firefighting unit.

Drew Radford:

And so Ian that's attached to the chaser bin. So the chaser bin turns up and then it's a case of running out the hose and fighting the fire. Is it?

Ian Hastings:

Yes. Sorry Drew I'll go back a step. We set this up. We put a 1200-litre plastic tank on the front of our chaser bin, mounted it up there. And then we set up the Honda firefighting unit with a hose on the side of the chaser bin in front of one of the wheels. The point was that the chaser bin is always manned in the paddock. Whereas if you have a trailer or even a ute with a firefighting unit in the back of it, somebody has to take time to get to that unit. Whereas my thoughts always were that the chaser bin always had somebody sitting in the seat and the motors running, and that's going to be the quickest way to get water to a fire. So that was always what was behind it. And so he then came as fast as he could.

Ian Hastings:

And by the time he got there, I had been going across and back with my header in front of the fire, with the header right on the ground, trying to lower the fuel load. Dropped that as low to the ground as I possibly could. And at the time the fire was only very benign is the only way to say it. It was only traveling quite slowly. It was only 30 to 40 centimetres high and it was quite a benign fire. So I had time to go across and back, 12 cuts across and back, in front of the fire before the chaser bin got there. So, it really wasn't anything at that point to be too concerned about.

Drew Radford:

So he turns up with the chaser bin. You've really lopped it down as low as you can go. What do you do? You run over and grab the fire hose and go to work, do you?

Ian Hastings:

Yeah, well, when he was getting close, I took my header and parked it up behind the fire. In other words, where the fire had been. And then ran down to where he was and met him. And sort of told him where I wanted him to stop and everything. And I unrolled the hose and headed over to the fire with the hose. And as a lot of people now know when I got there, I hadn't realised that the Honda motor had not been revved up. It was only just idling. So when I turned the nozzle on the fire hose on to squirt the fire, it was about a little boy's stream. So that's when I ran back, by the way, I was 71 years old at the time. So running was not as fast as it used to be. But I ran back to the chaser bin to rev the motor up.

Drew Radford:

What happened Ian? It doesn't sound like you were far away from the pump on the chaser bin?

Ian Hastings:

No, no, no. It was only the length of the hose. So I think from memory it's about a 12 metre hose. So I was only 12 to 15 metres away from the chaser bin. And I ran. Well I suppose the speed that I ran was probably dependent upon how urgently I saw the need. And as I say, it was really only a little benign flame at the time. So I ran, but I probably didn't run as fast as maybe I could have. We've done some reenactment sort of work. And it turns out that it was only about four seconds from when I turned out at the fire front to get back there. And, and my intention was to just hit the throttle lever on the Honda motor. And I'm very, very familiar with Honda motors. I knew exactly where to go. The moment I got to the motor I flicked the throttle lever. And then as I turned around to head back to the fire, that's when the fire hit me.

Drew Radford:

Ian the fire hit you, but you're saying it's pretty benign. So what, what changed?

Ian Hastings:

Well, I wish I knew. I wish I knew. As I said, I was plus of 70 at the time, I've been farming most of my life. And lots of times in the past we used to burn paddocks. We knew what fire could do. We were very familiar with fire. So what happened this time was absolutely and totally out of anything that I expected. As I turned my head around the fire came through me about two metres high. Before I even got to facing back the way I had come. In other words, I was only a quarter of the way through my turn when I noticed the flames going over the wheels of the tractor on the front of the chaser bin. So I meant to just replay that incident, I turned my face into the fire. I immediately then turned away.

Ian Hastings:

I turned 180 degrees and in doing so, lost my balance and fell over. And I fell down into the fire and the fire on the ground was burning across my hands and my face. And I was reasonably severely burnt, both hands, front and back of my hands. The palms of my hands, of course, were on the ground in the burning fire. And the fire went over the backs of my hands and burnt that quite severely as well. And by this stage, I'd exposed both sides of my face to the fire. So it also was reasonably badly affected. And even though I had long sleeved cotton shirt and trousers on where I fell onto the ground on my knees, the fire was obviously very hot and it burnt my knees through the trousers without even scorching the trousers. And the same thing on my elbows. I fell to my elbows as well. And again, they were totally covered by the cotton drill shirt, but my elbows got reasonably badly burnt through the cotton. And, and again, no mark on the cotton whatsoever.

Drew Radford:

Ian, the injuries just sound absolutely horrendous. And literally in the blink of an eye that occurred. You're a well prepared person, and it jumped from 45 centimetres to two metres and you received those horrendous burns in the blink of an eye. What happened from there? I assume you rushed to hospital.

Ian Hastings:

Well, the first thing was that the flame, and of course the smoke that went with that flame, was quite intense. It didn't last very long, of course, but the driver in the chaser bin tractor... I was at this stage lying or crouching on the ground right in front of the big wheel on the chaser bin. And the chaser bin was half full of grain. So I am so thankful that his initial immediate reaction to drop the clutch on the tractor and get out of the road didn't happen because had he done that he would've run over me. I was in the smoke and dust; he couldn't see me. He's told me since. And I don't know why he didn't drop the clutch and get the tractor and chaser bin out of the fire, but he didn't. And that's the reason I'm still alive to be honest. Then when I did get out of the road, onto the burnt area, I waved him away.

Ian Hastings:

And he drove over the hose because I'd left it laying on the ground. And so we fixed the hose. And then I walked up to my header and rang my wife because it's about 30 kilometres or a bit more from Ouyen where we were on a back road. And I just couldn't comprehend trying to explain that to a 000 operator in Melbourne and get the message back. So I thought my quickest way to get to care and attention was to ring my wife. I knew exactly where to come. And then I sat in my header and what water I had with me I poured over my burns until she arrived and we headed back. And then my daughter-in-law's house was halfway back towards Ouyen. And she met us at the road with a bucket of iced water, which I was able to continue pouring over my hands and knees and elbows and things and into hospital in Ouyen. And so it was probably about an hour, I guess, from when I was burnt until when I made it into the hospital.

Drew Radford:

Ian you're remarkably pragmatic in the description, but it didn't stop at Ouyen, you ended up in Melbourne I understand a number of skin grafts later.

Ian Hastings:

Yes. So in Ouyen, they assessed and cleaned and checked and talked to doctors, I presume. And then they transferred me to Mildura in an ambulance. I got up there about nine o'clock at night, and they worked on the burns, which of course by this stage were blistering quite badly. And they were cutting those blisters off. And they had to remove my wedding ring because that finger was swelling up pretty badly. And that took quite a while. They eventually took me around to a ward about 2:00 am and through the time they'd been working on me, that there was a discussion about an air ambulance taking a child to Melbourne, and maybe they should put me on that air ambulance, but then that didn't happen. I'm not really sure why, but the next morning they cleaned up where they'd been and sent me home. And a couple of days later a liaison person from the Alfred Hospital Burns Unit rang and said, where are we?

Ian Hastings:

And we said, we're at home. And she said, why? And I said, well, where should I be? And she said, well, you were actually booked into Melbourne into the Burns Unit. Why aren't you here? And I said, "Well, nobody told us." Which was the unfortunate part. So by that stage, I was getting fairly untidy and my eyes were nearly closed, and I wasn't in a very good shape at all. And my wife was getting a bit nervous about not being a nurse, not knowing how to look after me. I'd been to the local hospital again and had dressings redone, but they also were concerned and they didn't have the right dressings and so on. So anyway, it was a Friday afternoon when this liaison nurse rang from Melbourne and we then drove down virtually overnight to Melbourne, Kathy and I, and yes, then the next week or two, I don't even remember exactly now, but they dressed and assessed for the first couple of days and then decided to do the skin grafts and peeled a fair patch off my leg and put it on mostly on the backs of my hands.

Ian Hastings:

And yeah, the rest is history, as they say, I'm fully recovered and I'll probably have skin troubles around my face where the worst of the burns were in years to come. But at the moment I'm travelling reasonably well.

Drew Radford:

Ian that is a horrendous story to say the least. And I'm very pleased that you have recovered. Your focus now, though, on making sure this doesn't happen again, ever to you or anybody on your farm, or really anybody else in primary production. What changes have you made to your system? I understand, first of all, let's talk clothing. What, what changes have you made on your property concerning clothing?

Ian Hastings:

Well, none as far as I'm concerned, because I believe the cotton drill, long-sleeved cotton drill shirt and trousers are still the best protection. So I will continue to wear that and I'm encouraging everybody else. Now I'll go back a step also and say that we didn't at this point, and we still don't, have a policy on our farm that employees must wear high vis. We are only concerned about them wearing suitable clothing. However, the young guy who was driving the chaser bin had decided himself to go and buy a high vis shirt. And we said, oh yeah, good. We didn't take any further notice. And what we found out after the fire was that that was made of flammable material. And he got out of the tractor to help me get the hose unwrapped, and then I said to get back in the tractor, and I'm so glad that I did, because had the fire come across and got him, it would've burnt him very severely.

Ian Hastings:

So we will make sure in the future that people, if possible that they wear cotton drill, because yes, it's considered to be hot, but it's also good protection. And that's what we will all continue to wear.

Drew Radford:

Ian, what about your firefighting unit? You're already ahead of the pack with your firefighting unit, but I understand you're really focussed now on just not getting out of the cab to deal with a situation like this in the future.

Ian Hastings:

Yes. We had the water; we had the pump. We thought we were as well prepared as we could be, but what we've learned from this incident has told us that we have to be better prepared. So what I have done is set up a nozzle on the front right hand side of the tractor, and I've made that nozzle so it is adjustable in direction only. I can't find anything to allow me to adjust the stream. The ones on the front of the CFA trucks, which would do exactly what I want are $19,000 each. And no farmer will ever pay that sort money to have it sit there and possibly never use in their lifetime, so that's out of the question. I have tried and tried the various manufacturers, and I can't find anything less than about $8,000 or $10,000 to do the job. So I've got an ordinary firefighting nozzle that everybody can buy out of their local shop.

Ian Hastings:

I've set the aperture, if you like, the opening to be what I think will be the best to fight a fire, and then I've made it so that it's able to be moved up and down and left and right. So that that can be controlled from inside the tractor. And we also have then taken away the Honda operated pump, the petrol motor pump, and we've put a hydraulic pump back there. The situation now is that the operator of the chaser bin tractor can put the hydraulics in gear for that pump and then he has water and we have a switch to open a motor valve to allow the water to go through to the nozzle out the front, and, he then has two switches which will allow him to move that nozzle up and down or left and right.

Ian Hastings:

And the theory behind all of this is that the driver's door on a tractor is always on the left. And my thoughts are that if we have the fire on the right hand side of the tractor and something goes wrong, then the driver can open the door and run away from the fire on the left hand side. So that's the philosophy, what I found last year was that it didn't work as well as I had hoped, and so I've got to make some modifications and spend a bit more money, and, and I will do that before harvest starts this year.

Drew Radford:

You said spend a bit more money, Ian, and you drew the comparison with the professional units, but what sort of money have you got away with so far to set up this remarkable system on your chaser tractor?

Ian Hastings:

Very little, the way that we move the nozzle up and down and left and right is with two linear actuators and they are relatively cheap. A couple of hundred dollars will buy you the pair of them with the ability to move them. So that's quite cheap. And obviously a firefighting nozzle is, is also quite cheap. The expense is in the pump. The hydraulically operated high-pro pump is the one that I've chosen. And to buy the brand new unit that I want is about $4,000. So that's probably the expensive bit, but having used the proto-type of that last year, we pinched one off one of our sprayers. That is definitely the way I need to go. It has to be a robust centrifugal pump that can pump high pressure and be operated by hydraulics. So that you've just always got it available.

Drew Radford:

Ian, you mentioned that it didn't quite go to plan. I assume practice and using and familiarisation are really important with this system like this.

Ian Hastings:

Well, that's the other thing that went wrong last year. We had a young girl driving our chaser bin for the entire harvest. And the only time she was not in this tractor was that weekend. She had a weekend off and we had another driver in there. Unfamiliar, and we had not taken the time to ensure that she knew how to operate the firefighting unit. Now, worse than that, I jumped into the chaser bin tractor and said, I'll do it. But then I didn't know how to operate it myself. And I thought I did. So the buttons that I pushed didn't achieve the result that I expected. And I was incredibly frustrated that here I was with my you beaut gadget and I could not make it do what I wanted. So that's one of the other things that we've come to realise is that everybody that is likely to be in that tractor must do practice work with it, must operate it from time to time and know how to make it work.

Drew Radford:

Ian you're sharing your story very generously and hoping other farmers take away from this and hope that they never deal with what you have dealt with. Are there any other key messages? What's the key message you would like those listening to this to take away?

Ian Hastings:

We thought we had the Rolls Royce. It turned out we didn't, but that's only one part of it. The other part is that we did not ensure that everybody knew how to operate it. And whatever your firefighting system is, my recommendation, so strongly, would be that everybody who may end up on any part of that firefighting unit has to do regular trial work with it. So they know how to make it work. There is no time to think when you have a fire, it has to be an automatic reaction. And that's what I found that I thought I knew, but when I did the things that I thought would make it work and they didn't, I couldn't think.

Ian Hastings:

There is not time to stop and think. You're too busy either trying to make it work the way you are, or else getting out of the road. So my very, very strong recommendation would be if you have a firefighting unit, then every person who's likely be in the paddock must operate it. Don't just be told how to do it. They must operate it and then go and fill the firefighting unit up again. It's the only way that it becomes really non-thinking usable.

Drew Radford:

Ian Hastings so pleased that you have recovered from that and the progress that you've made to make you and your team even safer into the future. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your story and your insights in this AgVic Talk podcast.

Ian Hastings:

Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity Drew. Look, I'm very concerned to make sure that ours works best and that we all know how to use it safely, but I'm also the sort of person who is happy to share that information and hope others may be able to use some part of it as well to protect them and their staff.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk for more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback. So please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian government Melbourne.

Episode 14: Safety is a non-negotiable, with Emma Bolding

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Improving on-farm safety has many benefits. Often, that includes productivity gains. G’day, I'm Drew Radford and this was exactly what Emma Bolding and her partner Steve found when they upgraded the safety of their cattle yards. They produce organic beef on their property called Ballangeich, which is just north of Warrnambool. To find out what was invFolved, Emma joins us for this AgVic Talk Podcast. Emma, thanks for your time.

Emma Bolding:

Thanks, Drew.

Drew Radford:

Emma, you're organic beef producers. For those unfamiliar, how do you define organic beef?

Emma Bolding:

So we are a certified, organic beef producer. So that means that each year we have an audit that we have to go through and yeah we just got to keep a few more records than what other producers might have to do. So we're restricted in the use of pesticides, certain fertilisers, and herbicides and all our animals are grass-fed. Yes. That's just how we like to do things on our farm, I guess.

Drew Radford:

Well, on your farm and being grass-fed, I assume you've got some decent rainfall. Whereabouts are you? Where's the property and what's the history of the property?

Emma Bolding:

Yeah. So we do have a fair decent amount of rainfall here. We're based just north of Warrnambool down here in the Great Southwest.

Drew Radford:

Is it your family's farm or is it your partner's family's property?

Emma Bolding:

Yeah, so it's my partner's family property. So he managed to take over running of the operation, which is really lucky, just a couple of years ago. So the both of us have got the reins and have taken control of continuing on the certification and the organic running of the farm that his father John started about 10 years ago now. So we're really quite passionate about the environment and keeping things as they are as well. So we're really loving it.

Drew Radford:

Central to all of that is obviously safety for you and Steve and everybody who works on the property. Why has safety become such an important thing for you and Steve?

Emma Bolding:

Oh, it's just one of those things it's for us is really just a non-negotiable. We just want to make sure that ... We're working with livestock; we're working with machinery that can do quite a bit of harm to anyone that's operating them. So we just want to make sure that, for us and for our family members that come and help us out, or for anyone that's coming from off-farm, like vets, that when they come and work on our farm, that they feel like they're working in a safe environment. And we don't want to put people in a situation that they don't feel comfortable working in.

Drew Radford:

Having that as an objective and making that a reality are often two different things because it costs money. Now I understand you've gone down the path of a safety rebate. What was that for? And how does that work?

Emma Bolding:

Yeah, so we found out about the safety rebate. We were looking at upgrading our yards, particularly our crush. We were getting quite frustrated with it. Yeah, just didn't feel safe enough for us. So, that was in our business plan to upgrade our yards. And then when we found about the safety rebate, we just had to jump right on it. It meant that we could upgrade the crush straight away.

Drew Radford:

I imagine most people would be familiar with what a crush is, but for those that aren't, can you just describe what it is and what it does?

Emma Bolding:

Yeah. Good question Drew. So certain times of the year, the cattle have to come into the yards and we need to be able to hold them. So we might be able to preg test them or for some people, they might have to drench them. So we need to make sure that they're contained because we need to work closely with them and we don't want to be getting kicked or headbutted or anything by the animals. So it's basically just a box that just holds them in place, so it restricts their movement.

Drew Radford:

So, Emma you had one previously, but this was quite an old piece of equipment, so what it didn't hold them properly or you didn't feel safe? What was wrong with the old one?

Emma Bolding:

It was just old, really. It'd been there for 30 or 40 years and things were just starting to wear out, as they do. And the new crushes that they're bringing out now have a lot more access doors that you can access the animals in. Whereas the other one didn't and it actually has this squeeze feature that for the smaller animals that we're working with, it will actually hold them still better than what our old crush would have.

Drew Radford:

So, Emma you and Steve worked out you really needed a new crush to make your cattle operation safer. And you heard about the rebate that was on offer. What sort of process did you have to go through to apply for that?

Emma Bolding:

Yeah, look, it was actually quite simple. It was a couple of pages that we had to fill out and we just sat down and we had to explain what we were going to install was going to improve safety on our farm. We had to fill it out, then send through a photo when it was completed.

Drew Radford:

So what sort of timelines are involved here, Emma?

Emma Bolding:

So we sent it off and then we heard, probably a couple of weeks to when we heard back about the rebate that we were successful. And as soon as we had the go-ahead, we ordered the crush that we wanted. And that was in stock, so we were quite lucky that we were able to install it quite quickly in the next month or so.

Drew Radford:

So you've got the crush in place. Why is it different and how's it helping?

Emma Bolding:

Yeah, the crush is in place and it has made a huge improvement on our cattle workflow through the yards. We are both quite comfortable in using it. We're less stressed when we're in the yards because we know it's working. We have had a couple of vets come out that do a bit of work with us in the yard, such as preg testing. And they've commented just how much safer that they feel when they come out and work in the yards.

Drew Radford:

Well, clearly it sounds like it makes things easier, Emma. Does it also improve workflows? Are things faster in the yard?

Emma Bolding:

Yes. Yeah. We haven't had to struggle with opening and closing the crush, that the old one was just having a bit of trouble with. And when we are doing stuff like freeze branding, our bulls, it just has got those extra doors that just make it quicker for the guy that's working in there. And yeah, it just seems to just help really.

Drew Radford:

Emma, beyond the crush, what else are you eyeing on the property in terms of safety that you think needs improving or you'd like to improve?

Emma Bolding:

Yeah, Drew we're working through a bit of a OH&S, an Occupational Health and Safety Plan. And we're just trying to just look at different aspects of our business, just trying to attack it in little bite-size pieces rather than overwhelming ourselves and trying to do everything all at once. So at the moment, we're focusing on our cattle yards, we've got two properties, so we've upgraded both of the crushes in those yards. So we're working on the flow of the cattle throughout the yard. So we're changing a few of the gates and a few of the fences that are in there, so the person that's working closely in the yard with the cattle is able to manoeuvre around and the flow of stock is much better. So, that's what we're working through at the moment. And we're looking to put a shed over our yards as well. So we're out of the elements as well.

Drew Radford:

You mentioned there, you're putting in place a bit of an OH&S plan. Were those words that were ever thrown around when you're growing up on your own family property? It's a language that seems to change and safety focus that's changed so much.

Emma Bolding:

It has Drew, and it's great. There's more awareness out there now because growing up, no, that was something that wasn't spoken of. There was no OH&S plan. There was no inductions or anything for people that came on farm. It's just something that's really come out now. It was always something that mum and dad always said to make sure you're safe, but there was no OH&S plan that were in place that I can remember.

Drew Radford:

And how important is it for you and Steve to create that safety-focused culture as part of your business?

Emma Bolding:

Yeah, Drew. It's one of those things it's real high priority for us. We want to make sure that both of us can go home each night. Anyone that comes out, we've got a couple of family members that work with us. We want to make sure that they feel safe to work with us. We want to make sure that anyone that's coming from off-farm, such as vets, that they're happy to work with us and in the future we'll probably look to employ someone as well. So we want to make sure that they go home to their families each night as well.

Drew Radford:

Emma, for anybody that's thinking about improving the safety on their farm, what piece of advice would you leave them with?

Emma Bolding:

Oh, I think Drew that safety is becoming very, very important. And if anyone can start on a OH&S plan, it's just getting started on doing one. You don't have to look at every part of your business, but just start on something. It's just making a start really, that's so important.

Drew Radford:

Emma, that's a fantastic way to wrap that up. Thank you for your time. All the best for the future for you and Steve and thank you for taking the time and joining us in the AgVic Talk studio today.

Emma Bolding:

Thanks, Drew. Yeah, it's been good to chat with you about safety.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 13: It is an exciting time to be in farming, with Stephen Bennett

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Digital agriculture, it's the use of digital data and technology to help produce food. G'day. I'm Drew Radford, and the next generation of farmers will be very familiar with the term. Indeed, many already are. Such as dried fruit producer, Stephen Bennett. For him, the digital revolution is already here and to discuss what it means, he joins me in the AgVic Talk studio. Stephen, thanks for your time.

Stephen Bennett:

Hi, Drew. It's wonderful to be here.

Drew Radford:

Stephen, where do you farm and what do you farm?

Stephen Bennett:

We're based just out of Merbein, in north west Victoria. Merbein's about 15 kilometres away from Mildura in the Sunraysia region, and we are dried vine fruit growers, which is predominantly sultanas, but also we have some newer varieties like Sun Muscat, Sunglo and Carina Currants. The family's been doing it for quite a few years now. Since 1910, actually, so my brother and I are the fourth generation Bennetts to be here.

Drew Radford:

Four generations, Stephen, that's quite a legacy there, but I understand you didn't go straight onto the property. You disappeared and did an engineering degree. Why was that?

Stephen Bennett:

That's right. Growing up, my family was fairly interested in cars and mechanical things. My brother, who's a bit older than me, he was studying mechanical engineering, so I guess I wanted to follow that path as well. I remember when I was in primary school, I did a project on cars and the principal saw this project and he was fairly impressed, and asked me what I'd like to do, and I said, "Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'd like to be a mechanic or something," and he said, "Oh, I reckon you could try something else. You might even like studying engineering," and from that point on, I was pretty determined to get a degree in mechanical engineering, so I did. Then I got that and worked for about six years as an engineer before I decided that working and living in the city wasn't my cup of tea, so I was a bit keen to come back and have a go at being a dry fruit grower again.

Drew Radford:

Stephen, is the timing almost good for that, in some regards, because you've come back at a time where technology is really reaching deeply into the agricultural sector. It always has, but arguably more so in recent times.

Stephen Bennett:

Yeah. Timing is an interesting question. I remember when I was living in Melbourne, I came back one weekend and my brother showed me this new Shaw Swingarm Trellis system, and the penny really dropped for me then, that there was a fairly large scope opportunity for mechanisation and it was sort of right up my alley. From that point, I decided that I wanted to get back and then a property came up for sale next to the home property, so we bought that and I came back. But yeah, to your point, particularly in the last, I guess, five or 10 years, there's been a real revolution, I guess, in electronics, and automation, and robotics, and all this stuffs become quite available to novices like myself or people interested in that sort of technology to try and get involved, and have a go, and see what they can do on farm to try and lift their productivity and make life a bit easier. Yeah, it really is quite an exciting time to be in farming at the moment.

Drew Radford:

Stephen, you mentioned there the Shaw Trellis and how you saw the opportunity for mechanisation around that. For those that aren't familiar with it, what is the Shaw Trellis and what opportunity did it present for you?

Stephen Bennett:

Well, traditionally grapes were harvested by hand and then laid onto drying racks, and dried on the racks, and it was quite a labour-intensive process. Then, during the 1970s, we had some bad years with rain and that sped up the development of trellis drying, which is where, effectively, instead of harvesting the fruit first and then drying it, with trellis drying, we dry the fruit first on the trellis and then (machine) harvest it. But it was a way of salvaging fruit in very adverse weather conditions, because it stopped fruit from splitting and rotting, and causing damage to the fruit. But adapting trellis drying to systems that were designed for handpicking wasn't ideal, but Ivan Shaw, who was a grower in Merbein, quite a clever grower, and he has developed this swingarm system, where we basically grow canes along a continuous linear line along the row.

Stephen Bennett:

It makes the harvest process much more mechanised, and we can almost eliminate a lot of the labour that we used to use. It also means that we can mechanise the pruning as well, to a certain degree. We still need some labour with pruning, although the industry's developing ways to minimise that as well, but it really did mechanise both the harvest and the pruning of vines, which is, in our industry, quite important, because we're competing with imports. It's a very price sensitive industry, so we need to be as productive as we possibly can.

Stephen Bennett:

I think this year really came into its own as well, because with the labour shortages around due to COVID-19, I think we really would have struggled if we didn't have a system like the Shaw system where we could minimise our labour inputs as much as we possibly could, and still manage to dry and harvest the crop without too many difficulties.

Drew Radford:

Stephen, you mentioned there that labour has been a particular issue of late, because of the pandemic. What are you working on, technology wise, that may be of broad appeal?

Stephen Bennett:

One project that I've been working on for quite a while now, is an autonomous robot to try and drive around a vineyard by itself and spray weeds. It's been a long-term project, but I am getting there. I've got to the stage now where it can do about half a hectare by itself, driving up and down rows without hitting anything, which has been the main objective. I'm just working on sort of the mark two model now with bigger wheels and bigger motors, but I guess, it's bit of an experiment and it was part of this sort of revolution that I mentioned before, about this technology becoming more available, because I've had this sort of vision or dream for a long time. But in the last few years, the hardware and software has sort of become available off the shelf, so I'm using a computer that's designed to control a drone, and it's an open-source project, and the guys behind this project have also developed software that is designed for rovers, ground-based rovers.

Stephen Bennett:

I've pretty much just plugged this computer into a little machine that I've built myself and been able to start doing some testing and evaluation of it, to see if it's going to be worthwhile, and so far, it looks pretty promising. I also did have a little bit of assistance from Dried Fruits Australia who have some grants available for people who want to develop new ideas or new innovations. I was able to use some of that money to fund purchasing of the computer, although it's not particularly expensive in the grand scheme of things. Also, it uses a low cost RTK GPS technology, which is another handy technology that's become cheaper and more available.

Stephen Bennett:

Very similar to the systems that broad acre growers use for auto-steering and setting up their rows in a fairly highly precise way. But the system I got was only, I think it was about $800, but it can give me accuracy down to 20 millimetres, which in a vineyard, you need things to be fairly accurate, because it doesn't take too much to send it off course and hit a vine and stop. Although, my machine's not very big, so that it wouldn't do too much damage, but having this technology available in the last few years has been a great help for me, anyway.

Drew Radford:

Stephen, you said it's not particularly expensive, but it's a reasonable skillset, I imagine, to try and pull those bits together and actually make it happen, but then it goes on to becoming an early adopter. You often find yourself being a bit of a Guinea pig for this sort of thing and trying to adapt technology to your situation. Why does being an early adopter suit you and your business?

Stephen Bennett:

Part of it's just being curious about and creative about new technology and what it can do. That's, I guess, the main driver. Being an early adopter does have risks, and even though some of this stuff doesn't cost a real lot of money, it does cost a little bit in time learning how to use these things. You don't need to be a computer programmer or an expert to start using this stuff, but I have spent time on forums and on the internet trying to nut out problems that I've had. I've had some really good assistance from people all around the world, just from internet forums and things. If I've got a problem and there's not many people locally that are experienced with this stuff, but there's plenty of people in the communities online that are dealing with this. Usually they can solve my problems fairly quickly.

Stephen Bennett:

But being an early adopter, I guess you've got to be careful that you don't fall into any traps that nobody else has come across before, and you don't want to go down any wrong paths and do anything too seriously wrong, so you've got to sort of tread carefully when you're doing it, but the benefits certainly are worthwhile.

Drew Radford:

Well, Stephen, in terms of the benefits, I mean, bottom line is you're a primary producer and you're doing this on the side, so what's driving you to actually do this? Is this about increased efficiency on your property? Is that really the bottom line for this? Or is it a bigger vision for the industry?

Stephen Bennett:

I think a bit of both. In our business situation, we're, usually, fairly pushed for time. We don't have a huge turnover, so we try and minimise our labour as much as possible, but if I could get a rover that could go doing spraying for me, then straight away it's almost like I'm employing somebody to do that job, so it's going to free up my time to do things that are more productive and do things a bit more efficiently. When you do have labour shortages and shortage of skilled labour, automation and robotics, I think, is one way that's going to be a big help to try and solve those labour problems anyway.

Stephen Bennett:

I think going into the future, we're going to need people that are more skilled at operating these sort of systems, and I think that'll happen. I think, the next generation of kids that are coming through, they'll be quite familiar with computers, and I think it'll also attract more people into the industry, because they'll be more interested in playing with robots than digging holes with shovels, probably. Anyway, that's just my thoughts on that sort of labour issue.

Drew Radford:

The bottom line is, you're not afraid of technology. You're also a primary producer that depends upon irrigation licenses, so water is a valuable commodity for you. I understand you've been getting involved in technology there that can help you better deploy water, particularly IrriSAT. What's that, and how do you use it?

Stephen Bennett:

IrriSAT is an online tool for irrigation scheduling. It uses both satellite technology and local weather data to measure how much water a particular crop is using, and then you can use that to try and schedule how much water you need to apply to make up for the water that the plant's using. Now, I've found it a really useful tool and I use it almost daily just about, for irrigation scheduling. You can basically get a map of your own property, and it looks like a Google Earth map, and you can map out or put a boundary around each patch of vines, in our case. Then every week IrriSAT will update the data that it's getting from the satellites and also the weather data, and then you can predict how much water over the next week that that patch of vines is going to use.

Stephen Bennett:

Straight away, you can very easily use it for scheduling, and I use it quite a bit for benchmarking, so I can see what our neighbours are doing from that satellite data. You can even look at other industries around the world and see what their crops are doing, and you can compare that to your own. I guess, it's one of those traps that I mentioned before, that I learnt with IrriSAT, is that you do have to know what's actually going on, on the ground. You can have a patch of vines that looks really healthy, but it could actually be a patch of dead vines that's growing a lot of grass. Unless you actually know and can see what's happening on the ground, you can get a bit confused as to what's really happening, but if you're familiar with your own property and you know what patch is doing is what, it can be quite useful.

Stephen Bennett:

It's been really useful for me to understand crop water use, and what different varieties, how efficient their water use is. The effect of weeds on water use, and it really has sharpened my focus on weed control and also making sure we're putting on the right amount of water at the right time. I mean, it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll save water, because we want to try and maximise our yield as much as possible, but we don't want to waste water, I guess. Getting the best return per megalitre is the most important thing in our industry anyway.

Drew Radford:

Stephen, is this a case of combining it also with other water monitoring technology as well, such as probes. You mentioned there about knowing your patch very, very well, so are you looking to deploy other technology to say, "Well, this is exactly what's going on in this patch"?

Stephen Bennett:

We do have a set of capacitance probes in one patch, and that's part of a project that we're doing with Dried Fruits Australia to try and use data to maximise our yield. It's been good to compare what IrriSAT's saying with what the probes are saying. You sort of need two systems. I think with irrigation scheduling, you can't just rely on one particular system, because irrigation probes are very specific to that site, so they only sort of measure in a very small area, although you can... It should represent roughly what's going on within a patch, but with IrriSAT you can also get a good overall view of what's happening within the patch.

Stephen Bennett:

You can see the weak areas in the patch and the stronger areas in a patch, which doesn't necessarily show up with a probe. The data that you get out of probes is a lot more accurate than IrriSAT, and it's also, a lot more up to date than with IrriSAT, because with IrriSAT, even though you get updates about once a week, which is pretty good. You can't actually see what's happening when you irrigate, like you can with probes

Drew Radford:

Stephen, you're doing your own work in terms of automation on the property. What exciting things are you seeing coming over the horizon for the dried fruit industry in particular?

Stephen Bennett:

I think the industry's been doing a good lot of work in the mechanising of pruning, even though we can mechanise harvesting a lot, pruning's been our most labour-intensive activity. In the last couple of years, some local growers have been developing machinery to try and take away some of the detailed sort of pruning work we do with hand secateurs. I mean, overall just tidying up and minimising labour in pruning. I guess, in another area that I see is going to be a big advantage to the industry is field robotics. An example would be, there's a California company that's selling automated sprays and they've actually sold quite a few units to a local almond orchard company. Then I see this morning, they're going to sell a smaller version of that for vineyards, so I think automated or ground robotics and auto-steering in horticulture, they'll be not too far away, and they'll be a big advantage.

Stephen Bennett:

Particularly things like auto-steering. As I mentioned, we're trying to mechanise pruning as much as possible, but when you're driving down a row of vines and you're trying to steer the tractor straight, and you've also got to try and control a machine that's pruning the vines, if you can have a tractor that steers itself that would make that job a lot easier, I think. Even though we haven't been using things like auto-steer in horticulture a real lot up to date. I think, into the future, as we get more mechanised, I think those sort of things will be used more and more.

Drew Radford:

Stephen, you came back to the family farm with a degree in mechanical engineering, so you had some good foundation skills, but what have you done to continue updating your skill set, so you can do this sort of work?

Stephen Bennett:

Well, I've always been interested in computer-aided design, and I was lucky when I first started working as an engineer, one of my first jobs was to convert a drawing office from the drawing board to computer-aided design. I've been lucky to oversee some big changes in short periods of time, but I've continued that interest in computer aided design right up to now, and that software has become cheaper and more available too. I have done a little bit of design work sort of off the farm over the years. Not a real lot, but a little bit, and I also, do do a bit of machinery design just of my own. That's helpful for keeping my head around or feel involved in all the details of design, that sort of design work, but the latest computer aided design software, I'm a bit amazed about as well, because it's quite affordable now.

Stephen Bennett:

It really is cutting edge technology, whereas years ago you sort of had to be a multinational company to get some of this software, but now you can do three-dimensional computer-aided design, and you can also use that same software for some fairly advanced design analysis, which I'd sort of never had the chance to do, even when I was working as an engineer, but now I can keep myself up to date with that sort of stuff. Even little things like 3D printing. We bought a little 3D printer a while ago and that's been handy. Any designs that I do draw then I can quickly print them to see if they're going to fit and work, but it's funny, even though I sort of left the industry, I don't really feel like I've been left behind, because with so much information online, I can keep myself very much up to date with what's going on in both the engineering world and the farming world.

Drew Radford:

Stephen, it certainly sounds like you are keeping yourself up to date well and truly.

Drew Radford:

Stephen Bennett, the future certainly is looking bright for you in terms of being able to apply technology on your property, to gain advantages, and also share it with the rest of the industry. Thank you for taking the time and joining me in the AgVic Talk studio today.

Stephen Bennett:

No, thank you very much, Drew. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria. Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 12: Safety doesn't take a holiday, with Jason Mellings and Jason Fogg

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Jason Fogg:

I think those people that are embracing the change and becoming safer and understanding that safety does have a place, are the people that have an operation that probably is a bit more efficient too.

Drew Radford:

That's the voice of Jason Fogg, and with that sort of perspective, many would assume he's either a farmer looking for a competitive edge, or maybe even a farm safety consultant. He's neither. He's a farmhand, one who particularly likes working on a property that puts his safety first. And that property is owned by another Jason, Jason Mellings.

Drew Radford:

Good day, I'm Drew Radford, and Jason Mellings has made safety, a fundamental aspect of his business culture and he joins me in the AgVic Talk studio. Thanks for your time.

Jason Mellings:

Pleasure.

Drew Radford:

Jason, Breaker Day, where is it and what do you farm?

Jason Mellings:

Breaker Day is halfway between Donald and Warracknabeal, approximately 88 kilometers north of Horsham. Yeah, look, the usual suspects, wheat, barley, canola, lentils, beans, a few sheep, but not many. But predominantly cropping.

Drew Radford:

Predominantly cropping, usual suspects, but you've got a little bit more going on there though, and we'll talk about the trucking in a moment. But, is farming in your blood?

Jason Mellings:

Yeah, I guess it is, Drew. I mean, my grandfather migrated from England, ended up at Warrak, just out of Nhill. And long story short, my father ended up at Carron, where we are now, and that happened in 1960. And we've been here ever since.

Drew Radford:

I want to talk to you a little bit about farm safety today, Jason. In regards to farming being in your blood and your granddad doing it and your dad doing it, I imagine the approaches they had to farm safety were quite different to what you have today and what you're also required to have today.

Jason Mellings:

I'll just use an example of when I first left school. I remember a lot of PTA shafts didn't have a guard, steel bins and silos didn't actually self-empty you had to get in with the augers going. I mean, some of the stuff we used to do, I look back now was pretty dodgy to say the least, but everyone did it. And everyone used to just take the risk and it got to the stage where things improved by default but everyone had one or two machines, was still pretty dodge. I guess we didn't employ as many people then. Employees weren't such a big part of the equation, unlike now. And I'll go a step further to say that, by default, as machinery got changed over as compared to 30 years ago, the guards and the safety equipment offers are actually pretty good.

Jason Mellings:

And I've used an example of, I remember, when I left school, we had our 1420 axial-flow International Harvester Company header and it had probably 10 guards on it, which all ended up in the back of the workshop by the end of the first harvest. And when we traded that machine in, the whole lot ended up back in the salesman's ute and I said, "There's all the guards there mate. Do what you want with them." So off he went, he put them back on, obviously compared to the header, we've got, now you just push a little clip on the side of the machine, the guards flop up out of your way and they're good. You can get in everything, they're dust free. When you finish doing what you've got to do is push the button and they just slide down again. And that's that. So by default, it's a lot better than it was.

Drew Radford:

You say it's a lot better than it was. And that sounds like it makes it very easy, and then it starts to, creep into the way you think about safety in regards to your business. Is that a main concern?

Jason Mellings:

Look, it is. To be brutally honest, part of the reason we were a bit, I guess you could say scared or fearful of safety, is because of litigation. Let's face it, if we aren't up to spec with WorkSafe and we have an incident within this business and we end up in court, we're in the hot seat, big time. So that alone is a big incentive to make sure we're up to speed, not to mention the obvious fact that we do want people to come home safe. You don't want family members with missing fingers or limbs or worse. So safety is paramount now, for sure.

Drew Radford:

Jason, you mentioned WorkSafe there. So why is maintaining good documentation an important part of running your business?

Jason Mellings:

There are a couple of ways of looking at that. In fact, I could talk about this for a while because, long story short, we now document all the maintenance goes on machines, right from a lawn mower, straight through to a tractor or a header or whatever it may be. And the reason for that is so we can go back and look when things were serviced, so we know where we are. The other thing is if we have an accident with a machine, WorkSafe comes on the site and says, "Is this machine safe? Has it been well-maintained?" We can say, "Yes, it is because it's all written down on paper." So that's number one. Number two is we have a bit of a quick accreditation or a bit of an instruction on how machines operate and how to use them. And we sign off to say that I'm satisfied the way guys use them.

Jason Mellings:

So if something happens and WorkSafe says, "Did the guy know what he's doing?" Well, yes he does because it's all written up in documentation. So that covers that base. The other thing is we have a lot of issues with guys on phones, guys that want to drink alcohol in the cabins after a certain time of the day, guys throw rubbish around the yard, guys don't want to keep the cabins clean, they won't wash the windows, et cetera. So it comes into workplace culture as well as work safety.

Jason Mellings:

So that's all written up in a document and we get into harvest, for example, and I've got a backpacker who is not obeying by the rules, or my culture of this farm, I can say, "Hey mate, a week ago, you signed up to say that you weren't going to sit on your phone all day, looking at Facebook. You're going to keep the cabins clean. You signed for it, you know where you stand, so clean it up and sort that stuff out.” And from my point of view, if they don't and there might be two or three things like that, that aren't happening with a particular employee, basically they’re gone. They're, looking for a bus ticket out of here. That's where we stand on documentation.

Drew Radford:

Jason, it sounds like those two things though, are very much hand in glove, workplace culture and documentation. So if one's right, is the other one right?

Jason Mellings:

Exactly right. Yes.

Drew Radford:

Jason, there's a lot to get your head around though. In regards to the actual legal requirements, is that something that you are assisted by getting a consultant on the farm and then also running it? There's a lot of apps around now as well.

Jason Mellings:

Look there is. From my point of view, what we've done is I got John who is employed by VFF at the moment he was really good. He came on for half a day. We went through all the documentation. He gave me a USB stick with all the information, heaps of it, forms and documentation we can actually fill out. So it's all sitting there in front of you, had a quick inspection and went through all that.

Jason Mellings:

And that was really good, but what I've done because I'm rather time poor, I've got a consultant or a friend of mine out of Horsham who is all over this stuff. She came on-farm. We sat around the table with all the employees, went through all the documentation, which she had organised before she got there. We signed up, she went through everything, explained what was required, what was expected. And by the time she left, it was all said and done and she files it away on a computer. Easy, that's how I've done it.

Drew Radford:

It sounds like a very organised and sensible approach to actually take with it. But it's an ongoing thing. Isn't it? I assume it's not just a one-off meeting.

Jason Mellings:

It's not, it just keeps evolving. You make a start and you can't do it all in one hit. That's what John said,"Make a start." There are a few things around the farm we had to improve on. For example, we needed some bollards around a couple of chemical loading areas, fuel tanks etc., more signage and a few more first aid kits. He said, "Just get it done over at month or two," which we did. Documentation, just do it in a gradual process because I mean, it is a fair bit of time. So just over 12 months, you just make it happen. It doesn't take long to get most things where they should be and a lot of the stuff with WorkSafe, it is just efficiency and being probably neat and tidy, and it actually adds value to your operation at the same time.

Jason Mellings:

For example, if I want to look back when the blades on that lawnmower were fixed or a new battery went in the Ute or whatever it may be. I can actually look back in the documentation I've already got done and see when that was. It's good for that way. We've actually upgraded our chemical loading facilities, so we got a chem shed with an evaporation pond and a concrete slab to load on. It cost us a few bucks, but it's just been a big improvement to the operation of spraying in a lot of ways, itactually improves the efficiency of the business. So it's not all bad, is what I'm trying to say.

Drew Radford:

Jason, some people say, its too expensive to have the latest safety gear and update all the time. For you though, it seems like a carefully-thought-out business decision and money well-spent.

Jason Mellings:

I agree. And I mean, it's amazing how many people... it's a bit of a misconception out there that it is a cost and it is time. Maybe you could look at it that way. But as I said to a guy the other day, "They run a good show. I said guys, what if you have a problem on that farm? And I mean, all your gear is good. You are safe. I'll look at you over the fence. You run a good operation, but things do happen. And you've got probably three or four guys working for you. You have an issue and you end up in the hot seat in court, where do you stand? You know, for the sake of a day every couple of months to get this sorted out wouldn't you just go and do it?"

Drew Radford:

As part of your operation, you also run trucks and they're doing distance and obviously have busy times as well on your property, such as harvest or sowing. And around those times, fatigue management comes into play. How do you approach that?

Jason Mellings:

Yeah, good question. With the fatigue thing, I've been here since basically when I left school within reason, and I know how hard I can go. And so I'll get a bit of a gauge on how hard the other guys can go as well. So with the trucks, because they're all pretty much monitored by a log book, so they might jump in a truck in the morning, head to Ballarat or Melbourne, wherever it may be. And I know when they get back, we've got a load and get ready for the next day. So I'll say, "Right fellas, you might as well knock off. It might be four o'clock in the afternoon, but you've been gone since six, so you've done your day. Go and have a rest and jump in again tomorrow." So that's how the trucks run.

Jason Mellings:

Harvest and cropping is a bit of a different story. An issue I do get and I'm not trying to put the mozz on backpackers, but a lot of those guys are the worst because all they want to do as many hours as they can, in as short a time as they can. So they get as much money as they can and move on. Well, I say to them "Guys, you've been on that machine for 16, 17 hours. You cannot run it efficiently. It's not safe. You're out of there," and look, I've had a few arguments with them, not just backpackers, but others as well. 'So right, you're off.'

Jason Mellings:

If we've got enough staff, everyone knocks off for lunch, which sounds like a bit of a luxury, but that does happen. I might just say, 'Look, go home for lunch, have an hour off. Someone else will drive it or I'll drive it.' And same with dinner time at night, or, you know, if it's been a long time, just go home, have two hours off and jump back on at eight o'clock at night, stuff like that. So I'm pretty hot on the fatigue side of it. It is easy just to leave guys there, but it's not efficient and it doesn't work. And let's face it, if they get fatigued and put a header front into an SCC pole, it's no fun. Although insurance can get you a new one, you're not going to be get one in the middle of harvest. These machines have to be treated with a lot of respect.

Drew Radford:

Jason, you mentioned earlier about the culture that you have on the farm. I assume with these conversations, you've got to lead by example as well, wouldn't you?

Jason Mellings:

I do, exactly right. Whether we like it or not, guys like me, we're farmers. We're not trained to be employers, but whether we like it or not, we are. We have to lead by example. We have to set the rules, to the point we have to sort out arguments amongst employees. The list goes on. We have to be a boss. We have to be a leader. Simple as that.

Drew Radford:

You make a really good point there though, Jason. You know, your primary reason for being, is to be a primary producer, but suddenly you become a manager and you're trying to manage people. And I imagine at times, you're just standing there going, "I never expected to have some of these difficult conversations." How have you gone about developing some of those skills?

Jason Mellings:

I guess, because I've always haven't been on the farm, I was a mechanic for a few years when I first left school. I know what it's like to work for a boss and work with a group of guys. And I know how I want the boss to treat me, I know what it's like to work with other employees. So nowadays I've probably drawn on that experience quite a lot in the situation now, but this industry's no different to a trucking business or a building crew where a guy started off with a hammer and a set of nails and built houses on his own. All of a sudden he's got 20 blokes under. He's had to evolve into being a leader and a boss. It's the same thing really.

Drew Radford:

That's Jason Mellings, owner of Breaker Day. So how does that workplace culture translate on a daily basis? Jason Fogg has been working on the property for nearly a year. However, he's come to farming from a range of backgrounds. One of which is very safety focused.

Jason Fogg:

I am a commercial helicopter pilot, so there are similarities between the two. Obviously processes and protocols that we use in the cockpit, are similar to the machinery that we use in here. I mean, it is big, it's dangerous when you don't operate it properly.

Drew Radford:

And you end up going from helicopters to working on a farm. I understand there was a logistics stint in between.

Jason Fogg:

Well COVID has seen a great change in my variety of work, but I was on a Facebook page that was Pilots For Harvest, and I'd always wanted to do something like this. And I just sent a message out. Next thing you know, my phone rang, it was Jason Mellings and he said, "I've got a job doing harvest," and I said, "Well, I'll come down." And next thing you know, two days later I was sitting in a case header doing... stripping wheat, I think it was, my first gig.

Drew Radford:

Jason, you sort of touched on it, but what are the similarities and differences between machinery safety as a pilot and also agricultural machinery?

Jason Fogg:

I think they're really similar in the fact that you have got a piece of machinery underneath you, that if used wrong can bite you. And so in the cockpit, we have a variety of checklists or protocols and processes that were used to get things either started or underway. And similarly, when you're taking the boom out, let's say, throttle down, extend the arms, make sure it's clear, all those sorts of things. So you're going through a little checklist in your head, as you do the same sort of things I would do in a cockpit of the helicopter when I'm about to take off. Temperatures and pressures are all good, my surroundings are all clear, it's clear to take off and then I look at my gauges, look outside and then off we go. So it's all very similar, really.

Drew Radford:

There is obviously becoming more and more of a legal requirement for workplaces to have this sort of detail in place, but in a place like a farm as well, where you do have new workers coming and going, does it help in terms of that training and implementation as well?

Jason Fogg:

Yeah, massively. Making sure that there's a clear understanding for the people that are operating machinery... There was a young guy that was here I guess complacency, because he hasn't seen the worst of what can happen when you're not concentrating can set in. So if you've got a set of guidelines for these people to follow, then it's easy to refer back to them. So when they come in and you go, "Okay, you're going to be on the chaser bin. Here's what I need you to do," and if you can do a run through with them, then that's their safe working method statement basically. And then you can also have it in writing for them before you go out and do it. But you'd, much the same as it is learning to fly, you do your theory first, and then you go out into the cockpit and you put it into practice.

Drew Radford:

Jason, I imagine this translates a little bit in terms of the culture of the place and how it's actually running. And does that affect your ability to work in a safe way if that's all positive and in place?

Jason Fogg:

Yeah, it is. I guess I’m lucky in the fact that my age and maturity I've been around and seen a few different things and so I would speak up. But I could totally understand that there would be some operators that have always done it a way for a hundred years and they just keep ticking over that way and they don't want to see change. And that's the people that I would expect have the problems with safety and do have the issues and the accidents, because it doesn't take much for an accident to happen. But I think those people that are embracing the change and becoming safer and understanding that safety does have a place, are the people that have an operation that probably is a bit more efficient too.

Drew Radford:

Well, it translates into a business imperative, doesn't it?

Jason Fogg:

Absolutely. If you're running something and there's stuff everywhere and you're stepping over things to get to something else and it's just really unsafe, uncontrolled and not well thought out, the proof is in the pudding really, isn't it?

Drew Radford:

Well, it sounds like it makes you far happier as an employee to be working in a place which does have those things in place.

Jason Fogg:

Absolutely. I wouldn't have come back if it was just a gig at a place where it was pretty ad hoc and just throwing in here and just do this and make that up as you go. I've come back because I liked a bit of structure and I liked the way that things have progressed here. But I also like the ethos because you're allowed to speak up here. You're encouraged to speak up. If you don't think something's safe, say something.

Drew Radford:

Jason, you go through busy periods on a farm, such as harvest. How important is it to have a clear head and to be able to focus? And how does that change if you are rushed in those busy periods?

Jason Fogg:

I think that's probably the most important part, especially during times of harvest and those sorts of things where it's all on. Everyone knows it's busy, it's long days and long nights. If you aren't being honest with yourself and understanding that you are maybe tired, you're not focused, you know that something's going to go wrong and you could injure yourself or someone else by saying, 'Hey, I'm buggered', or understanding that you need to have regular breaks. Safety doesn't take a holiday. Nothing more has been clearer to me than doing a harvest with the long hours, and you think, it's the next day that you get up and you try and operate something that you really not clear on it. And you think I've got to stop. I've got to go and take a break or I've got to do something else because you take a shortcut and that's the thing that'll hurt you.

Drew Radford:

Jason, I understand. You've also been working on another safety initiative in regards to trying to make the property COVID safe, which is probably something a lot of primary producers haven't actually thought about.

Jason Fogg:

Yeah. Putting a little program into place and it doesn't take much, but putting it into place because these are isolated properties. And a lot of them don't see a lot of people, but still having a system in place allows you to keep COVID out. You can have multiple workers coming across your business either at cropping time or at harvest time, so you need to know who they are and where they've come from and the potential dangers. So we've got QR codes here and just a regular little protocol list of what you need to do when you first arrive on the site.

Drew Radford:

Jason Fogg, thank you very much for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio today.

Jason Fogg:

Drew, it's been a real pleasure.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 11: If you can't measure it, you can't manage it, with Nick Blandford

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk. Keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Climate change. The issue is literally global, but for farmers who work at a local level, it's often difficult to see how you can make any real difference. G’day, I'm Drew Radford and my guest in the AgVic Talk studio, Nick Blandford, pondered that as well. Indeed, it was part of the reason for him turning to farming after years of working in climate-related policy and scientific research. G’day, Nick.

Nick Blandford:

Good day, Drew. How are you?

Drew Radford:

I'm great, Nick. Nick, whereabouts do you farm?

Nick Blandford:

So I work on my family farm in Meerlieu, which is on the western edge of East Gippsland on the edge of Lake Wellington.

Drew Radford:

And what do you farm there, Nick?

Nick Blandford:

We run a self-replacing Merino flock on about 1400 hectares. I grew up on the property after leaving for uni and then working in other agricultural industries, came back to work there in about 2016. So this is my sixth year on the farm.

Drew Radford:

Sixth year on the farm, but you said it's a family property. Has farming been in the family for a long time?

Nick Blandford:

Yep. So I think I'm the fourth generation that's worked on this farm.

Drew Radford:

Wow. Fourth generation. So you're seeing a lot of changes then in that time, I'd imagine.

Nick Blandford:

Yeah. Yeah. So when they first got there, I think there was a lot of rabbits and bracken fern and a lot of improvements made, but yeah, it's sort of gone through a lot of different cycles.

Drew Radford:

And Nick, you said you went off to uni. What did you study at uni?

Nick Blandford:

So I studied Ag Science at uni.

Drew Radford:

So ag was always going to be your final destination?

Nick Blandford:

Yeah, I think so. I think I was always intending to come back to the farm, but there wasn't that sort of opportunity when I first finished uni. So I went and did a couple of other things in between, but yeah, the intention always was to come back and give farming a go.

Drew Radford:

And what did you do in between?

Nick Blandford:

So I worked in rural services for a little while and then worked in some agricultural research for a little while as well.

Drew Radford:

So if you've been working in agricultural research for a while and also uni studies, is that where you started to become a little bit more aware of climate variability and changes that were occurring?

Nick Blandford:

Yeah, I think I was aware of the issues of climate change through school. I think my awareness really grew when I was at university though. I completed an honours project investigating the potential increasing photosynthetic capacity of cereal crops under elevated carbon dioxide concentrations. And then later in my career, when I worked in research, I worked as a technician at the CSIRO and that was investigating the response of different traits of wheat to climate induced stress such as declining rainfall and increased temperatures. And this made me much more aware of the need to adapt our production system to climate change, but also research needed to fit the context of our Australian production systems.

Drew Radford:

Nick, that is much more than just a passing interest. That's really cutting-edge involvement and obviously, understanding in the process.

Nick Blandford:

Yeah, I think I've always been reasonably engaged with it, but to have a bit more of an understanding was really good. I think after I moved back to the farm, I probably sort of wasn't quite as aware of the impacts on our farming systems. The first season was pretty good. We had reasonable rainfall, but then after those first couple of seasons, we had a pretty significant drought in East Gippsland and I could really see the negative impacts on our business.

Nick Blandford:

And so after that, I was a little bit worried about the impacts of animal agriculture and climate change. And I thought this is something that's going to be a major issue and particularly as a young farmer and I would need to sort of take some responsibility for taking action. And from that, I was also lucky enough to participate in the Climate Smart Fellowship run by the Farmers for Climate Action. And in that program, we got to sort of stand in front of some really exceptional people like Mark Howden from the ANU and Sarah Barker from MinterEllison, and really talk about the science behind climate change and also the policies and how they impact that.

Drew Radford:

Nick, that's a very broad scope. Obviously, you got a personal consideration here in terms of how the farm's operating, but then you involved at the policy level. So let's just take one step back then. You mentioned you ran into a drought when you first came back to the farm. That was a reasonable drought too though, wasn't it? It was a few years.

Nick Blandford:

I think we were always hoping that it wasn't going to last that long, but it just sort of kept rolling on. And we sort of had that really low rainfall across those three years from 2017, 18, 19. And it was a pretty challenging time in terms of maintaining ground cover and those sort of soil health considerations, but also finding enough cashflow to be able to afford to maintain your feeding regimes, to keep the sort of stock in good condition.

Drew Radford:

Then Nick you talked there about the scholarship that you got and how you've been working also around the policy edges. How is that starting to feature back on your property in terms of what actions you're taking?

Nick Blandford:

Yeah, that's a huge challenge and probably it hasn't been the biggest driver of our decision making on farm, but something that sort of aligns with other sustainability and productivity practices. So that includes high productivity to reduce the impacts of each product that we sell in terms of its carbon, like diluting the amount of greenhouse gases emission for those things as well as things like breeding resilient sheep to withstand our climate. We have also really targeted improving our soil health. And we're participating in some local projects like Top Soils project, which really focuses on that area. We're also participating in a multi-species cover cropping demonstration project with our local Landcare group. And that was funded through our Smart Farm Small Grants initiative. More personally, I felt like the decisions being made in policy didn't really align with my views and I needed to develop some skills and take some opportunities to advocate for climate action and the development of a sustainable agricultural industry.

Nick Blandford:

So that's included things like joining the Young Farmers Advisory Council, participating in the Gippsland Community Leadership Program this year, as well as the AgVic Young Farmers Mentor Program. I've have also found that joining various industry and community groups was really valuable in planning for the future. So things like the Farmers for Climate Action and our local Landcare group. I'm involved with the East Gippsland Climate Action Network and the Young Farmers Best Wool Best Lamb group, and these have been a great resource to share information and concerns about climate change.

Drew Radford:

I'm particularly interested in that part of it. So it's like actually getting out and talking to your fellow farmers and working on... Well, as you talk about a whole lot of trials to better set yourself up for the future. Is that a simplistic interpretation a lot of what you're doing there?

Nick Blandford:

Oh, no, I don't think so. I think it's part of the challenge is really knowing actually what steps to take to really kind of get involved with the action. And so for me, that's been things that I felt like I could have agency over the decisions in my impact on climate change. So being involved with these groups, really getting involved with the communities and sort of talking about what options there are and because it can be quite a challenge to actually know what to do and what steps to take.

Drew Radford:

I imagine it's a long road that you're embarking upon. Do you feel like you're starting to gain traction?

Nick Blandford:

I think so. Absolutely. I think sort of organisations like Farmers for Climate Action have been really successful in sort of pushing responsible action on farms and going to leaders in our governments and making sure they're aware of what things that farmers really want to see happen. And I think we've seen some really good outcomes from that.

Drew Radford:

Nick, recently the Victorian Government released its Climate Change Strategy, which includes an Agricultural Sector Pledge. As a farmer, what's that mean to you?

Nick Blandford:

I think the challenge we've got is I think we have a really good understanding of where agriculture sits as an industry and its impact on our climate change. And I think in that report, there was 17 per cent of Victoria's greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture. I think the challenge we have is we don't have a really good understanding at the individual farm level and the adage goes, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. And so we're often challenged as an industry with a spectrum of information about what our impacts are from papers stating that animal agriculture is responsible for 80 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Sort of the alternative is that it's part of a biogenic cycle of carbon and therefore there's no animal impact. I think we have to be really careful drawing the focus too narrowly and where there can be positive associations like Greta Thunberg pictured on the cover of Logan's Scandinavia dressed in wool is really great, but I think we've got to be careful that we don't get too narrowly focused on things like that and look at the whole farm.

Nick Blandford:

And that's where I think the things like the emissions calculator that Richard Eckard put out from Melbourne Uni was really valuable, but the particular part of the emissions pledge that I'm really looking forward to is the 250 on farm action plans that have been announced. And I think that's from the State Government. I think that's going to be really important and it'll give us the idea of where the emissions are coming from and the strategies we can take to really mitigate those effects. And I think that's going to be really important for the context of our farming systems and vital to sort of reaching those climate targets and getting to net zero by 2050.

Drew Radford:

For those that are unfamiliar with that particular project, can you just outline that a little bit further so people can understand what's being done?

Nick Blandford:

So basically, there'll be 250 farms selected across Victoria that will have a full kind of audit of where their emissions come from and really drill down to specific actions they can take and receive funding to really work on mitigating those effects and look to try and really get to those positions where we can get farms that are carbon neutral.

Drew Radford:

Nick, that plays into the point that you made earlier of if you can't measure it, then it's hard to act upon. So this is really about quantifying that.

Nick Blandford:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that's one of the challenges. We really need to have the trust in the information that we're putting out particularly as we go to the markets when we say we have reduced our carbon emissions, we can actually prove that and those calculators are really good, but I think it's going to be really important that we actually can do it in the context of our farming systems.

Drew Radford:

Nick, what do you see as some of the challenges of actually taking practical action?

Nick Blandford:

I think the real big challenge is actually knowing what to do and where those challenges are really going to come from. So I think it's really important as individuals that we stay on top of the information and understand what options we have and opportunities we have to really reduce our carbon emissions. And that's really difficult to do sometimes in the context of we're still running our businesses in a climate that is changing and we have to always be adapting. So to be able to do both at the same time is quite difficult, but it's really important that we continue doing it. So we can't just merely adapt to the system while still having an effect on climate change. We need to do both, but yeah, it's very difficult to just start to mitigate our climate effects without having that adaptation as well.

Drew Radford:

Nick, you've got a forensic knowledge about this area and also a great deal of passion. Have you gone getting even your own family on board with some of this?

Nick Blandford:

I think in terms of my own family, generally, it's been pretty good. I think they can all understand that there's some challenges with climate change. In terms of my local community, there can be challenges talking to people. But I think that's where it's really important to kind of find that safe space and connect as a community and with different people that really will support you in your feelings about climate change.

Drew Radford:

That's a really interesting tactic. And so you're sort of saying, well, you can't just address this from one particular area. It can't be just policy raining down on us. I need to be talking to my fellow producers and explaining my insight and also trying to understand where they're coming from as well. That's kind of what I'm hearing from you.

Nick Blandford:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think we've got to be careful as agriculture that we don't get too insular as well. And that's why I think looking for organisations like me being involved with my local Climate Action Network, there are people in that that don't necessarily agree with my views that animal agriculture is something that can be sustainable, and it's really important that we don't move away and not listen to those arguments and understand where they're coming from. It's really important that we sort of, don't turn yourself off from everyone. It's really important that you kind of come together and find that common ground.

Drew Radford:

It sounds like you were doing a lot of work to try and find that common ground. There's a lot of groups that you're involved with. It sounds so much like your balancing almost as much time on the farm as off the farm dealing with this.

Nick Blandford:

Yeah. And absolutely that can be a really big challenge not overburdening yourself and not taking on too much. And that's why I think it's really important to work as a community together so that that isn't just up to individuals and a few people to really bring this cause forward that there are more people that are willing to stand up and say, no, we need to do work on this.

Drew Radford:

Nick, what advice would you give to other young farmers who are interested in learning more, but don't know where to start?

Nick Blandford:

My advice would be that it's really important to sort of keep up to date with the opportunities to reduce our climate impacts. So we can keep learning how to do this. And that's sort of really important that we really work into that safe space so that we can have those conversations. Often in agriculture, we can get into these double binds where we're not sure what action to take and whether that's enough, but also what the impacts will be on our lifestyle and our businesses. And often we can kind of become overwhelmed with that and think it's too hard and disengage, or really get angry, particularly, when things like animal agriculture are demonised as being this terrible for the climate.

Nick Blandford:

I think the really important thing is to tune in and connect with those groups. So organisations, you’re your local Climate Action Networks and something like the Farmers for Climate Action is really good. I also think it's really important to tune in with ourselves and be kind to ourselves and not overburden ourselves with feeling like we're not doing enough, but I also think one of the things you don't do well on a farm is really tuning with our environment and appreciate the beauty of the farms that we work on each day.

Drew Radford:

Nick you're a dad. You've got a couple of young children. You've always been engaged in this area of climate impact. Did becoming a father change your focus at all?

Nick Blandford:

Yeah, I think it did. I think it really sort of drove home to me that the actions that I take now are really going to have an impact on my kids' future and that it was something that I really needed to take a bit of responsibility for and that personal responsibility to make sure that I was doing as much as I could to make sure that my kids did have a future.

Drew Radford:

Nick Blandford, you're involved in an incredible amount in terms of trying to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Thank you for taking time to talk to me in the AgVic Talk studio about them.

Nick Blandford:

Thanks, Drew. Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback. So please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 10: Learning from other people's experiences, mistakes and successes, with Sammy Mitchell and Andrew Bell

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Becoming an employer for the first time is a daunting process. Finding the right person is stressful enough, but then there's so much else to consider. Everything from pay rates right through to workplace legislation. The good news for young farmers is they don't have to tread this path alone, or indeed pretty much anything to do with farming. G'day, I'm Drew Radford, and the young farmer and new entrant mentoring program, helps by providing insight to producers early on in their career. Someone who's embraced it is, Samantha Mitchell. And Sammy, joins me in the AgVic Talk Studio. Thanks for your time.

Samantha Mitchell:

No worries at all.

Drew Radford:

Sammy, where do you farm and what do you farm?

Samantha Mitchell:

I farm north of Birchip in a small area called Watchupga, and we farm cereals. So wheat, barley, and we do canola, lentils, and then we do some vetch for hay and sheep. We have roughly 500 Merino ewes, and that keeps us busy on the off cropping times.

Drew Radford:

Sammy, you said that, we. This is a family property, is it? And you've returned to it?

Samantha Mitchell:

Yes. So it's my dad's, and we've been here for quite a few generations, I'm not sure exactly how many. And I moved back nine years ago now, full time.

Drew Radford:

So Sammy, you moved back. You had another career in between though, did you?

Samantha Mitchell:

Yeah, I did a bit of everything. I was a bit lost, I think. I got into teaching and I decided to have a gap year, which I'm glad I did now looking back because it made me realise I would not be a good teacher and yeah, it just doesn't interest me at all. But I studied sustainable ag and I studied remedial massage and I'm not sure why I did that now. But yeah, I did that for a few years in Bendigo before getting sick of that and realising my real passion was on the farm. Even though when I left school, I didn't think I could do it at the time, but I've always been on the farm part-time so I've always done harvest since I was 16 years old. I've always stopped work, come to the farm and live at the farm for a few months to get harvest done for dad, but full-time nine years ago.

Drew Radford:

So Sammy, you said at school and just after you didn't think you could do it, why was that?

Samantha Mitchell:

Well, there wasn't many females around farming that I knew of. And also I just thought you had to be strong...mainly the strong element. I don't know why that bothered me so much, but I just felt like I wasn't strong enough to be a farmer. But yeah, how wrong I was. Definitely these days with machinery and everything, you just make the machinery do everything for you.

Drew Radford:

Sammy, you've overcome all of that and quite well obviously, you've been there for nine years and you're pretty much running the show now, aren't you? Your dad's not there as much?

Samantha Mitchell:

Yeah. So dad bought a property down at Heathcote, four years ago now, and dad's been down there practically full-time and just comes up here a couple of days a month, and jumps on the truck and just carts a little bit of grain. But if I'm super busy, like when I was marking lambs or something, he'd come for a couple of days, but we've gone through a bit of a transition. We started a couple years ago, but yeah, it's really taken into place this year.

Drew Radford:

So what's helping you with that transition? I understand you've got involved with the Young Farmer and New Entrant Mentoring program. What's involved with that for you.

Samantha Mitchell:

So I decided to apply for the Young Farmer mentoringship, because definitely with the transition I knew I was going to come up with quite a few challenges and being young and I've felt like I've got the farming all under control, but the business side of things I felt like I could definitely improve on. So I applied for that thinking it'd be more business minded, but as the year has progressed, I've realised I can't do this all on my own, so I need to employ someone. So we've been really focusing on that in our little group and it's been really, really good because I have no idea about anything about employing someone and yeah, the process and everything like that. So it's been really, really worthwhile.

Drew Radford:

So Sammy, there's two sides to that, I'm hearing. One is obviously the logistics side, the procedures or the bureaucracy of actually paperwork and everything to get a person on board. But then there's actual reality of managing a person.

Samantha Mitchell:

Yep. I barely can manage myself sometimes, so a person is another little challenge. And I'm teamed up with Andrew Bell, and he's always had someone working with him for a fair while now. So he gave me heaps of knowledge about his experiences, and I feel like that's the best way to learn is from other people's experiences and their mistakes and successes.

Drew Radford:

So how has this helped increase your confidence in terms of taking on an employee?

Samantha Mitchell:

Hugely. I've literally had no idea where to start, Andrew has talked me through the whole process and even coming up with an ad and it was really nice. I typed up a rough ad and then sent it to them for them to look at and say anything that was wrong with it. But a heap more confident because I couldn't do it by myself.

Drew Radford:

So have you put the ad out yet?

Samantha Mitchell:

Yeah, I have. A week and a half ago I think it was.

Drew Radford:

And how's that going?

Samantha Mitchell:

Yeah. Good. I've got a few really good candidates and then you get a whole lot of interesting ones too.

Drew Radford:

And is Andrew helping you sort the wheat from the chaff and develop a strategy to try and choose someone or interview somebody?

Samantha Mitchell:

Not yet. I'm hoping we're going to have another meeting in the next week or two. I think that's the plan. And I feel like I'm capable of seeing the differences, but the interview process and selection, I'll definitely be quizzing them over the next couple of weeks about it. Because I feel like it's important to ask the right questions.

Drew Radford:

From what I understand, Andrew's going to be mirroring your process because his family properties had someone working there for 40 years, who's retiring soon, so he's got to do the same. So possibly he's going to be learning along with you.

Samantha Mitchell:

Yeah, that is quite funny when he said that, so it's good to learn from each other I think.

Drew Radford:

The mentoring program with Andrew, have you focused purely on employment, or has it broaden out to general discussions about running your farm and the future of your farm?

Samantha Mitchell:

Definitely at the start, it was very broad and because when I applied, I had five or six different things I've thought of that I needed help mentoring with. So yeah, we were very broad. Even buying land versus leasing land and budgeting. And even with the sheep, I'd like to do more sheep. We talked about that and Andrew is very much in the sheep game. So at the start we were talking about everything and it's quite interesting because yeah, you get on tangents and you learn different aspects of the business and yeah, it's quite good, but I think we've just narrowed it down. Because I'm in this process at the moment, but I'm definitely keen to talk about sheep and cropping and land.

Drew Radford:

Sammy, at this point, what do you think the main thing is you've got out of the mentoring program?

Samantha Mitchell:

The relationship's been really good and having someone that's very experienced on hand to ask questions, and that's been really, really handy. Learning about the employment game has been massive for me because me and my dad have not really employed many people over the years. We've employed someone for harvest, but not a full-time employee or anything, so I've gained a lot of experience from that. But yeah, the relationship's been really, really good and beneficial.

Drew Radford:

Sammy, the unusual thing about this mentoring relationship that you've got with Andrew is because of the current times with COVID, I understand you haven't actually been able to meet face to face yet.

Samantha Mitchell:

No, unfortunately not. That would be one of the downsides so far, it's just the way the world is at the moment. But Zoom has been really, really good, like you still see but yeah, there's nothing that can compare to face-to-face and the interaction you get with meeting someone face-to-face and talking to them. So hopefully even if it has to be next year or something meet up one time, which would be really good.

Drew Radford:

Sammy Mitchell mentioned a mentor she's working with is Andrew Bell. Heavy rain on his property near Horsham, drove Andrew indoors and gave me a chance to speak with him about his role in the program and his farming background.

Andrew Bell:

Oh, we're very much a mixed farming business here Drew, probably too many things at times I think, but look our main source of income is from meat and wool from sheep. We run a mixed flock of Merino ewes self-replacing, and also a large mob of first cross ewes for prime lamb production. As well as a cattle operation and also meat goats for the meat trade, which is becoming more popular in the last five to ten years. And also a wide range of crops from cereals, oil seeds, lupins, and also small seed production for clover seed and hay production as well. So it's very mixed and there's a, there always seems to be something going on around the place, there's not too many dull moments.

Drew Radford:

Andrew that's quite a mixture. It sounds like a reasonable patch of land?

Andrew Bell:

Yeah. Look, it's been a long-term family farm I guess, Drew where I'm currently the fourth generation to farm here at Mockinya, and my father still active in the farm. He's retired now into Horsham, but he's still out here anywhere between one and sort of three or four days a week helping with odd jobs and shifting sheep and that sort of thing; and, my son, who's nearly 19, he's looking to come back to the farm at some stage to keep the whole operation moving along smoothly. So, we've been here since late 1800s on this property anyway.

Drew Radford:

Andrew, how did you get involved with the Young Farmer and New Entrant Mentoring program, and how'd you even hear about them?

Andrew Bell:

I'd done some work Drew with a company in Bendigo and they approached me earlier on this year to see whether I'd be interested in being a mentor for a young farming person. And I more or less just jumped at the chance because I've been lucky enough to have a couple of mentors in my life, including my father. So that was made it a very simple idea, and to get through and to get going sounded like a great thing to me.

Drew Radford:

So it doesn't sound like there was a lot of arm twisting involved, you just were happy to get involved. I mean, is there a motivation beyond that?

Andrew Bell:

Well, I just think that we're always hearing about the lack of younger people in agriculture and maybe they're turning away from it in some way or another. Farming can be very tough, but the young guys and girls that are getting involved in it at an early age, I think now are starting to see some of the monetary rewards too, which can come in and perhaps they've been lacking in the last generation as well, especially with the wool. So it's just encouraging for the young people to get into it and have a bit of a go.

Drew Radford:

Andrew you're involved with Samantha in terms of a Mentoring program. And one of the things that Samantha is looking for is some guidance in dealing with employees, how many staff do you employ and what do you think some of the things that you've done that have resulted in successful long-term employee, employer relationships?

Andrew Bell:

Well Drew, we've been very fortunate here that we've had one full-time staff member now for over 40 years. So he's actually made his whole life's work, working on this property firstly for dad, and then he was able to successfully merge across, to work for myself and my wife. And it's very rewarding in the fact that we can go away for a short period of time or a holiday and let our full-time employee basically run the business without having to worry too much about what's going on. And having that long-term relationship has certainly made it easier for the day-to-day running of the property, but like everyone, you've got to work on it and we seem to be able to get along well.

Andrew Bell:

We meet regularly and we also meet with the employee’s family and that as well, so we can get an idea from them as to their future directions. And it won't be very long before the fellow will be looking towards retirement and we'll be in the position of having to source perhaps another full-time worker, which will be similar to what Samantha's going through now, trying to place ads in papers and media to try and select and find the right person for the job.

Drew Radford:

Andrew, it's not far down the track then that you're going to go through a similar process to Sammy in terms of employing somebody coming onto the property. But what do you think things young farmers should know when employing staff, other than telling them to find a job indoors when it's bucketing down like it is at the moment at your place. But what are some of the things that they should probably know?

Andrew Bell:

I think the most important thing is you've got to see the staff member as another person who is wanting to work on the property and within the property and feel valued within the unit of the business. So we spend a lot of time or most mornings in fact, talking about what's happening for the day and in the business side of things, and it's really got to be a two-way street. And it's got to be a very open relationship as well. And if the employee needs time off to do something in particular, well then it's pretty important that you realise that and let them do that. And the other thing is to really understand that they're going to have their own ways of doing things and it's not necessarily always the same as the way I would do it, or my dad would do it, or the way we've done it on the farm.

Andrew Bell:

And so you really have to let them have their responsibility. And as long as the job is getting done, it's most important that they're rewarded for getting the job done and not chastised for perhaps doing it incorrectly or in the way that I would have done it or my father would have done it.

Drew Radford:

Andrew, you used the term there reward, in terms of the mentor mentee relationship, is it a two-way thing? People sometimes have the perception that look it's really just the mentee who gets everything out of it, but does the mentor gets something out of it as well, as far as you're concerned?

Andrew Bell:

Yeah, look very much so I think Drew, and I've quite enjoyed talking to Sammy, on the telephone, we haven't met in person yet. Look, she's very proactive and a real early adopter, and that, it makes me think about the way we're doing things here. And sometimes because it has been such a long held family farm, you do things in the ways that you've always done them. By talking to Sammy, and other people in younger farming roles, you can get very excited about redoing things on your own property in a different way, just by talking to them and seeing how they're modernising things with perhaps, with different sheep handling equipment or different computer equipment for the cropping side of things.

Andrew Bell:

They're all up to date with the latest podcasts and Twitter and Instagram, which can certainly help in modern farming. Whereas perhaps some of the older-aged farmers aren't as interested in that type of thing. So it's certainly a two-way street there, Drew.

Drew Radford:

What would you say Andrew, to other experienced farmers about possibly getting involved in the program?

Andrew Bell:

Look, I think it's been a great program and I applaud AgVic for getting into it because it's certainly helping the mentees with setting their future direction. And as I've mentioned the mentors tend to get a lot out of it as well. And I'm sure that if we weren't in these restricted times with travel et cetera, well then we'd be meeting up as a group and having good one-on-one chats and group chats about future of farming and how to go about things in a professional way. Which I think is really what we're all aiming to do, to get the efficiencies of planning and profitability on farms.

Andrew Bell:

And the great way to do that is by meeting. And unfortunately at the moment, because we can't meet, we're doing it via Zoom and phone calls, but I still think it's working quite well. And the mentees at this stage do appear to be getting a fair bit from the coaching if you like, of the mentors and the mentors are getting a benefit out of it as well.

Drew Radford:

So you'd encourage your farming friends to get involved?

Andrew Bell:

Yeah, certainly. I do have farming friends that do mentor younger farmers. Even in my district here, some of the young fellows have come back to the farm from either a shearing career or something else, and they've just needed that little bit of extra help from some of their neighbours, many of whom they've known all their lives. But it's just helped to convince them that what they're doing is the right way to do it. And not necessarily everyone has the right idea or the same idea how to do things, but as long as the outcome is the same or the reward is the same well, I think it's worthwhile.

Drew Radford:

Andrew, you mentioned that you haven't been able to meet with Sammy face to face, but have you been able to pick up that she's grown and developed during this period?

Andrew Bell:

I think so, Drew yes. And certainly with the advertising, for the fact that she needs a farm worker, we've worked on that one a couple of times over the phone and just tweaking things to get the right ad, to get the right person that she can go forward with on the property. And she seems very confident now that that's in process and it should really help to secure her, the person that she wants and needs to help her on the property. And she seems a very confident young lady and I'm sure she will make the right decision with regard to an employee for the future and the direction of the property.

Drew Radford:

Andrew, you've got a lot of experience to share there, literally four generations of farming in your DNA. Thank you for taking time to share some of that with us in the AgVic Talk Studio. Andrew Bell from Mockinya. Thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk Studio today.

Andrew Bell:

Thanks Drew, I really enjoyed it and yeah, let the rain keep falling as I'm watching it out the window here, it's beautiful at this time of year.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk, for more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or a rating and share this series with your friends and family. All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian government Melbourne.

Episode 9: Share farming as an opportunity, with Hans van Wees

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Share the profits, some of the risk, but none of the capital outlay, it's a farming arrangement called share farming. And, with primary production often being expensive to get into, is it a pathway for developing future farmers? G’day, I'm Drew Radford and the only type of farming Hans Van Wees does is share farming. To find out more about it he joins me in the AgVic Talk studio, Hans, thanks for your time.

Hans van Wees:

No problem.

Drew Radford:

Hans, where do you farm?

Hans van Wees:

We farm in, Tinamba, which is in the MacAlister Irrigation District located around Maffra.

Drew Radford:

Now Hans you're running a few head of cattle on that dairy farm aren't you?

Hans van Wees:

Yes.

Drew Radford:

How many?

Hans van Wees:

We run about 850 milking cows. And depending on the time of the year, we also have 240 yearlings and 240 calves.

Drew Radford:

So it's a fairly busy operation and it's not just you running it then I'm guessing?

Hans van Wees:

No, it’s me and five full-time equivalents, and my wife helps out as well with the calf rearing and other times.

Drew Radford:

Hans you're growing a bunch of your own feed as well though I understand?

Hans van Wees:

Yeah, we have some parts of the farm we don't graze much, so we grow lucerne and cereal crops through to lucerne for silage. And we occasionally dabble with some summer crops, if the season and water availability is kind.

Drew Radford:

So that's a reasonable patch of land then isn't it? I'm assuming.

Hans van Wees:

Yes.

Drew Radford:

How big is the land Hans?

Hans van Wees:

Total area is 400 hectares, of which 200 hectares is used as a milking area. The other 200 hectares is support country for the young stock and of that 200 hectare support country, 130 hectares is irrigated as well.

Drew Radford:

So it's a reasonable patch of land. You've got a lot going on, especially looking after 850 cows of milk on a daily basis, but underneath it all Hans, this is a share farm. Now for those that don't know what share farming is, how would you explain it?

Hans van Wees:

You share a percentage of the inputs, depending on the percentage, and you share a percentage of the outputs. So you basically become part of the risk. You take part of the risk with you.

Drew Radford:

You described that very simply Hans, cause when I was reading some background material, I was left asking a lot of questions. Well, what about this? And what about that? And we'll drill down into that in a bit, but how did this relationship start?

Hans van Wees:

Very interesting. I was actually share farming another job and that terminated, and I actually rang my current share farming partner looking for a house. He says, I can't give you a house, but I've dabbled over the years, come and see me about a share farming agreement, starting first July in 2008. So, that's how that started.

Drew Radford:

And you haven't looked back since obviously you're still on same property?

Hans van Wees:

Nope, been there since 2008.

Drew Radford:

So, Hans, what would some of the benefits then be of share farming? The way you see it?

Hans van Wees:

Okay, depending on the share agreement, you can make a lot of money in good years, a hell of a lot of money. You have a fair bit of freedom to run your farm.

Drew Radford:

You're ultimately responsible for the daily decisions though. Are you? Or are they shared?

Hans van Wees:

Oh, I do all the daily decisions, grazing management, irrigation management, repairs, and things to keep the farm going. I don't have to refer back to my share farming partner to okay it. If it has to be fixed it just gets fixed. Now big capital expenditures, we have a meeting, we do a budget. But yeah, day-to-day running, I do all that.

Drew Radford:

That was one of the big questions in my mind was about those big capital expenditures. Let's say you want to put in a new milker? That's a lot of money.

Hans van Wees:

Well, the owner pays for that anyway, the share farming partner. So, our big expenditures would be upgrading irrigation infrastructures, silos, maybe milk vats. That's the other partner's cost anyway. But yeah, we discussed that fairly thoroughly and now I have to justify my spending.

Drew Radford:

I would imagine you would. I mean, you're essentially going to a shareholder, aren't you? Essentially.

Hans van Wees:

Going basically to the shareholders slash bank to justify. If we do this, I can return you X, or you know safety, or sustainability measures. So that's really what we look at.

Drew Radford:

You described that very clearly and simply, but Hans there's a lot of trust there from your shareholder that you're a pretty good business operator to get in bed with to start with it I assume.

Hans van Wees:

We had known each other probably for about 10 to 12 years beforehand, and we butted heads a fair bit, but a business relationship is very, I would call it, very professional.

Drew Radford:

That's interesting description, Hans, you butted heads, but you still ended up working together?

Hans van Wees:

He's the major shareholder, and he still has final say on anything if he wants to. But he said, I don't want to milk my cows, I don't want to work, I want to go on holiday, I want to go away, I want nothing to worry about. I'm paying you a lot of money to do the job properly and deal with the problems.

Drew Radford:

On that Hans, some of the problems. I understand the property, 80 per cent of its floodplain. You've got a major weir upstream.

Hans van Wees:

Yeah we've been flooded a few times.

Drew Radford:

So you've been flooded a few times. How does solving all of that end up playing into a share arrangement? You've got insurance, you're going to have fences to be arranged, you have got lost productivity. There's a whole range of things.

Hans van Wees:

Yep, so the lost productivity, we share, that's just the fact of life. I'm on a floodplain, that has advantages and disadvantages. Capital rebuilds, that's the other partners problems. So any major capital damages from floods, that's not my issue. I'll have to provide a bit of labor to help and stuff. But yeah, it's very well detailed.

Drew Radford:

I like the fact that he used the word detailed there. I'm assuming that really boils down to a written contract?

Hans van Wees:

Yes, written contract and understanding what each other's responsibilities are.

Drew Radford:

Hans, how often do you review these contracts?

Hans van Wees:

We haven't reviewed it since the day we started.

Drew Radford:

Wow, you laid it out well enough 15 years ago that everyone's been happy?

Hans van Wees:

Well actually the person I'm share farming with he had an agreement originally and I basically took it over as it was, with a couple of little tweaks, but nothing major. And we probably meet at least four or five times a week anyway, over coffee and just chat. So there's never any really big surprises

Drew Radford:

Your share farming partner is certainly not stepping away from the operation. He's pretty close to things going on if you meet him that much.

Hans van Wees:

Oh, he lives on the farm, but he wouldn't have a clue how to start a plant or how to milk a cow. Trust me.

Drew Radford:

Okay, but he's obviously got a bit of an idea about farming being a former dairy farmer himself though?

Hans van Wees:

Well he's a former vet, he's a part time dairy farmer now, he is a world famous vet.

Drew Radford:

Right? Okay. So, Hans, often people use share farming arrangements to get into farming before becoming landholders.

Hans van Wees:

Yeah.

Drew Radford:

What has been your drive to remain in a share farming arrangement, long-term?

Hans van Wees:

I think, this sounds horrible, I can make a lot more money being a share farmer on a very profitable farm, and probably a lot less capital outlay.

Drew Radford:

Simple fiscal reality.

Hans van Wees:

Yes. I do own land, but nothing to do with the dairy farm.

Drew Radford:

That's a really interesting analysis. And you strike me as the sort of person Hans who would have weighed up those figures over the years.

Hans van Wees:

Yeah. I've done those figures. And I've looked around the Australian dairy industry, I see a lot of people struggling to find employees like me. Why would I put myself in the place where I'm going to be exposed to more risk, and stuck with a farm I might not be able to run myself properly?

Drew Radford:

Hans what would your advice be for young farmers looking to use share farming to get into farming, whether that's dairy, horticulture, or any other form of farming.

Hans van Wees:

First thing, do a realistic budget, with realistic figures, and realistic ambitions. Nobody's Superman. Nobody's got to set the world on fire the first few years in any enterprise.

Drew Radford:

Being a pragmatist sounds key as far as you're concerned.

Hans van Wees:

Yes. So just plan for the average, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

Drew Radford:

Hans, how do people get involved in share farming?

Hans van Wees:

Well in New Zealand it's a structured way of getting very reliable labor. Now money and rewards is a pretty good driver. The better you do, the more money you make.

Drew Radford:

Hans do you think there is a lot of potential for share farming to become a more common way of operating in the future?

Hans van Wees:

I think there is, but I think that there's an issue you might have some share farmers not up to this job. And you'd probably find some owners who'd balk at some of the money some of us are earning share farming. It's eyes wide open. It's not always going to be beer and skittles. You know, sometimes it’s thorny subjects you got to deal with, but do it professionally. Do your budgets, do your cash flows, do your risk analysis.

Drew Radford:

And as a share farmer, where did you go to learn those sorts of skills? You did an agricultural degree in New Zealand many years ago, but since then.

Hans van Wees:

I did a couple of courses through Dairy Australia, which really helped. I did the Frontline Management course through RMIT, which is really good about risk structures. I learned a lot from them.

Drew Radford:

Hans, you’ve done a remarkable job developing your share farming relationship to where it is and have shown that ongoing training has assisted you get to where you are today.

I reckon you’ve undersold the amount of work you’ve done to continue your education. The completion of a graduate certificate in Front Line management; and advanced leadership training and specialised nutrition courses through Dairy Australia are all long courses that require a good amount of time to complete.

The commitment to education and continuing to build your business and technical skills over several years is a really important part of having a successful farming enterprise.

Thank you so much for your time and joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Hans van Wees:

No problem.

Drew Redford:

Hans van Wees is a regular contributor to the Milking the Weather newsletter. Subscribe to the Milking the Weather newsletter on the Agriculture Victoria website.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant, before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 8: You don't have to come from a family farm to make your dreams come true, with Tamara Pabst

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Where's the next generation of farmers coming from? It seems not all of them grow up with dirt on their boots, which is the case for Melbourne-born Tamara Pabst. Her suburban dreams of becoming a farmer and the reality of now owning her own farm near Lurg were a long way apart.

Drew Radford:

G'day, I'm Drew Radford. To find out how a city girl ends up becoming a sheep farmer, Tamara joins me in the AgVic Talk studio. Thanks for your time.

Tamara Pabst:

Thanks for having me.

Drew Radford:

Now, Tamara, just in case there is any confusion with those listening, the rooster cries in the background are real because you live on a property, don't you?

Tamara Pabst:

Yes, I can confirm I do. I've also got six guinea fowls, so if you hear them screaming at some point, don't be alarmed.

Drew Radford:

Tamara, you didn't grow up on the land though, did you? Anything but, really.

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah. I actually grew up in Pakenham, in South East Victoria. We did spend a bit of time growing up there on my grandparents farm, just outside Mansfield. Yeah, we'd just go out there for school holidays and long weekends and things, and liked to help my grandpa on the farm.

Drew Radford:

Is that where the desire came from, from your grandparents?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah. Well, I always had a passion for animals and then I realised that it was more rural-based animals I liked. Then I did a bit of work on, the neighbours to my grandpa's farm. They had sheep, so I'd go out and help them check sheep when they were lambing and help them with crutching and sheering and all those sorts of things and lamb marking. I developed a bit of passion for that and steered in the direction of being a rural vet, but then when I did my Bachelor of Agriculture, I realised that I liked the agriculture side of things more and there's so many more job opportunities in that, you don't just have to be a vet.

Drew Radford:

There are a lot of opportunities, but the difference is you also want to be a farmer. You want to have your own property, don't you?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah, for sure. I love the idea of being able to produce off the land and produce a living and an income from it, so that's why I looked at this property last year that I purchased. Yeah, I just love the sheep side of things as well, because they are dual purpose. Obviously, you're getting your wool and your meat from them. That's sort of why I steered in that direction and really enjoy just being on the land.

Drew Radford:

You mentioned that kind of lightly, "Well, that's why I purchased this property," but it's been a long road just to get to that point I imagine, a lot of hard work and saving, because it's not a case of inheriting it or some sort of succession process.

Tamara Pabst:

No, that's right. Yeah, I've been saving for a very long time. Yeah, this opportunity came up last year. It was neighbouring my boss's place. The option came up to purchase it privately and they actually offered it to my boss. He has been doing a lot for me and actually offered it to me to get myself up and running, so that's how I got in that way. But yeah, definitely a lot of hard work over a long time.

Drew Radford:

Well, it continues to be hard work because you are still working on your boss's property, aren't you? What are you actually doing there?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah, so I work full time at Kilfeera Park. It's a Merino stud and we run about 4,000 ewes out there, obviously enough to keep me employed full time. Then just in my spare time, I just manage my hundred ewes that I've got. We've got rams, that's one of our income streams. We look after them, feed them morning and night and constantly fine tuning them. Then just the general husbandry of managing ewes and lambs all the time, so enough to keep us busy,

Drew Radford:

Tamara, getting the property is one thing, and yes, you've studied ag at uni, but there's still, I imagine, quite a gap in skillset from all of that and actually running it and being a farmer. How do you go about that?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah, for sure. When I finished my Bachelor of Agriculture, I thought I would be lacking a bit because I didn't have that growing up in a farm experience like a lot of my peers did. All my friends went and got jobs when they finished their degree. I was living up at Dookie College, just working part-time while I did my third year, and then I had the option to stay on for another year and work full time to gain some more experience, which I really enjoyed. Then I went overseas for a bit and came back, and by working on this farm here I've gained a lot more experience and feel pretty competent in this industry now. I definitely think just applying to get jobs to where you can get experience is really beneficial because it just opens the door for so many opportunities in the future.

Drew Radford:

Well, it has opened doors for opportunities in the future, but you've also sought out opportunities I understand, in regards to trying to further your own skillset through other areas.

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah. Early this year, Agriculture Victoria held a business bootcamp for young farmers. That was two days held over at Bendigo, which helped you to look at the farm from a business perspective as opposed to just running the farm on a day-to-day basis. I found those days really useful, because not only could I learn, but I could talk to other people there and think of new ideas to help me on my own farm. Yeah, I just think that is such invaluable information for me, which was great.

Tamara Pabst:

I also applied for Young Farmers Scholarship last year, and that gives you $10,000 total, so $5,000 to go towards up-skilling, so getting the opportunity to go and get some skills that you can bring back onto your farm. Once that's completed, you get another $5,000 and you can then put that information into practice on your own farm in various ways. I've applied to do a Graduate Certificate in Agribusiness, and once that's completed, I will go and purchase some weigh scales so I can accurately record data on my farm and help it to be as productive as it can be.

Drew Radford:

Tamara, you're talking about improving how you operate your property and the scholarship's going to be an important part of that, can we just take one step back to the Young Farmer Business Bootcamp? What sort of things have you been able to take away from that experience and apply it to your business so far in practical terms?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah. I've been able to look at my farm from a whole business perspective, as opposed to just working day to day on the farm and just being able to take a step back and look at things like cashflow budgets and livestock trading accounts, and then even looking at the bigger picture, formulating a five-year plan so I can get a bit of an idea of what I want to do with the farm in the future, not just right at the moment. I think it's super important to look at it from all these different angles.

Drew Radford:

Tamara, can I ask, what does your five-year plan look?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah, so I've currently got my hundred Merino ewes in the place, maybe in the next five years I'd look at leasing some land of my boss as he looks to downsize or increasing the stocking rate on my own property once I put some fertiliser and urea on this year. Hopefully, depending on the season, obviously I had a pretty good season so far this year, but it's easy to look at the future. But yeah, hopefully be able to increase the stocking rate and improve the productivity of the farm would be a good goal to have. Yeah, and then just see where it takes me.

Drew Radford:

In terms of where it does take you, are you looking to do further study elsewhere?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah. I found a really cool course; it was a farm manager course and it's for a week in New Zealand. Obviously, when we can travel again, I'd really like to go over and do that. I just feel like you might get even more of an insight. Farmers on other farms, they might have different perspectives about different things because of different climates, but they also might have some knowledge that I can transfer onto my own property.

Drew Radford:

You've achieved a lot at a young age. Has there been a case of, "Well, I've got to sacrifice this to do that," or have you been able to pick a balance in the middle and still lead a young life, for want of a better description?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah, it's definitely had it sacrifices, obviously saving a lot leading up to the purchase of the farm, but it's all about finding a balance between things. You've got to have a life as well. It's all good to be goal-driven but you've still got to be able to enjoy the life that you're leading at the moment. Yeah, I think it's just good to be able to manage everything. I still took a few weeks off and went overseas before I started my job here at Kilfeera Park a few years ago. I think that's really good, to go away and just relax and refresh yourself before you come back and start working again, just to open your mind up. It makes you realise that this is what you want to do. Yeah, I really value that time as well, as well as being on the farm.

Drew Radford:

Tamara, what advice would you give to other young farmers working towards owning their own land or business?

Tamara Pabst:

Yeah. Well, if you're going to make sure it's your goal, what you definitely want to do, because if you don't value it, then you're not going to want to achieve those goals and save as hard towards it. I think first and foremost, you have to be sure that that's what you want and commit to it, to commit to achieving that goal. It takes time, you've got to be patient. You can't just expect to have everything at the tip of your fingers. I'd also say just taking all the opportunities to learn and develop your skills and knowledge. Taking opportunities to network as well, meeting people in the industry. I wouldn't have got where I was without meeting these people that wanted to help me along the way. Then taking opportunities such as the ones that Agriculture Victoria offers, such as the scholarship and these free bootcamps that you can get to. There's so much knowledge to be learned and it's up to you if you want to take those opportunities, because you're the one that's going to benefit in the long run so it would be silly not to.

Drew Radford:

Tamara, do you think it's been any disadvantage to you not coming from a farming background?

Tamara Pabst:

I probably think the opposite actually, because just being open and honest saying that I didn't come from a farming background, a lot of people have then given me the opportunity to learn and develop myself and develop my skills and knowledge. Yeah, I just encourage anybody, even people that aren't from the farming background and if you are interested, to still apply for these things. You don't know where you're going to end up. If you're committed enough and passionate enough, you can still achieve the things you want to do. You don't have to be off a family farm and inherit a bunch of land to be able to make your dreams come true. You can always start small and meet people and take every opportunity you can get to get where you want to go.

Drew Radford:

Tamara Pabst, it sounds like you have taken every opportunity, you've made a lot of your own along the way. Congratulations on all you've achieved so far and thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio today.

Tamara Pabst:

No worries, thanks for having me.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family. All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm. This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 7: Setting clear boundaries and expectations when working with family with Emma Hawker and Tristan Schilling

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Building your own farming enterprise from scratch can seem like a distant dream for many aspiring young farmers. However, the thought of having three farms under your control before you're even 30 would sound like pure fiction to most. Good day, I'm Drew Radford and what I'm describing is the remarkable achievement of Emma Hawker and Tristan Schilling, who've left no stone unturned in their quest to become farmers. To find out how they've achieved it, they join me now at AgVic Talk studio. Thank you both for your time.

Emma Hawker:

Thanks for having us.

Drew Radford:

Firstly, whereabouts do you farm?

Tristan Schilling:

Edenhope in Victoria. We also do some farming at Nhill, Victoria. It's about 100 kilometers down the road, so yeah, we've diversified a little bit.

Drew Radford:

And what do you farm?

Tristan Schilling:

We do cropping at Nhill, and we do mainly sheep at Edenhope.

Drew Radford:

How big are the properties Emma?

Emma Hawker:

The one down at Edenhope, that's a 730 acre property. And then up at Nhill, it's about 700. We have another one at Douglas now, 640 acres.

Tristan Schilling:

That’s a leased property.

Emma Hawker:

That's a leased property.

Drew Radford:

That's quite a bit of growth for both of you, because let's wind it back just a little bit. First of all, how did you come into farming? Emma?

Emma Hawker:

My parents are in a transport and haulage business, so I've always been around farming. But I trained as a registered nurse and really got involved in about 2014 with Tristan, when him and his brother were looking at buying their parents' farm.

Drew Radford:

On that Tristan, you grew up on the family farm, and it was a succession thing, was it?

Tristan Schilling:

Yeah. I grew up on the family farm at Nhill. Mum and dad, they had about 5,000 acres of just continuous cropping. And then they were struck by the Millennium drought, and downsized from 2011 through. They downsized, got smaller and smaller. And so that's where my brother and I in 2016, got the opportunity to buy the last bit of property they had left.

Drew Radford:

So you went into share farming with your brother then, how did that go?

Tristan Schilling:

My brother and I bought the last 820 acres of my parents' farm. And we didn’t get on from the start we both had different ideas in how to work and who was going to work it, and all that sort of stuff. And basically after I worked it for two years, and after that, we both decided to sell it, and that was going to be the easiest option in going our own ways.

Drew Radford:

That sounds like a quick and smart, early decision, rather than laboring through something for a very long time, I'd imagine?

Tristan Schilling:

Yeah. At the time it wasn't probably the easiest, but looking back on it, it probably worked out for the best to dissolve it quickly and move on, and get our lives on track when we were in our early 20s.

Drew Radford:

That's easier said than done though, isn't it? Because selling one property, which I assume you probably had to borrow for in the first place, and then trying to go on and set up another property. It's not straightforward.

Tristan Schilling:

No, no. As soon as we sold that property, I was pretty much just onto agents, real estate agents and looking around. And we looked everywhere within a 300 kilometre radius just for something. And that's where we got the opportunity to buy down at Edenhope. This is a pretty rundown farm when we bought it. And a lot of people said, "You're silly buying that farm, it's not this, it's not that." And yeah, we never looked back really.

Drew Radford:

Emma, I understand there's a bit of a phrase for this property though, which relates to suburban real estate, doesn't it?

Emma Hawker:

Yeah. One of the worst farms on the best street.

Drew Radford:

So did you buy it together?

Tristan Schilling:

No. At the time I bought it. Emma and I had only been together for three years. So I bought it just off my own bat.

Drew Radford:

But has that caused issues down the track though, in terms of now you're a partnership, but I imagine the property is in your name? How does the bank deal with that?

Emma Hawker:

Yeah. So in 2019 we officially became T and E's Farms partnership. Because yeah, as Tristan said, despite being together for many years and especially this farm, building it from the ground up, we realized because it was in Tristan's name, when it comes to the bank, they don't recognise us as official partners or equal partners. So that really was the culmination for us forming a partnership when the bank didn't recognise us.

Drew Radford:

Obviously though, it sounds like you've got around that though, Emma, because you've gone from that one property, whereas now you're involved in three properties.

Emma Hawker:

Yeah. So it's still all sitting with Tristan, because you've got to have so many years as a partnership for them to recognise. You definitely need 12 months. And then just the way it's been going, we haven't really needed to go back again. We'll be revisiting that in the coming months though. So luckily we've just been able to push on with the two of us and our off-farm income to keep getting us through.

Drew Radford:

The reason I asked that is, being in an official partnership, I imagine that makes things easier down the track, does it? In terms of dealing with banks and future financing issues?

Emma Hawker:

Yeah, definitely. And that's why we did it. That's why we became partners on paper.

Drew Radford:

Tristan, winding it back just a fraction. You were very honest and upfront there in regards to, you worked out very quickly with your brother that it wasn't going to work between the two of you. So what would you suggest to siblings who are looking at succession planning and moving ahead with the family property?

Tristan Schilling:

Yeah. Just get it done early. And Emma and I have talked, if we ever have kids, we'll be succession planning with them from day dot, if you know what I mean? It won't be a drawn out process. I think every family farm has had some sort of complications in some sort of succession planning. So we've gone through it early, and it's going to be one of the first things we do when we have children. That's if they are, or aren't interested in the farm, it just got to be done.

Drew Radford:

Is that a lot about too expectations on children as well, that well, I was a farmer, you're going to be a farmer, or is it something like that?

Tristan Schilling:

That's right. There's always, something got to be done with the farm, whether they're going to be a farmer or not. So you just got to get it done and get it sorted. And I suppose succession planning so big now, because everyone else's parents have basically stuffed it up in some respects. That's why it's so big now.

Drew Radford:

Emma, what did you take away from that process?

Emma Hawker:

It definitely shows the importance of setting clear boundaries and expectations, because whilst it is a family, it is a business. So I think sometimes it's really hard to separate family from business, but at the end of the day, farming is a business, so you need to make business decisions. So yeah, really learning that separation, which can be really difficult because obviously for parents, this is their whole life, and we were still quite young coming into it. But just requiring boundaries and really clear expectations, and everyone's roles and responsibilities, I think is really important from the outset. Otherwise it can become quite a headache.

Drew Radford:

That sounds like very sage advice, that at the end of the day, it is a business. And that's often difficult to separate when you've grown up on the family property.

Tristan Schilling:

Yeah, it is tough, but you just got to move on and get it done, and everyone's got to live on with their lives, I suppose.

Drew Radford:

Well, you have moved on and you have got it done. I would argue almost in remarkable time, now being involved in three properties. Beyond the initial, okay, we're going to go out on our own, what are some of the things that have been a challenge to get to this point?

Tristan Schilling:

Yeah, cashflow is a big thing. So when we bought the farm at Edenhope, we just pretty much had enough money for a deposit. And then the bank said, "Yep. And then when it come to livestock, find your own way." So we've had off-farm income and just saved and worked hard for it, and probably missed out on a lot of things to put towards our farm and that sort of stuff. So yeah, cashflow is one of the hardest things we found, especially with the bank, because if you want to borrow a hundred grand, you sort of got to have a hundred grand before they'll give you money nowadays. So that's been our hardest thing.

Drew Radford:

In terms of that off-farm income, is that you Emma working as a nurse?

Emma Hawker:

Yeah. I work at our local hospital. I've also moved into a quality role, so that's been keeping us going there. And then Tristan was also shearing. And then on weekends usually, it'd be doing the farm work.

Drew Radford:

That's quite a balance, isn't it? That would have an impact on both of you in terms of trying to manage your time effectively, wouldn't it?

Emma Hawker:

Yeah, definitely. Especially if I'm working Monday to Friday, and then on the weekend we have lamb marking and doing that on the weekend, and then back into work again Monday. But yeah, one thing I think we really worked out at the start, we would do our own shearing. So Tristan would be shearing, I'd be in the shed rousing, and we'd slowly make our way through. And then we're like, this probably isn't working in terms of we're missing out on completing other jobs. So it was really having a look at how can we be time effective, in the sense that while we might have to pay someone, the time it's saving might be the opportunity cost we're gaining. So yeah, it's really been a review of what we should be doing and not just doing everything ourselves. So now we'll get another shearer in and another rouse, so we can get it done in a couple of days, instead of I think what we did over a month of weekends.

Drew Radford:

Emma, that sounds really the simple age old adage of sometimes you've got to spend money to save money as well, isn't it? That's a smart application of resources.

Emma Hawker:

Yeah, definitely, definitely. That pretty much sums it up.

Drew Radford:

It sum it up also for tensions of working together on certain occasions, I'm sure as well.

Tristan Schilling:

Well look, we have arguments, there's no doubt about that, but at the end of the day we always come home where it's back to normal sort of thing. I think it's just part of any normal farming relationship I reckon.

Drew Radford:

Is there any other challenges that you've had along the way that come to mind that you've come over? Most people would have just kept on in your scenario, no we're not going to bring somebody in, we're going to keep working that through. So are there other challenges that you've managed to work through to get to this point?

Emma Hawker:

I'd say we've been really lucky in building our machinery asset base, which has allowed us to expand into some contracting.

Tristan Schilling:

Yeah. We have bought some machinery to do our own jobs, and then we've gone out and said, let's see if we can do some contracting with it, which we've been pretty fortunate. So yeah, we've bought a spreader, do our own spreading, and ended up doing a lot of spreading contracting with that. And we bought a header doing our own harvest and ended up doing our own harvest and go and do a lot of contract harvesting with that, which has really helped us. And bought an air seeder and went to Donald to do a lot of contract cropping up there, which is good. And it's really helped us get to where we are. That's probably a big help, as long as with our off-farm income.

Drew Radford:

That's a smart way of looking at it too, isn't it? Because buying the land is only the first part, then actually having the equipment to work it as an entirely separate equation and often nearly as expensive.

Tristan Schilling:

And especially for our acreage, a bank looks at this and says, "What do you want to buy that for? You're better off getting a contractor." But then at the end of the day, once you own it you can do it when you need. So sort of a catch 22 when it comes to that stuff, trying to borrow money and build up machinery wise.

Drew Radford:

It's pretty clear that you're working towards your dreams. Based on how hard you've both worked to get this far, what makes you feel positive about the future of your careers in agriculture?

Tristan Schilling:

I just think coronavirus has really proven. So when coronavirus first came in last March, I think it was, we had lambs. And my agent was telling me, "We'd better start booking some forward contracts in for lambs, because this could be disastrous. What's going to happen?" And grain, and all this. And I think it's just really proved that there's such a strong demand for it, products of agriculture, and it's a really positive industry to be in.

Emma Hawker:

It's also the lifestyle. I think having ownership of your business and our future, building something together, it's really enjoyable. I think farming, it's a lifestyle and it can be really hard, and you need to be really resilient, but it can also be so enjoyable, rewarding and you can come home and just feel like you've really accomplished something that's not only for yourself, but is going to benefit your community and society.

Drew Radford:

Have you been involved with external groups or mentoring programs to actually help you get to this point?

Emma Hawker:
Not exactly external mentoring programs as such. I'd say we've been extremely lucky and grateful for the support networks that we have and the friendships and relationships we've built, from Tristan shearing and just living in the community that we do. And we've been extremely fortunate to have a lot of people sharing their knowledge and wisdom with us. That's including our neighbors down south who were really welcoming, because it is a different farming type down there. They've been our unofficial mentors and it has been a major influence and really assisted us to get to where we are now. I suppose we've also received some great advice, that being having a really good team surrounding you. So when you're looking at your team, like your stock agent, your agronomist, accountant, and also just building on your own knowledge at all times. So yeah, not formal, but definitely we've had some fantastic unofficial mentors.

Drew Radford:

It sounds like you're balancing quite a bit there, Emma and Tristan, between running the farm, off-farm work, working as a nurse in your case, Emma, and also doing further study. I think a lot of people would feel that their nose is just above the water line.

Emma Hawker:

Yeah. Yeah. It can be quite stressful and difficult. But yeah, got to keep pushing because at the end of the day, we're achieving our dream.

Drew Radford:

Emma Hawker and Tristan Schilling, you've achieved an enormous amount in a short time, and I look forward to hearing what you achieve over the years ahead. But thank you so much for joining me today in the AgVic Talk studio.

Tristan Schilling:

No worries. Thanks for having us.

Emma Hawker:

Yeah. Thanks for having us Drew. It was really good.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

We would love to hear your feedback. So please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family. All information is accurate at the time of release.

Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm. This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 6: Everyone deserves to go home safely at night, with Danyel Cucinotta

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Everyone deserves to go home at night. For farmer and business owner, Danyel Cucinotta, it's way more than a line about safety. It's the foundation to how she helps run her family's egg farm. It's a philosophy she's also passionate about beyond her own farm gate. Recently, she was elected as Vice President of the Victorian Farmers Federation, the position she's bringing fresh perspective to as the youngest ever in that role. G'day, I'm Drew Radford. And running a farm is becoming increasingly more complex, particularly around OH&S. To find out how Danyel is incorporating that on her own property, she joins me in the AgVic Talk studio. Thanks for your time.

Danyel Cucinotta:

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Drew Radford:

Well, it is a pleasure to have you here, especially as I imagine time is tight, as not only do you help run the family farming enterprise, which is a big operation, you're also a young mum and recently elected as VFF Vice President. There's a bit to juggle.

Danyel Cucinotta:

So the VFF and my farming job is nothing compared to having a toddler at home, so that is definitely the hardest part of my job. However, coming to the VFF and doing my work there, looking after farmers, and doing the advocacy policy side of the industry is actually quite fun. I enjoy it. I'm a bit of a nerd at home. And yeah, my job on the farm is quite, I guess, easy these days simply because I have an entire support network and my family are all here. So they relieve the pressure of me. And yeah, the toddler's the crazy one. So I enjoy that, but that's the hardest part of my job.

Drew Radford:

Well, talking about the farm specifically, you point out that you've got a support structure there. That must be particularly important though because there's three businesses running from one location. That must make managing staff somewhat complex.

Danyel Cucinotta:

Yeah. So we do have the farm and on farm we have a cafe and a deli. Each department has its own manager. So we're very fortunate that they almost run with someone looking after them. However, my job is OH&S and HR. And that is an entire complex situation based on depending on what department I'm talking to. But I personalise it, I enjoy it, and it gets me out on the farm again. So yeah, I'm a half-glass-full kind of person. I enjoy the work and I always see the positive side of it.

Drew Radford:

Drilling down into that a little bit further though, Danyel, there must be a mix of skills and also language skills to some extent. Is there?

Danyel Cucinotta:

Yeah. So there's differences in skills. There's differences in age groups. The way I will communicate with my casual cafe staff about whether it's HR or OH&S is very different to how I'll speak to and ensure the understanding on the farm. Especially with some of our staff. English is their second language, so ensuring that I've found a way to communicate properly. And having the HR side of our business has really helped because I've created relationships with each individual staff member, whether it's the deli, the farm, or the cafe. And I then communicate the OH&S side based accordingly. Yeah, it's very complex, but we find a way. We manage because it's just so important.

Drew Radford:

Well, you do place a paramount importance on that. Why is safety something that you are constantly thinking about when it comes to your business?

Danyel Cucinotta:

Because everyone deserves to go home at night. So we're a family farm. We get how important family is. And we obviously want all of our staff to know that they're safe here and we want them to go home at night and see their own families. But it's very much passed down through my father.

Danyel Cucinotta:

So quite a while ago, when I was a lot younger, there was an accident on a neighboring farm at the time. And dad, I guess he thought that he had to take this a little bit more seriously, OH&S. So not so much what was happening, but rather the implementation and the way we communicated that more effectively and more efficiently. And from then, he then started the process. And a couple of years ago when I got pregnant, I thought, well, I can't do as much day-to-day operations. I had this huge stomach out in the front of me. It didn't allow for carrying boxes anymore. So I thought, well, what can I do? And how can I improve it? So I took over the OH&S. And I'm a bit of a social butterfly on the farm, I won't lie. I love a good chat. So yeah, it just fitted in really well. And it allowed us to create a new direction for us in OH&S and HR at the same time.

Drew Radford:

It sounds like that accident was quite pivotal in terms of how your family looked at health and safety full stop.

Danyel Cucinotta:

Yeah. So after the accident on the neighboring farm did happen, WorkSafe came around to all the farms in this area, started checking in on what kind of processes we had in place. And we were doing everything right. But I guess the panic, like when someone comes to check in on you and finding all the paperwork. Back when dad was doing it, he was like, "I was going through filing cabinets. I was nervous. You don't know where to find everything when you're being asked for it then and there." So we took a new approach because we thought, oh, we've got to be more efficient, more effective.

Danyel Cucinotta:

And we then implemented, or dad implemented at the time, a software program, but he still did it by hand, but on paper. But he was at least having more consistency and more continuous improvement and having more accountability of himself. And then as I came in a few years ago to take over this particular part, I was like, "Oh, pen, paper. Why?" So I then came in and spoke to our particular software program and said, "What can we do to improve this?" And we then got the app up and running. And now I do everything on the app. And it's amazing. Just walk around the farm, take photos. I do all my toolbox meetings on the app. And it just keeps me accountable too and makes sure that in my busy schedule I don't forget to continually do the processes and the policies and the updates for all our staff and myself.

Drew Radford:

So rather than being a chore, this is something embedded in you and it's a living, breathing thing which is constantly evolving and being updated?

Danyel Cucinotta:

Yeah. So I think OH&S or farm safety to safety in general, it has to be. It's a continuous improvement. It never stops. I personally don't look at it like a chore. I enjoy it. I don't know how many other people will ever say that, but I do. I enjoy it because I go around and I have a chat to our staff and it keeps that morale. So it effectively actually benefits us as a business because we're going around, we're showing our staff that we care about them. It creates better relationships in the long term. And then they also feel more comfortable to come and say, "Hey, we're not really happy with this particular thing." or "This seems a bit funny." So they're essentially my eyes and ears on the ground. And once you have that relationship, it's no longer a tick-a-box exercise. It's actually true health and safety on the ground.

Drew Radford:

What tips would you give to those particularly who haven't had your experience to have these conversations with their family about farm safety?

Danyel Cucinotta:

Dinner table conversations in our household are still just like any other family farm. So you can never really tell dad and my uncle exactly what to do. My mum's old mentality, not for safety, but my dad and my uncle would use it, it's do as I say, not as I do. So this program actually gives me more, I guess, of a leg to stand on. It's like, "Hey dad, don't forget that if we're showing our staff this particular way, you need to be the leader. You need to showcase that we're doing it all the right way and the correct safety equipment is being used." So it holds dad and my uncle accountable too. And it just gives me the opportunity to sort of like stand up and say, "Hey, don't forget that you can't do it that way."

Danyel Cucinotta:

So the software itself is what has given me that opportunity, but I'm sure if you sit down at the table and just say, "I care and I love you and I don't want anything to happen to you, so you need to do the right thing so we can all go home and argue at the dinner table on Thursday night."

Drew Radford:

That's a fantastic description. You made the point earlier on that you're a bit of a social butterfly. You like moving around the farm and talking to people. How important though is it to actually have structure around that and monthly check-ins with staff about work safety, and how does that work in a larger group as opposed to one-on-one chats?

Danyel Cucinotta:

Yeah. So we don't do larger group toolbox meetings anymore for a number of reasons. One, because there are three different businesses on site. We just simply cannot get everyone in the room at the same time. There is just too many different needs and requirements of different staff members. So again, language barrier is one, age group, the way I communicate, the particular policies at the time, it's different for every staff member. And three, as I said, the relationship is essentially what has made this. So our software provider sends us monthly continuous improvement updates, which could vary from policies to proof of OH&S systems on the farm, and then it's my job to ensure we go out and take the photos or have the toolbox accordingly.

Drew Radford:

People sometimes say it costs too much to have the latest safety equipment. Why do you feel this is money well spent?

Danyel Cucinotta:

We personally, and I would imagine everyone out there would say the same, you can't put a price on anyone's safety, especially your own family and your staff. It's like insurance. We very much treat OH&S systems and our software and the monthly updates as an insurance. We go out. We do the thing. We make sure everyone's looked after. Ideally, we don't want to be claiming back on this because that means something's gone wrong. So it's an investment we do to ensure that we don't end up with something bigger in the long term.

Drew Radford:

You're obviously engaging with your staff a lot. I'm guessing you view it as really important to have a good workplace culture, especially when it comes to farm safety.

Danyel Cucinotta:

Yeah. So our staff retention is quite good. We don't have too much staff turnover here. Cafe's a little bit different. You always have casual staff throughout their uni degree stay and go, but we've essentially seen a huge improvement since doing the individual toolbox meetings. And yeah, the staff culture's quite good. And it's also a comfortability thing. They know that we're looking after them. They know that this is a place that they enjoy working at. And we also make it very clear that they can come and chat to us about anything. And they really become a second family. I know more about their families than maybe I should sometimes. But yeah, I enjoy it and they enjoy it. And you spend so much time in your workplace, so why not have a safe and an enjoyable environment while you're there?

Drew Radford:

Is this about setting it up right from day dot through with a good induction process as well?

Danyel Cucinotta:

Yeah. So I had the farm safety consultants at the VFF come out and have a little chat to me about where I was late last year. And I wanted to know was our farm doing okay? Were we on the right track? And we were doing all the things right. And it was actually my inductions that were probably lacking. So it's okay not to be perfect. It's just a matter of knowing where your improvements need to be made. And at the time, John came out and said, "This is great. This is great. This is great. However, you're lacking here, here, and here." And yeah, I spent the next three to four months improving those practices and getting those inductions sorted. And that was probably my downfall just only six months ago. So here I am. I'd be pretty proud of my induction.

Drew Radford:

I would imagine then being proactive and fixing and acting on concerns as quickly as possible is fairly paramount to the way you run your farm and your businesses.

Danyel Cucinotta:

So funny example. Recently, Kyle came to me and he's like, "Oh, the emergency exit light isn't working. The bulb has blown." He then had his two days off. So he alerted me on Monday and then Tuesday, Wednesday had the days off. And he came in on Thursday and he was so proud of himself, even though he didn't fix it. He just alerted me. And I won't lie, I didn't fix it either. I gave that job to dad. But he was so proud of himself that he felt heard and he felt like he was part of ensuring the health and safety in our business was also at the level it needed to be. So when he came in and he did make the comment, he's like, "Last time I bought something up at my old workplace, they never actually fixed anything."

Danyel Cucinotta:

So yeah, we're all about timeliness, effectiveness. And if our staff bring a concern to us, we take that very seriously. And I mean, fixing a light bulb being blown is part of the way that you do things and it keeps Kyle happy, it keeps one of my staff happy, and it shows everyone else that we do care about what's being brought to our attention and we will fix the things that need to be done.

Drew Radford:

What would your advice be to farmers who are worried or concerned about getting a safety advisor onto their own farm?

Danyel Cucinotta:

So the Making our Farmers Safer program is fabulous. I cannot recommend it highly enough because the consultants are not there to pick on and give you some kind of infringement notice or anything like that. Instead, they're there to find flaws that we may have in our business and give us the tools and resources we need to actually fix them and ensure that we're looking after everyone. So I know it all seems scary. And my uncle actually has that mentality where it's like, "Oh, we don't want anyone coming in. We might end up in trouble," whereas my dad's the opposite. Dad's like, "No, we need the help. We can use as much as possible." So I would say to everyone, yes, it seems scary, but this particular program that's running at the moment one, it's free and two, everyone needs a bit of help. So I would highly recommend them coming out on the farm to actually see where we can all improve. And it's for the benefit of everybody.

Drew Radford:

Danyel Cucinotta, it sounds like you're running a pretty tight ship and OH&S is your first priority. And I imagine that's got significant positive flow-ons for your business. Thank you for taking the time and joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Danyel Cucinotta:

Thank you. It was a pleasure and I hope I can come back soon.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 5: Teaching farm dogs new tricks with Kelly Barnes

Caroline Winter:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

With a lifelong love of dogs, a passion for rural and regional Australia and a commitment to boosting the resilience and wellbeing of her community, it's no surprise Kelly Barnes has made her mark. She's the recipient of the 2020 Victorian AgriFutures Rural Woman of the Year Award, which recognizes her innovative working dog training school pilot program that sees the dogs not just as a tool of the trade, but as a very important companion.

Caroline Winter:

I'm Caroline Winter and in this episode, Kelly explains to me how her program has very personal origins and how it's focused on not just teaching farm dogs new tricks, but bettering the social and mental health of farmers and her community. Kelly Barnes, thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Kelly Barnes:

Thanks for having me. It's a great pleasure.

Caroline Winter:

Kelly, you live in Dunkeld in Western Districts, how would you describe your connection to the land and the people on it?

Kelly Barnes:

I live in town, but I work in rural merchandise, so I work with farmers every day. And then I live vicariously through my friend who works on a farm. And as I described, I'm a fair weather farmer now so when it's sunny, I go out and help them and when it's raining, I stay inside and watch Netflix. But it's really great here. It's such a good community. I love sheep so it's perfect to me, it's a lot of livestock farming around here, which is great and the people are just really lovely. So it's perfect spot to be.

Caroline Winter:

And so have you always lived in a rural community?

Kelly Barnes:

Yeah, I'd say so. So I grew up on a farm in the south of England. We were quite near to town, it was about an hour outside of London, but we were on a farm there. And then ever since I've come to Australia, I've always worked and lived on farms or lived in rural communities.

Caroline Winter:

And what do you enjoy most about living in a rural or a small community?

Kelly Barnes:

That's a really good question actually, because growing up where I went to school was quite built up, more urban and I guess I'd never really found my fit and then when I came over here, I just loved being with other farming people and sort of having the open space and the fresh air and things like that and just I obviously really loved farming. And I just never really found those kinds of people where I grew up. So I had a few farming friends and I know when I went to uni, I definitely found a lot more, but where I grew up there probably wasn't as many and I hadn't found that niche of people. So I think when I came over here, I just really loved the fact that everyone was so absorbed in agriculture.

Caroline Winter:

I like that, you found your people.

Kelly Barnes:

Yeah. And I do remember when I went to uni in England, like I went to an ag college and I sort of really found a whole range of people there that I never knew existed. And then coming over here, it's like a whole other level again, I was amazed when they had adverts for sheep drench on the TV and I remember ringing my mum and dad and telling them, like you just wouldn't get that in England. So I just really love how Australia is really backing their farmers and everything's really based around agriculture.

Caroline Winter:

Well, you've certainly found your place in the agriculture community in Victoria and you won the 2020 Victorian AgriFutures Rural Woman of the Year Award. Congratulations again. What is that award about and what opportunities did winning it give you?

Kelly Barnes:

It's just been absolutely amazing. And I always laugh because I think when I applied for it, I don't think anyone ever really truly knows what they're getting themselves in for, but yeah, it's been so much bigger than I ever imagined. So it's basically a way to promote and help you fund an idea or a project that you've got running, so you win a $10,000 bursary, but there's so much more to it than just the money. And I think just the connections you make, the opportunity you get for personal development, there's seven of us that were the state winners and you've just got this huge comradery and everyone's there to support each other and you're just surrounded by such amazing women. And it's those things that I've really loved, it's that celebrating each other, but really sort of seeing how many powerful women there are out there and really getting behind each other and helping each other out. And we've had so many personal development opportunities through it.

Kelly Barnes:

So I guess this year for us has been a completely different experience to the normal structure of the award, so we won in March 2020, and then we never had an award ceremony for Victoria, it was right at the start of COVID and then they postponed everything for a year. So we sort of had this weird standstill where we've been doing bits and pieces on Zoom and then we just had the national panel judging over Zoom as well. So it's all a little bit different, but it's just the support. The AgriFutures team are just amazing at getting behind you and really pushing you where you need to be pushed, but giving you the opportunity to really tell your story and get your idea out there and connect you with other people as well. It's the network of connections and the alumni and everything else like that, it's just a really powerful group.

Caroline Winter:

You mentioned the $10,000 bursary. Now you established the Dunkeld Working Dog Training School, what was the catalyst, I guess the inspiration, behind establishing the school?

Kelly Barnes:

Back in 2018, I did a digital storytelling workshop with the National Center for Farmer Health and it was about telling a story of a challenging time that we'd faced. And I had to put a video together and get pictures of various things that sort of related to my story. And I was going through my phone and looking for pictures and literally every single one of them was a dog selfie in one way, shape or form. And as I was putting this story together, I had all these pictures of my dogs and I just thought they've been huge for me, I've never really probably appreciated how much they've helped me outside of doing farm work, that support and that companionship and just being there. And I have a chronic condition called fibromyalgia so I spent a fair bit of time on the couch with fatigue and things like that and my old dog's always with me then.

Kelly Barnes:

So it really sort of sparked this idea of well, if that's how much they can help me, nearly every livestock farmer has got a dog and I just wonder if they can start to get some of those benefits. So yeah, that sort of sparked the idea. And then I've done a dog training school with Ian O'Connell back in 2012 and I remember thinking, "It's absolutely amazing, but I can't remember half of it," and I did it two Sundays, one week after the next, and then three or four months down the line, you sort of think, "Oh, I have all these other questions and I've tried these things and they don't really work and I'd love to go back and do more." So that's part of the concept too, is that you get that ongoing support so you get a day to catch up and learn things and then you get time in between to go and try ideas and then come back and brainstorm and debrief and things like that.

Kelly Barnes:

So basically based on my own experiences of both the challenges of living rurally, the challenges with mental health, and then having these courses where you go and learn a whole chunk of information all at once and then you're just let loose on your own, I needed that ongoing support. So that's where I designed the program.

Caroline Winter:

So it sounds like you've brought a number of passions together, and it is an innovative program. How central was developing this kind of approach to enhancing the social and the mental health needs in your town?

Kelly Barnes:

The underlying theme behind it all is to improve mental health and wellbeing in farming. So I studied a couple of years ago some of the modules that they run at the National Center for Farmer Health around agricultural health and medicine and I did a lit review on the mental health outcomes in rural communities. I think it really opens your eyes. I don't think even though we've tried to break down the stigma as such, people still don't talk about it and I don't know whether they really realise what's actually going on for themselves or for someone else. I think farming is always tough and everyone sort of just takes that for granted, but there's so many things that you can do to make it a little bit easier.

Kelly Barnes:

You do spend a lot of time on your own and whether you work in a team or not, a lot of the jobs you are doing on your own and the only thing you really have with you is you dogs or you're working with your sheep or cattle. So to build resilience is huge, and I think it's not necessarily for people with a mental illness either, it's just giving people the tools to prevent them getting down that path, or just becoming aware that I think there's so many things that can affect what you're doing that are out of your control. So it's really giving you the tools to focus on thing that you can control and then sort of be prepared for those situations when they do arise and work through them a lot better.

Caroline Winter:

You mentioned the relationship and the bond that you've had with your working dogs over the years and your current pooch is it Dougal? Can you tell me, what is that relationship like and why do you think that there is that strong connection that can, I guess, help you and others through some difficult times?

Kelly Barnes:

Yeah, it's a really good question. It's actually really hard to sort of identify. I guess, I've always loved animals, I'm just naturally drawn to them and I just remember always wanting to get my own dog when I was younger and the first ever working dog I got was a Border Collie in the UK. And ever since then, when I came to Australia, obviously had to leave her behind. And Dougal was my first dog I ever got over here and I just really missed having that dog with me and they are company, but they're quite calming, you're sat on the bike and you're moving sheep and they'd be on the bike with you and you'd be patting them or talking to them, they're just always there with you. They just have this absolute admiration for you like you can do no wrong and you have a really tough day and things go wrong but at the end of the day, they're still there with you and they just absolutely adore you and would do anything for you.

Kelly Barnes:

And I think you can see them when they're working, they will try their absolute hardest to do what you ask of them. And they're very forgiving and yeah, there's just something really special about them. And I find it quite a hard thing to really narrow down on because it's so subtle, some of the effects and the support they give, but definitely now poor Dougal, he's 14 and he's had a few injuries in his lifetime so he now pretty much spends his life on the couch, but even then, I come home from work and he'll sit in the garden sometimes during the day and he's just there at the gate waiting for me. So even though we don't work on farm, he's still there, he's really loyal and he's just that really good company.

Caroline Winter:

Obviously you have had that affinity with animals all your life, what other skills did you already have that helped you establish the dog training program and what skills did you have to acquire on along the way?

Kelly Barnes:

As far as actually official skills, probably none. But I remember getting feedback from a leadership program a few years ago and everyone said, "Oh, you're just so easy to talk to, I'm always really comfortable talking to you, you're kind," and all those things and that really got me thinking because I just have the ability to have these tough conversations with people. And a friend of mine always says it to me too, she's like, "People always open up to you, they always just start talking about things with you and they don't do it with me." And so I guess that was my kind of role in the program to start introducing some of those more difficult or more unspoken topics around mental health and things like that, but in a way that people feel comfortable.

Kelly Barnes:

So I enlisted the help of Ian O'Connell, so he is amazing and he did the dog training side of it so I didn't have to have any dog training skills. And I think to draw people into a program, you have to have someone that's really, really good in that area and if I'd tried to do that myself, I wouldn't attract necessarily those people, they're sort of coming to learn off Ian and then I kind of sneak all the other stuff in behind the scenes. So that worked really, really well. So just working on my own experience and kind of the experience of watching producer groups and working with clients and working with different farmers, seeing how much they can benefit from getting together and getting off farm, but that's all the stuff that you do in the background.

Kelly Barnes:

So it might not be really obvious to other people, but I just tune into that and I can really see the benefits. So sort of setting up exercises to get people working together, setting up the day so they have enough time at lunchtime to have a chat and have a coffee and things like that and just really having some of those tough conversations, like we'd had a discussion around suicide and around fear of failure and things like that, but it was sort of done in the middle of the program when everyone's a little bit more comfortable with each other, but also you still had a couple of sessions after the following months to then move on and have some wins with your dogs and other things.

Kelly Barnes:

So it was just really, I guess, for me having those people skills to frame those conversations and find the appropriate time for them, but be bold and have those conversations too. I think it is important to include some of that stuff in there, but being aware of the audience too. I couldn't bowl in on day one not knowing anyone, no one knows each other and then get everyone to start caring and sharing. I think people would have not turned up or run out the door a hundred miles an hour. So just having that ability and that emotional intelligence to read the room and see where things fit.

Kelly Barnes:

And be adaptable, like I had this schedule set out in my mind and I was quite flexible depending on what had come up, but pretty much every subject that I'd come up with was the perfect timing and people would talk about things at the end of one session and I'd be thinking to myself, "Oh, this is great because that's exactly what I planned for the next one." So yeah, really reading the room and being a bit flexible, but also not being afraid to have those open conversations as well.

Caroline Winter:

It definitely takes a good structure and the right person, particularly when you're dealing with difficult issues. So what does the program involve?

Kelly Barnes:

In a nutshell, it's six one day sessions, they're based once a month so we ran the last Saturday of the month for the pilot program over the course of six months, there was a group of 15 people, Ian O'Connell runs the dog school so he's got his own sort of framework around teaching people how to train and work their working dogs. So we do a bit of practical, a bit of theory and then I sneak in a bit of resilience stuff sort of in between as well. So we'd incorporate different aspects, like the first session was around goal-setting so getting them to set goals of what they wanted to achieve with their working dogs throughout the course and then building on that as we go.

Kelly Barnes:

We talked about nutrition and how that affects how you're feeling and how you perform and the same with the dogs and tying a lot of stuff in back to their relationships with their dogs. So things like fear of failure, you might go out and try something with your working dog and it's an absolute disaster one day, but the next day you go and do it and it's completely different. So just being brave enough to go back out and try again.

Kelly Barnes:

And I think one of the things I really found most valuable is the debrief sessions, so the participants would get the chance to talk about where they've had some wins and then if they'd had a few issues or something was a bit of a disaster, they weren't afraid to bring it up. And then as we went through, the other participants all sort of pitched in to help each other out as well. So they got a really good balance of practical, some theory, and then that chance to debrief and that chance to really get together and help each other out and build friendships as well. The whole idea is to create a group of people that are likely to catch up outside of the program as well. So they're learning to interact and help each other out and then hopefully they can then carry on doing that once the course finishes as well.

Caroline Winter:

For participants who've already been through the program, how have they gone so far? What kind of feedback have you had?

Kelly Barnes:

At the moment, we're just working through getting some independent evaluation done, but I've got a few brief snippets of feedback and they've just been amazing, they've said it's a life-changing program, they've really enjoyed meeting new people, staying in contact with people. I think the biggest thing that I have seen is just watching them grow, having that repetition and they've all really loved the format that they can learn some skills, go and practice, and then come back and talk through it again with Ian and talk about what's gone wrong and what they can do better.

Kelly Barnes:

Another one was incorporating those aspects of resilience and probably building awareness to it. So I think people don't always think about that on the land, they don't always take their own health and wellbeing into account and they probably don't realise how much it affects what they're doing as well. So I think just really highlighting that and things like stress, the last session we did was all about low stress stock handling and kind of remaining calm and tying that all in together. And I think sometimes people get so worked up when they're working stock and it's all going wrong, but all the participants, you could see them over the course of the program, they've learned to accept that when things go wrong, it's okay and you could see their reaction from day one where they'd be really stressed and really worried about it to the last session where things go wrong and that's all right and you just get back in and go again. So I'm really looking forward to getting the final report and then grow and keep building on it.

Caroline Winter:

What advice would you give our listeners who might want to take on a project like yours or apply for the AgriFutures' Rural Women's Award?

Kelly Barnes:

A hundred percent just do it because I am the queen of procrastination and I would never have got anywhere near where I've got now without doing it. So it's absolutely life changing program. And even if you don't get through, so even if you think you have an idea, but it's not quite there just apply anyway, just have a go, just chuck in an application. I did the previous year and it was quite honestly not very great if I look back at it, but one of the previous winners, she messaged and emailed and she said, just get in touch, happy to help you, happy to brainstorm, and she did. And so the following year, I was like, "I'd really like to try again," so I fine tuned to my ideas and really nutted it out and then I spoke to her and I spoke to another girl that had won the South Australian award and they really step you through it.

Kelly Barnes:

So I think don't be afraid to have a go. And if you don't get through the first year, try again, it's not the end of the world, it's all a growing experience. And just be really open to the opportunities. I mean, I'm more than happy for anyone that's thinking about it or that doesn't think that they could do it, just jump on the phone and have a conversation and throw your idea out there. The more you vocalise your idea, the more real it becomes.

Caroline Winter:

A great offer there and some great advice. Kelly Barnes, thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Kelly Barnes:

And thank you for having me, it's so great. I could talk about dogs for as long as you'd have me. So it's always a pleasure. Thank you.

Caroline Winter:

If this podcast has brought up difficult emotions for you, please find someone you can talk to or call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36, MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 4: Having a strong voice in your local community with Jessie Holmes

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Caroline Winter:

Jessie Holmes has come full circle. Jessie grew up in the town of Dimboola, and after moving away for study and work, she returned to the neighbouring Shire of Yarriambiack as the youngest female local government CEO in Victoria. Her rural and agricultural roots run deep across the Wimmera and Mallee. She's a passionate advocate for, and leader of, the community she represents. Hi, I'm Caroline Winter. In this chat, Jessie helps demystify how leadership and advocacy work together, and reveals the one big takeaway for anyone starting out down this path. Jessie Holmes, thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Jessie Holmes:

Thank you for having me.

Caroline Winter:

Jessie, you grew up in Dimboola, and are now the Chief Executive Officer of the neighbouring Yarriambiack Shire. Does that have special meaning for you?

Jessie Holmes:

I guess so. It's good to be in the Wimmera where I grew up, so schooling in Dimboola, and then I went away, traveled overseas and went to university in Melbourne, and then moved back to Horsham and then Birchip, which is in the next-neighbouring Shire of Buloke where I worked for nearly 10 years. So yeah, just a strong affinity to the Wimmera region. My parents were born around this area as well, my Mum in Watchem and my Dad in St Arnaud. My husband's off a farm just south of Horsham. So we're entrenched in Wimmera, as far as you can be, I guess.

Caroline Winter:

How wonderful. So a bit of a homecoming, I guess, a bit of a full circle?

Jessie Holmes:

It really was. We've been back for nearly 13 years, and it's one of those places where you leave, and as you start to drive up the Western Highway and you get closer, and you go through the Grampians, and then you start to see the broadacre cropping, the browns and the yellows as opposed to the greens, that you start to realise you're back home in the Wimmera, Southern Mallee area. It's a nice place to be.

Caroline Winter:

Can you paint a picture for me of the Yarriambiack Shire in terms of agriculture, and I guess the flow-on effects and the benefits that the industry brings to the community?

Jessie Holmes:

Predominantly, broadacre across Yarriambiack, so 94 per cent of our land is zoned farming. We've got 14 towns across the council area, the largest being Warracknabeal, with sort of 2,500. Then you've got your next range of towns, Murtoa, Hopetoun, Rupanyup and Minyip, which are around the 500 to 900. Then a spattering of smaller towns that are between the sort of 50 to 150, 50 to 200, around Woomelang, Lascelles, Brim, Patchewollock, et cetera.

Jessie Holmes:

It's a very long shire. It's a long, skinny shire. We're about 220 kilometers in length. We have about 5,000 kilometers of road that Council manages. One thousand is sealed, 2,000 of gravel, and 2,000 of urban roads. The average farm property is six to seven times what it was in the 1960s. There's been a lot of aggregation across the agricultural communities as well, but the efficiencies on-farm over that period have just continued to grow and grow.

Jessie Holmes:

So the machinery that's used, the chemical usage, the ways in which tillage, and crop care, and paddock rotation, and just the amount of agronomy and extension research that's happened over the last four decades, has really just seen the type and the quality of the crop that is grown, just continue to be expanded upon each year.

Jessie Holmes:

With that comes a bit of feast and famine as well. So we had the Millennial Drought, we've had floods in 2011 and 2016. You'll get a good run of a few years, and then you'll have a few lean years, and then you'll have very dry years. So the fortunes can be varied, and being a long shire, you can have an amazing crop in the south with the north really suffering, or you can have below-average yields in the south with a sporadic outbreak of good yields in the north.

Jessie Holmes:

So it can be at times quite a gamble for a lot of our community. And then our rural community feeds into our townships as well, so a lot of the businesses are rural-dependent enterprises. So their fortune and famine also rely on the cycle nature of the agriculture yields as well.

Caroline Winter:

Now, you're the youngest female local government CEO in Victoria. You certainly were when you were elected at the age of 31, you're a few years into the job now.

Jessie Holmes:

Yeah.

Caroline Winter:

Did you always have goals of being a leader?

Jessie Holmes:

I definitely think my nature was to bring people together to get the best outcome, which I guess by nature extends into leadership, but certainly, sure, if you asked my parents, they would have suggested that I was quite bossy as a younger person, and that probably fed into them thinking that I would take charge at some point.

Jessie Holmes:

I didn't necessarily leave school with the intention of going into local government. I'm not sure many people do. The story of local government, most people you speak to in local government say they don't quite understand or know how they fell into local government. But yeah, it certainly made sense. I studied community development and policy planning at university, and at a post-graduate level.

Jessie Holmes:

We were living in Birchip at the time. My husband is an agricultural diesel mechanic, so that gives me an agricultural radius to live in as well. So I returned, and through some contacts with the local government at the time... Buloke was looking for a town planner... so I started there, effectively, not long after I moved to town.

Jessie Holmes:

Then over a 10-year period with Buloke, I added something else each year. It was building, and then planning, local laws, community development, economic development, et cetera. So I got to a point where I was at a director level, and I had statutory services and community services, and really quite enjoyed being able to put into effect the decisions that were made by our council.

Jessie Holmes:

You had a council making those strategic decisions, and then you were the operational perspective, able to actually make those decisions hit the ground into a reality. So 12 years into local government, and it's one of those careers where you never have the same day twice, and you get to be involved in lots of different things, and you actually get to see real things happen on the ground.

Jessie Holmes:

You get to see your councillors making decisions that you know are going to change the lives of young people, older people, in sport and recreation, in economic development, in the environment, for waste management. It's really nice to be in a position where you get to lead an incredible team of staff to make those council decisions to become a reality.

Caroline Winter:

So was it important for you, in this kind of role, as a CEO of a shire, to be in an agricultural area, to be in charge of a rural community, so to speak?

Jessie Holmes:

Yes. I think for me, I can't envisage a time where I wouldn't be in a rural area. I love everything about living in the Wimmera. We've got a small family now, so the girls are at primary school, and our family is here. Our parents are here, and I just can't imagine why you would be anywhere else.

Jessie Holmes:

All the things that I love about living in a regional area... I love my drive to work is 60 kilometers, and it's half an hour of just I might pass two or three cars, but I get to see the paddocks changing over the 12 months, from whether it's the burning stubble to the growing canola, to the headers out at 9:30 at night with their lights on during harvest. I get to see that cycle happen across the community.

Jessie Holmes:

I get to see what communities are like when things go right, or go wrong. Some people don't always love that in small towns, everybody knows everybody's business. That has positives and negatives, but it's very rare to get people in rural areas that aren't working 110 per cent to the benefit of their community. That sense of community, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else, to be honest.

Caroline Winter:

Let's go back to your first leadership position. How did you find yourself there? I guess if you think back, how did you feel at the time?

Jessie Holmes:

I started as a planner, and then I moved to a coordinator. I remember becoming a coordinator and then not just looking after myself, but looking after three staff at that time. Starting to learn some of those management skills around offering support to your staff, giving them structures to work within. Then I became a manager, and then a director.

Jessie Holmes:

You certainly notice the change when you start to offer leadership instead of just management. You're not just saying, "Here's your budget. This is what you spend, and this is what you need to spend it on, and this is the outcome that's expected," but you start to say, "Okay, well, we've got this budget. Like, what can we achieve? What's the strategic direction that's set by the community and the councillors?"

Jessie Holmes:

Definitely, the transition to management was fairly straightforward, learning finance skills and HR skills, but the transition to leadership, where you empower your staff, or even if you're leading with a community group, empowering them to be able to make the decisions and facilitating that is, for me, it was a bigger transition than just transitioning into management.

Jessie Holmes:

But it's this really great space, when you can see that the staff that you've empowered to make decisions, or you've facilitated communities to prioritise and make something a reality, like a new childcare center or a new rec reserve, and you can stand back and say, "They did that."

Jessie Holmes:

They were able to make that happen, and as a result of that, you may have provided leadership in relation to doing the advocacy to the state or federal government, but here you've got a community group that's actually got an outcome that makes it a better community for everybody. I think it's a different skill set, and it's one that you have to work on a lot harder than I think necessarily just becoming a good manager.

Caroline Winter:

Let's talk about advocacy. You have been in an advocate-type role for quite some years. How important is good advocacy and leadership in a rural community like yours, not just for the towns, but for the future of ag in the region?

Jessie Holmes:

It's so important. We do advocacy at a local level, at a state level, at a federal level with government, with private partners. Good advocacy is being able to articulate the advantages of investing in a service or a capital product that people can relate to or can understand.

Jessie Holmes:

So we talk about the storytelling that comes with advocacy, and because a lot of people have a romanticised view of living in rural communities, so they're often associated with being quaint and the community all getting together, and those things are very true, but the need for services and the need for development in those communities is also very real, and is less romantic.

Jessie Holmes:

How do you say to a government, state or federal, that has a range of competing priorities for their funding... how do you make yours the service they need to fund, or your new hall the hall that they need to fund? So, constantly making sure your narrative is aligned to whatever those ministers' priorities are, or the bureaucracy understands what you're trying to say as well, is really important.

Jessie Holmes:

When I first came to Yarriambiack, their external grant-funding percentage was quite low for a small rural council. We've really managed to turn that around in three years, so that they're above average in relation to attracting external grant funding from the state and federal government. That's built on being able to attract the funding, but then also convincing the funding bodies that you can deliver, on time and on budget, the product that you said that you were going to deliver.

Jessie Holmes:

That's been building those partnerships and relationships with the bureaucrats, so that the people within the agencies... making sure that you're keeping them up to date... they know what's in the pipeline, they know what you're advocating for. Then briefing your relevant members of parliament at a federal and state level, so there's no surprises for them either.

Jessie Holmes:

They're perfectly aware of, if you raise something, it's not the first time they've heard it, they've got a briefing paper on it. Then obviously my councillors need to be out in the community, getting that feedback from the community, feeding that back into us, so that we're actually advocating for what the community wants, because then the community can get behind you.

Caroline Winter:

Advocacy can be a bit of a vague or a misunderstood term at times. What does it mean to you, and how have you been an agricultural advocate?

Jessie Holmes:

I think for us, especially at a state and federal level, there's a lot of ministers who fundamentally don't understand agriculture. I talked about that romanticised view, but it's a huge economic driver, so you have to bring those ministers awareness around what agriculture brings, not just to the economy, but the value-add opportunities.

Jessie Holmes:

Depending on the minister that you're speaking to, and what their portfolios are or what their general interests are, what their backgrounds are, you need to tailor your advocacy to that. There's some ministers who are very familiar with agriculture, who've been Ministers for Ag or Ministers for Regional Development. So you can target your advocacy or pitch it at a different level with them.

Jessie Holmes:

As opposed to potentially Ministers who've grown up in the city and who've been predominantly ministers of urban development or housing. You're having to pitch to them from an advocacy perspective, explain the importance of agriculture, explain the importance of rural, regional areas, and the significance of the products that are being developed or grown out in these areas.

Jessie Holmes:

We're constantly raising awareness and raising education about rural and regional communities, and agricultural communities, to anybody who will listen, so that they're aware of the challenges and the opportunities that come from government intervention or private intervention into the markets in rural areas as well.

Caroline Winter:

How, then, are leadership and advocacy related?

Jessie Holmes:

We've got a lot of leaders out in the community who might not be Chief Executive Officers, but they're leaders in their communities because they're able to advocate well.

Jessie Holmes:

If you naturally have leadership in the sense that people will listen to you and will follow what you're asking of them, and those natural leadership skills... which don't necessarily mean that you're the president of a group or you're the CEO of a company... but if you have the ability to bring people along with you because they will naturally follow or extend on your leadership skills, they're some of your better advocates.

Jessie Holmes:

They're the people who can quietly and effectively raise awareness around issues, and matters, and services, so that the players that can fund those services, or that infrastructure, or that development, understand the narrative. So your best leaders are, without a shadow of a doubt, your best advocates.

Jessie Holmes:

But I think we've got to be really clear that leadership doesn't necessarily come with a role, in the sense of being an elected president or whatever it might be. Often leaders in your community are those that are able to strongly articulate what your community needs, and they then become your best advocates.

Caroline Winter:

For someone looking to take up an advocacy role, or who may have found themselves in a place of advocacy or leadership for the first time, what piece of advice would you give them?

Jessie Holmes:

I think it's just being really clear about what you want. I know that seems really simple, but when you ask for something, people want to know what they're giving you. So you need to really clearly define the problem, and really clearly define the answer.

Jessie Holmes:

You need to be really clear and say, "You know, the issue here is that we don't have enough Div 1 nurses. The opportunity here is that we could collaborate with a... you know... training organisation to employ twelve nurses and hope that six of them stay at the end of their training, and this is what we're going to do about it."

Jessie Holmes:

It's really clearly articulating the problem, and really clearly articulating the outcome that you want, and what your ask is. People generally want to be able to give you what you ask for. If it's reasonable, people will find a way to give you what you've asked for. If it's reasonable.

Caroline Winter:

Jessie Holmes, some really valuable insights and advice. Thanks again for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Jessie Holmes:

Thank you very much for having me.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating, and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 3: Advice for aspiring rural leaders with Pru Cook

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Caroline Winter:

Impostor syndrome, that feeling of self doubt in career or life is something many experience even at the top of their game. But learning how to manage it, harness its power and use it to help make a great leader is something Pru Cook knows a lot about, whether it's as a specialist communicator with government, the Birchip Cropping Group, or now as director at Nine Creeks Consulting, or during her roles on committees and boards like the VFF Grains Group and GRDC Southern Region panel. This well-respected member of the Wimmera community is here to share with you and me, Caroline Winter, how everyone has something to offer in a leadership role. Pru Cook, thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Pru Cook:

It's a pleasure to be here.

Caroline Winter:

What do you love most about living in a rural community?

Pru Cook:

There's a lot that I enjoy about it, the sense of community. I know my neighbors, I'm close to my family, the opportunity, there's I love living and working in agriculture, and I think it's great to be able to do that when you're actually in amongst a farming community. I spent a couple of years working in Canberra and my manager at the time realised that if I didn't get out in the paddock talking to farmers on a semi-regular basis, I went a little bit potty, so I think I'm definitely a country girl. I also talked to city friends and they're like, "What do you do out there?" And to be honest, I then asked, "Well, what do you do in Melbourne?" And really, I actually think that I probably got a lot more that I'm actually doing than a lot of city friends just maybe not dining out as often, which is not too bad on both the hip pocket and the waistline.

Caroline Winter:

Indeed. Do you have a favorite memory of your time growing up on the family farm at Diapur?

Pru Cook:

I feel really lucky, really privileged that I did get to grow up on a farm. I love that the grounding that it gives you and the ability to get home and have a pony meet you at the driveway and the adventures that I'd go on with my brother and sister. But I think growing up on a farm gives you that real connectedness to the land, but also an understanding of life and death and a lot of responsibilities as well too. I think my father certainly instilled a bit of a work ethic. You go until the job's done. So there's a lot to love about growing up on a family farm.

Caroline Winter:

Let's talk about your role in leadership. Did you always have aspirations of being a leader?

Pru Cook:

Look, no. No. And I think a lot of it comes down with what we traditionally think of when we think of the term, what is a leader? And I think growing up, you would think, well, it's a prime minister or it's a CEO or it's someone in the military, and as a young girl growing up, most of those roles were held by men. But I suppose as I've got older, I've realised that leadership takes on a lot of forms and it's not just the person who's up there standing, but it's the person who's willing to drive change and make decisions and coordinate people. And so I personally have goals for getting stuff done that is useful it's to a high standard, and I'm always looking at how we can be improving things. So I've realised, as I've got older, that they are actually leadership qualities. So I really focus on being practical, professional and progressive, and there are things that I can help lead, whether it be a project or a community group or a board, there are things that I can all do to help and lead and coordinate and help progress.

Caroline Winter:

And how did you find yourself in your first leadership position and how did you feel at that time?

Pru Cook:

I suppose if I think from a professional perspective, my first leadership in terms of a representative role was sitting on the Victorian Farmers Federation Grains Council as their council representative for the West Wimmera. And how did I feel? I didn't want to do it. I think when I was first asked, I was terrified. My first response was, "There will be people better qualified than myself." I was concerned about the fact that I wasn't a farmer. I certainly didn't know enough about trucks to be on the VFF Grains Council. And I think there was a lot of cajoling involved in getting me to sign up in the first place, but I'm so glad that they proceeded in encouraging me to do that in taking up that role, because once I did get there, I realised, well, it's not important that I don't know anything about trucks because there was a lot of council representatives who did have that knowledge.

Pru Cook:

What I brought that perhaps wasn't sitting around the table was an understanding in communications and understanding of membership organisations and understanding my professional area is around extension and farmer practice change, so that was some of the stuff that I brought in. And I realised that you don't need to know everything, but you need to have a point of difference that you can contribute and so I sat on that Grains Council for two years and thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot.

Caroline Winter:

As you point out, you brought some of those skills to the table and have since gone on in a leadership role in other organisations. So what skills have you developed to help you in those other roles?

Pru Cook:

So I think being in the roles allows you to hone further the skills that you already bring to the table. So that’s in my case, that's extension and adoption and understanding of human behavior. I've been told that I ask really good questions as well too. And I think that's something to remember going into these roles is that you don't need to have all the answers, but if you can ask good questions that encourage people to think, then you can all work collectively to be able to come to good responses. I think that the skills that I have developed and that I think are important and that I'm constantly striving to try and understand a bit better are interpreting financial statements and how they can be used to monitor financial performance. That's one that I'm a bit nervous about because obviously as a young girl growing up, finances or money was not really something that was pushed on me.

Pru Cook:

So that's something that I'm striving to understand a lot better as I get older. And I think that's particularly important in any representative role where you are making decisions about and are responsible for money. And the other thing is about understanding risks being faced by the organisations and overseeing risk management processes. I think that's another thing to be aware of that when you are putting your hand up for leadership positions that you are taking on a certain level of responsibility, and I think it's very important to be aware of what that responsibility is, making sure you understand that appropriately and that you're aware of any consequences that might arise from that to both yourself and the organisation that you're representing.

Caroline Winter:

It certainly sounds like you've grown in your roles in a leadership position as many people do. Was there ever a feeling of impostor syndrome or did you back yourself the whole time?

Pru Cook:

I still have impostor syndrome all the time. All the time. I think, yeah, when you speak to a lot of people that it's the same. I've had some very good advice over the years though in one piece early on in my career was just because you're finding something easy doesn't mean that everybody else does, so latch onto that. And the other thing was as well too is say something with confidence and people will believe you. So there are a couple of bits that I latch on, but that impostor syndrome is absolutely rife and I still face it very regularly. I have it every day, even now, when people will ask me to take on a piece of work or step into a particular role, usually my first response is, "Oh I can't do that." It's the same with the VFF Grains Council. There will be someone better qualified. I don't think I'm up to it but I'm a lot better at going, "Okay," that's my automatic response. It's what my next response to that is that's going to be important.

Caroline Winter:

You've named some of these up already, but what attributes and skills do you think make a great leader and more specifically a great rural female leader in the agriculture space?

Pru Cook:

It depends on what the role is and also defining what works best for you as well too. From my perspective, I think authenticity is very important. In a chair, I really look for someone who's consultative and who's able to ensure that everyone around the table gets a good opportunity to have their say. I think being able to engage with and represent the people that you're there to represent is really important. So good stakeholder engagement, being able to talk to the people who are going to be affected by the decisions that you make. And I think good organisational skills and keeping to time and recognising that often people who are stepping into these roles are busy with modern work environments and family environments. It's harder and harder to get people to put their hand up, to volunteer for any position, whether it be at the local sports club right through to board levels.

Pru Cook:

And if people are going to put their hand up, you've got to make sure that it's worth their time. So I think to be able to stick to the timeframes and be able to deliver outcomes, I think that's really important. I talk to a lot of younger people who are interested in leadership and they say, look, if they're just talk fest, it wastes a lot of time. And it's usually evenings when I should be with the kids. If we haven't got those structures right, where people are going to be able to be efficient and get stuff done that drives positive change, then you're really going to struggle to engage the next gen of leaders, particularly in regional areas where there's so much stuff that needs to happen. A lot of it is relying on volunteers and volunteers are really stretched.

Caroline Winter:

Have you had any role models who were leaders that you've looked up to along the way? And if so, what was the most important thing you learned from them?

Pru Cook:

There's a lot of people that I look up to, and I think that's something that I'm really mindful of is to continually work with and surround myself with people who I want to learn from, whose leadership styles I admire but also recognising that that's a particular style, that elements of it may and may not work for me. So some of the things that I really have admired in some of the people that I still gravitate to throughout my whole career is the ability to understand your strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with people that compliment your skills and perhaps buffer you a bit in your weaknesses because nobody can be good at everything.

Pru Cook:

We often tend to want to surround ourselves with people who think and act like ourselves because that's familiar, there's less conflict, but when you can actually surround yourself with people who bolster you up in the areas that you're not particularly strong in, again, everyone gets a better result. There's broader representation, you're covering a lot more bases. So I think being open and honest about what you good at, what you're not so good at, and trying to surround yourself with people who can compliment you in the areas you're not so strong with is something that I've seen in some people that I look up to that I think is something that I admire.

Caroline Winter:

Now, you've been selected as part of the 2021 National Farmers Federation Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program, what's that all about? And what is it that you're looking forward to getting out of it?

Pru Cook:

The Diversity in Ag leadership Program is now I think this is the fourth year that it's been running and we've just recently had a two-day retreat, which was the first part of the program in Canberra. From that, we then have three months of intensive mentoring where we're paired up with an industry mentor. My mentor is Stephen Brown from Rural Bank, and then we finish up at the NFF conference in September. The premise behind this particular program is Fiona Simpson, who is the first female president of the National Farmers Federation realised that she also doesn't want to be the last female president of the National Farmers Federation. And so this program is about encouraging and facilitating more female leaders in agriculture. And I do believe NFF has set the target of having 50-50 female representation in Australian agriculture by 2030.

Pru Cook:

So that initial retreat that we had in Canberra, it was absolutely brilliant. We did some amazing workshops with a number of female leaders. A standout for me was with Cathy McGowan, who was talking to us about grassroots advocacy at a regional level, and also engaging with and influencing politics. And we got to spend some time at Parliament House meeting with politicians and meeting with a lot of public servants and discussing journeys into leadership, building personal brand. It was absolutely fantastic. I think the key things that I'm looking forward to taking away from the course, one is confidence and that comes to back to the question that you asked me about impostor syndrome. I think that's something that I'm always going to have to contend with, but having a few more skills in your back pocket and having heard from some amazing women can actually help put your hand up a little bit quicker, further down the track.

Pru Cook:

So confidence, networks, and I think I was just blown away in Canberra by how willing everybody was to help out in our journeys to strive for leadership within our communities and our industries. And that was not just the people that presented to us and that we met with but also the other women involved in the course. And the last thing that I'm looking for out of it is inspiration, and that was sort of coming through in spades. There's a women on the course from Broome down to Tasmania and everywhere in between who do some pretty amazing things in their sectors and in their communities and the people that we met with had some really amazing stories about what they've done and what they've overcome get into leadership positions. So I think confidence, networks, and inspiration are definitely things that I'm kind of take away from involvement in this program.

Caroline Winter:

If our listeners are looking at taking on a leadership role or have found themselves in a place of leadership for the first time, what piece of advice would you give them?

Pru Cook:

So be authentic, find a style of leadership that works for you, and don't feel like you have to do certain things that don't feel right to you just because you think that's the way that it should be done. And when you're going into a particular role, go in with these are the three things that I bring to the table, recognising that you don't have to know everything, and then also make sure you think about three things that you want to get out of being involved as well too and I think that's the bit that we often forget. You're often doing this because you want to get something out of it personally or for your community.

Pru Cook:

So for me, the three things that I usually go in with are, I want to be able to drive change and do innovative work, I want to be able to work with or alongside people who I can learn from, and I also want to build or maintain my industry profile. And don't be afraid to walk away if things aren't working for you as well, too, if your things aren't gelling with you. I mean, remember that your time is really important and you're often putting your hand up to do this stuff on top of your job, your family. Regional communities are really heavily reliant on volunteers. If stuff's not getting done or if it's not working out for you, don't be afraid to walk away.

Caroline Winter:

Pru Cook, you've given some great insights into being a rural female leader. Thanks for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Pru Cook:

My pleasure.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback. So please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian government, Melbourne.

Episode 2: Taking on the books and advocating for the dairy industry with Jess Knight

Speaker 3:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

A teenage girl who dreamed of being a farmer was then told by a school’s career advisor that girls don't do agriculture subjects at school. It sounds like the sort of guidance that was dished out in the times of black and white TV. However, for Jess Knight, she received this guidance at a regional school during the internet age, in the year 2000. Jess followed the advice, gave up her dream and went on to study law. Fate, though, sometimes plays a hand, and Jess is now firmly on the land and helping other young farmers in the industry. To find out about her unusual path and the skills she brings to running a farm, she joins me in the Ag Vic Talk studio. Jess, thanks for your time.

Jess Knight:

Oh, I'm happy to be here.

Drew Radford:

Jess, could you almost describe yourself as an accidental farmer? I get the impression that you wanted to be one, and then you went on another course, and now you are one.

Jess Knight:

Yep. That's exactly it. It was a running joke in my family, actually, that Jess would never marry a farmer, and that's where I ended up. So.

Drew Radford:

So, you grew up on a farm?

Jess Knight:

No. So I grew up in town. I had... My grandfather worked on a beef and sheep farm. My uncle was a dairy farmer, so I was from a really agriculture area, but yet grew up in town myself.

Drew Radford:

So you went off to study something entirely different?

Jess Knight:

Yeah. So I was always interested in agriculture. It was what I wanted to do at high school, and I was told by a careers advisor that, "No, girls don't do ag subjects. Go off and do something else. Work in an office." So, I ended up going to Melbourne and getting a law degree. Then in the last year of my law degree, which I was doing by correspondence, I met my husband and then decided, yeah, that going back to the city wasn't for me.

Drew Radford:

Jess, I have to ask. What year was it that you were told that girls don't do farming? You don't sound that old to me, so I'm just surprised that you were being told that.

Jess Knight:

I graduated in 2003. So yeah, it would have been when I was in about year 10. So yeah, not that long ago, but I think, in probably the past 15 years, things have changed a lot for girls in agriculture.

Drew Radford:

Well, I would hope so, and you're living proof that that's exactly the case. So you met your husband and he was from a farming background, but it wasn't a case of him just taking over the farm, was it?

Jess Knight:

No, definitely not. So he'd come from a farming background. His parents had a beef farm. And straight out of high school, he wanted to do agriculture. It was what his passion was. And he got an apprenticeship on a dairy farm and did all of his apprenticeship in that. And then he went overseas for a year in Canada and worked on some cropping farms and that over there. And then the year that he got home was the year that we met, and I'd actually been overseas doing exchange in Denmark. So, we'd both had our sort of travel and everything, and yeah, we met, and I think, within about a little over a year, we were married.

Drew Radford:

Yeah. He wanted to get his own farming operation, and so did you, but that's easier said than done for a young couple, though. It's not a cheap thing to do to get into a farm.

Jess Knight:

No. So he was working on a farm, managing a dairy farm, and we always wanted to buy our own farm. But yeah, the reality of that, of the amount of money that it takes to purchase a farm now, was just sort of something that we saw it as a bit of a pipe dream. And then the farm next to his parents was a dairy farm. And we just approached the owners one day and just said, "If you're ever interested in selling, let us know." And then probably about a month later, we heard back and they were like, "Yeah, we'd be interested in selling." And we were like, "Oh, okay, sure." So we went through all the process of hashing out all the details, and we were lucky that we had family support to go guarantors on our loans, so that we could actually purchase the property. Because, I think, without that family support and backing behind you, purchasing a farm these days is just, it's not reachable.

Drew Radford:

Jess, it's a very expensive thing to get into. But then you did get into it, and then you found, well, it's not just actually the physical side of operating the property and producing milk in your particular instance. There's a lot more involved, and that's where, I understand, you guys became a real team.

Jess Knight:

Yeah, definitely. I think we bought the farm, and we knew that it was going to be a lot of hard work and a lot of long hours and the physical practical side of it, and then we went, "Oh, there's all this behind the scenes stuff that needs to be done as well." And I think that just naturally fell to me. I was in the house. I had a two year old and a three month old at the time, so getting actually out on the farm each day wasn't much of a possibility. So yeah, doing the books just fell into my lap.

Drew Radford:

So, it's the business of running the business, essentially in some regards, isn't it?

Jess Knight:

Exactly. And I think that's something that, I guess, farming seen as just the everyday, out in the paddock, getting all those jobs done, but there's so much more to it on the business side that also is needed to make it run well.

Drew Radford:

So how did you throw yourself into this? I mean, it seems that you've really immersed yourself deeply into the administrative side, and there's a lot of software out there to help you these days, but it's a labyrinth.

Jess Knight:

It definitely is. So, for me it was... We picked an accountant that worked really well. We knew they had a good reputation with farmers, so, we went along with them. And I think I got about a half an hour introduction to how to use our accounting program. And from there, it was just learn-as-you-go type situation. So for me, it was a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls to our accountant going, "What am I meant to be doing here? How does this work? Where does this go?" And I think it was just that learn-as-you-go factor that made it work for me.

Drew Radford:

Well, you're obviously not a slouch. They don't generally just hand out law degrees, but accounting's a very different a domain, isn't it?

Jess Knight:

Yeah. I think finance was never my strong suit, but I've definitely, yeah, taken it on gung-ho and come out of it on the bright side, at least.

Drew Radford:

Developing a good relationship with your accountant seem to be first and foremost, and then really self-teaching, in particular, accounting side of it. Is it also about building a network around that? I understand you're involved in a lot of different groups.

Jess Knight:

Yeah. It's definitely about having people to talk to. And you'll be at something and someone will say, "Oh, look, I do it this way." And that's the definite case of it, that I think I've changed the way I've done my books just in the past six months, based on some information that a friend gave me and said, "Oh, look, I've been doing this. It cuts my time in half." So definitely, we're involved in a group that our accountant runs, and it's all young farmers like us. And we put all of our figures on the table every year, and we go through, and we look at it all and see how we can improve our finances.

Drew Radford:

So you're actively sharing all those, what some people would consider, quite intimate details with other primary producers?

Jess Knight:

Yes. Yeah. Yep. So yeah, I think it's what makes the group work is that everyone's honest and upfront, and we all want to see each other succeed. So, doing it this way, it just works.

Drew Radford:

That sounds like an amazing living classroom experience, really.

Jess Knight:

It definitely is, because, yeah, we'll have a focus farm each month, and we'll go over any issues that they're having or any plans that they're putting in place. We were the focus farm a couple of months ago, because we're just in the process of building a new dairy, and we took our facts and figures in and literally, they went through and picked through it with a fine tooth comb, put up every possible scenario that you could look at, and every problem with it. And yeah, it helped us, because it's not just us looking over it then. It's getting the different viewpoint of probably 10 different people.

Drew Radford:

That sounds like an amazing opportunity. That could also be a little bit scary too, though. Does it ever prevent you from making a decision?

Jess Knight:

Oh yeah, it's definitely scary. I think we got home after that session and just sat there a little bit shell shocked, to be honest, with some of the things that have been put at us that, "Well, what if this happens and what about the cost of this?" It does make you sit back and go, "Wow, are we doing the right thing here?" But I think in the end, if you don't look at all the possible scenarios, then you're not doing yourself any favors.

Drew Radford:

Have you learned in this particular process too, about the efficiencies of actually having good backend systems and the money you can save? And I imagine also identifying opportunities to save money out in the field.

Jess Knight:

Yeah, definitely. It's looking at your day-to-day procedures and saying, "Well, yeah, I can save things here," and getting ideas from other people that say, "Well, look, we implemented this, and it's really benefiting us." And yeah, it just opens that door to new ideas.

Drew Radford:

Jess, I understand you're not shying away from the concept of exposing yourself to new ideas, because you are now doing further study in this particular field.

Jess Knight:

Yeah. So, I'm, at the moment, completing a Masters of Agribusiness at Marcus Oldham. And yeah, my subject at the moment that I'm doing is Global Commodities, which is, yeah, very finance-based and a lot of learning, a lot of new terms and things to wrap my head around. But yeah, I think that I'm always someone who's looking to learn more and do more.

Drew Radford:

You talked about the group that you were tied up with through your accountant, but are there other groups you're part of as well that you use and draw upon and add to, to try and build your own experience?

Jess Knight:

Yeah. So locally, we've got the Young Dairy Network, so that's made up of all local young dairy farmers, and they hold events and information nights so that you can learn more about the industry. And it's a really good focus group for those young farmers who are looking to take the next step in their career. We've also got a Women In Dairy, which is really great to get out there and talk to other farmers' wives and other mums who are going through all the same things as you. And most of them take on the same role in the farm as me, so it's good to sit down and have a chat with people that are in the same place as you.

Jess Knight:

Then on a more wider scale, I'm a member of the Young Farmers Advisory Council, which is a fantastic group made up of young farmers from all across the state, all different agriculture industries. We meet with representatives from AgVic and other places, sometimes with the Minister for Agriculture, and just go over what issues young farmers are facing and what we can do to help them.

Drew Radford:

You're involved in an incredible amount, on top of being a young mum and having a dairy running in the background. Do you ever get five seconds to put your feet up?

Jess Knight:

I think that's just part of who I am, and I think my husband's very much the same, where we don't put our feet up much, but I think we work hard, and the time that we do get to ourselves, we enjoy probably more for having worked hard the rest of the time.

Drew Radford:

Jess, what advice would you give to anyone listening to this, who's about to, for want of a better description, take over the books?

Jess Knight:

I think it's that, no question's too silly to ask. You won't be the first one to have asked it, and you won't be the last.

Drew Radford:

Well, Jess Knight, you're certainly no slouch in terms of taking over the books and a whole range of things that you're involved with. Thank you very much for joining me today in the AgVic Talk studio.

Jess Knight:

Thank you for having me.

Speaker 3:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm. This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 1: Thinking of the big picture when it comes to farm safety with Sarah McLean

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Being knocked out by a kicking cow is dangerous enough as it is. Having it all happen while you're alone adds even more danger to it. Throw in being pregnant and also having your 18-month-old daughter playing on a rug outside the cattle yard would probably make most people stop and think about what is being prioritised on their farm.

Drew Radford:

G'day. I'm Drew Radford, and this was exactly the case for Sarah McLean. We caught up with Sarah in the first series of AgVic Talk, where we found out about her journey as a young farmer. It's a great story of persistence and can be found on the AgVic Talk website. Today, she's back in the studio to discuss the bigger picture, how putting your safety and health first is the most important thing you can do for your business.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, welcome back.

Sarah McLean:

Thanks Drew.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, you farm over a number of holdings. Where are they?

Sarah McLean:

The most of our land is down in a place near Drik Drik. So very far South West Victoria, but we also have a smaller property in Purnim, near Warrnambool.

Drew Radford:

You're kind of unusual, Sarah, because you and your husband have built these holdings up from scratch. They haven't been inheritances, so it's been a lot of hard work I understand.

Sarah McLean:

So we started off with 89 acres at Purnim. We saved hard and bought that and learned a lot of lessons along the way there. A couple of years later we bought some land down where the majority of our land is now in a place called Greenwald. And then we got some lease country and the business has built up over time from there.

Drew Radford:

You started from scratch essentially, but you did grow up on a farming property.

Sarah McLean:

Yeah, I did. So I'm actually a fifth generation farmer. So I grew up, as most country kids do, helping mum and dad out on the farm. I had a passion for horses and you always get the cattle in for them and it was just something I just always wanted to do. But I hadn't articulated I wanted to be a farmer. So I went away and studied psychology but always had in the back of my mind that I actually did want to be a farmer. And, I guess, having that career enabled me to save some money to then purchase that first property with my husband, Byron.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, the main focus of our conversation today is about farm safety. So you grew up on a farm, fifth generation. Do you remember safety being much of a focus as you were growing up?

Sarah McLean:

Oh, to be honest, not at all. We were sort of left to do our own thing. I'm sure in the background mum and dad were working to keep us safe, but it's not something that I would say I have really early memories of. I'm sure I rode my horse without helmets and we probably rode our bikes without helmets. And even the machinery back then, there's no cabins on tractors and things like that. And we used to ride the tractors around and all sorts of things that probably wouldn't fly these days.

Drew Radford:

You are juggling a lot. You got young kids going on, you're juggling properties around the place, plus a professional career. Has that led to you, when you're actually on your property, maybe not originally having safety as much of a focus as possibly it could have been?

Sarah McLean:

Yeah. And like, to be honest, there was a bit of a light bulb moment for me. So we bought that first property in Purnim and my husband was working overseas. As I said, we both worked pretty hard just to get our foot in the door and earn some money and buy that place. And I was heavily pregnant with my second child and my first child was about 18 months and she was playing on the outside of the yards as I was getting a heifer in that was having trouble calving. And, anyway, what happened was we had a really old crush that had no vet gate or anything, and I was trying to put a pole in behind the heifer so that I could put the calf pulley onto it. And she actually kicked the end of the pole as I was... Because I had to sort of bend down, because you can imagine I've got this massive belly, and get this fencing post in behind. And she kicked and it hit me under the chin. And I just got thrown back and probably very, very briefly got knocked out. And I sort of got up and dusted myself off.

Sarah McLean:

It really scared me. Not because I got knocked out in the cattle yards, because it's sort of like, yeah, you know, I was thinking, "Oh, this is not great when I'm pregnant," but I had my 18-month-old daughter outside the yards, playing. And that was a real moment because there's a creek probably only a hundred metres from where we were. And, while I was alert, I could just keep checking her and she'd had some toys there and I had a bottle there and she was quite happy doing what she was doing, and she didn't even notice what happened. But it really shook me up a bit and I just thought, "Hey, I've got to get better here." Because obviously if something happens to your children it just puts a whole new perspective on the importance of your own safety.

Drew Radford:

So was that really a moment of like, I've got to change things? Was it very quick or was it very, you walked away and went, "Oh yeah, what can we do better?"

Sarah McLean:

Yeah. It took time to think about getting better. And, I guess, being a new mum, it was sort of the first situation where I just went, "Oh gosh, that could have ended badly." I mean, nothing ended up badly. There was nothing that sort of happened out of it, but it's that I need to keep my kids safe, so therefore I need to be safe.

Sarah McLean:

So, I guess, now, my husband and I, we're always conscious and we've always got farm safety in mind with everything we do. So the first thing I did was obviously upgraded that cattle crush. So now I've got a vet gate. But that was a bit of a luxury in some ways, because, as you said, we're young farmers. We're saving all our dollars because obviously we've got cattle to buy, we've got land to buy, we've got all the tools and costs associated with running the farm. So you can't just, necessarily, buy new equipment all the time or have the latest gadgets and things like that for farm safety. So we've had to sort of think outside the box a bit in terms of how do we operate within our budget constraints and make things safer for ourselves and our kids.

Drew Radford:

So is there any structure that you put in place about making that actually happen then, Sarah? Is there procedure, planning, or is it just a constant reassessment?

Sarah McLean:

Yeah, so a bit of both. We had a bit of a think about what are the risk areas. And most of it is just changing practice and procedures and it just keeps evolving over time. So, for example, I've tried to up-skill in terms of being able to muster with dogs. So, say I was on a motorbike or four-wheeler. It makes it pretty hard to get cattle in, particularly if you have children with you. So I went and did a Neil McDonald school and getting increasingly confident with my dogs. And I'm lucky that my husband is quite confident working dogs and has some nice dogs. And so that means I can go out into the paddock and the dog's around and I just walk in front of the cattle and then there's no risk of me tipping a bike over, or having nowhere to put the children. Because I can either go on foot or I could go in the ute and everyone's safe.

Sarah McLean:

So it's all those little things. Mustering with dogs, for example, also has the added benefit in that it quietens or trains your cattle as well and they're used to seeing you on foot. So then when you get into the cattle yards, you're not working in their flight zone all the time. They're happy to see you and they're more well-trained to come off pressure and things like that. So it's little things that you don't actually initially go, "Wow, that's farm safety," but it actually is farm safety because, I guess, it's making your life easier and you're taking the risk out of it.

Drew Radford:

It sounds like a lot of common sense too, Sarah, but is there also a bit of planning about it as well. As I've mentioned, you've got a lot going on in your life. So is it about actually doing tasks and giving them enough time to do those tasks rather than trying to rush things?

Sarah McLean:

Yeah, a hundred percent. So it's allowing yourself time to do the job that you need to do. And, particularly with kids, I always pretty much double. If I think it's going to take an hour, I allow two. And sometimes it even takes three hours to do something. But you've always got to think about, if you're going to rush something, then things happen, mistakes happen. Say you're working cattle and you rush them. Because cattle know that you're in a rush, and all of a sudden they'll start getting stirred up as well.

Sarah McLean:

And you've got to manage fatigue. You can't be tired all the time and rush around from job to job.

Sarah McLean:

And I think, when you do rush, things actually end up taking longer. For example, if we buy cattle, my husband or I will spend some time with the cattle, making sure they have quietened down. And when I say quiet, I don't mean like we can go pat them. I just mean learning to come off pressure, not being upset if they see us on foot in the paddock, and things like that. So people say, "Well, I don't have time to spend that time with a cattle." And we'll even take them to the yards and just give them a dry run through the yards. By that, I mean we just take them to the yards and take our time and just let them walk through the yards so they know where to go. We don't process them in any way, so there's no injections, there's no pressure, and that's a positive experience for those cattle.

Sarah McLean:

And then you say, "Well, that takes so much time. Like, you know, that's going to be a half a day's work to put some cattle through." But then, the next time you yard them, those cattle are so much quieter, the job is so much quicker, and there's so much less frustration or potential for things to go wrong because the cattle are happy, you're happy, and everything works smoothly. And smooth tends to be quicker anyway. And then, every subsequent experience, the cattle have had a positive experience, so therefore things get quicker. You've got to be effective in what you're doing, and that trades off in the time that you spend in terms of preparation as well.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, have you come to the point in this process of perhaps realizing the most important asset on your property is you, and also your husband, and about protecting that? Is that probably the centre of all of this stuff?

Sarah McLean:

Yeah, I think it is the centre of everything. We have to enjoy our farming. And we know that farming is obviously one of the highest risk occupations, and we also know that farmers also tend to have poor mental health, maybe suffering often in silence and often not seeking treatment for different mental health conditions.

Sarah McLean:

And, I guess, people don't go, "Oh, farm safety, mental health," in the same conversation. They think, "Farm safety, I need a tractor guard or I need to have a cattle system where I'm working outside the yards," and all this sort of stuff. But, if you think of farm safety, I think mental health is one of the really most underrated aspects of that. Because, say you're anxious or you're stressed, then you're rushed and you take short cuts. Or, you don't pay attention and your mind's not on the job, you're not looking at your surroundings. Or, say you've got symptoms of depression, your thinking is actually slower, your reaction time's slower, you've got a lower frustration tolerance. Something might happen and then you become angry or you just don't think properly and then that's when accidents happen.

Sarah McLean:

So, I think looking after that enjoyment aspect of the farm is really, really important for safety. Most people just don't think about mental health and safety the same. They go, "Well, there's issues with mental health and there's issues with farm safety." But really the two are so intimately interconnected. So it really is about having, I guess, the mindset of the people in your farm in the right spot. And then I think you'd find that a lot of these accidents are avoidable or can be avoided.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, are there avenues that farmers should consider also about in terms of getting help for implementing further safety procedures on their properties?

Sarah McLean:

There's so many options that I can't really cover them all quickly, and it depends what you're looking for. So, obviously, if you're looking at infrastructure changes, there's all different industry specialists in that area. So, if you're looking at yards, you've got all your big companies that sell yard equipment and various products have various pros and cons. If you're looking at mental health, there's obviously lots of avenues for people to go and get help and usually starting with their GP to do that. So it really depends on what you want to do and having a think about it and having a plan. Like, for us, the dogs were sort of an obvious thing of, well, there's actually pretty inexpensive and once you do a few schools, you actually go, "Well, it's actually not that hard to train a dog." And it was something that I thought I'd never be good at, but if you get the right dog, they tend to read your mind anyway.

Sarah McLean:

So, I guess it's just looking on your farm and, whatever your budget constraint is, going, "Well, how is that spent?" Because I think about our farms, like we've got, I don't know, maybe four or five sets of cattle yards. For us to completely upgrade them to be state-of-the-art facilities where, say, we don't have to get in the yards with the cattle, the cost is completely prohibitive for us, and probably would be for most farmers when you think of the competing demands of finances and where else you can spend your money on a farm. And then you've got your tractors. You think, "Well, is everything guarded properly?" Say you've got a post driver. Well, the newer one's probably more safe than the old one, but can you afford to upgrade it?

Sarah McLean:

So it's really just about the farmer sitting down and having a bit of a plan and going, "Well, what can we do?" And some things don't even cost money that you can just do, like allowing yourself more time, working out where you're wasting time so then you've got more time to do some important things, and thinking outside the square and realizing that farm safety, if it's in the front of your mind all the time, you can do things a little bit safer, or a little bit slower, or a little bit more enjoyable.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, I really liked the fact that you keep on harking back to the point of enjoying your farm. That seems to be very central to all the work that you're doing and a great foundation for building safe practices around that. Sarah McLean, thank you very much for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio today.

Sarah McLean:

Thank you very much, Drew. It was a pleasure to speak with you again.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm. This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Introduction with Mary-Anne Thomas, Minister for Agriculture

Hello and welcome. ​

​I’m Mary-Anne Thomas – Minister for Agriculture. I’m excited to bring you season 2 of the AgVic Talk podcast series.

​Victoria’s farmers, agribusinesses and surrounding communities are an integral part of our way of life. They feed us, clothe us and export our products to the world. Agriculture creates essential jobs in our regions and supports the productive management of our landscapes. ​

​This season of the AgVic Talk podcast series will highlight personal stories of people who have overcome challenges they face every day. We will hear from rural women, young farmers, people from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds and agricultural communities, on how they recover, grow, modernise, protect, and promote Victorian agriculture. ​

​As outlined in our Agriculture strategy for Victoria, our government is committed to positioning the industry as a career of choice and build its reputation for workplace excellence. We will hear firsthand through this series how rural communities are preparing for the future and challenges of climate change, how young farmers are building careers in agriculture and the importance of safety on-farm. Through these stories we are shaping the story of the agriculture industry – one that is strong, innovative and sustainable.

​For more episodes, subscribe to our podcast. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment and share this series with your friends and family.​ Thank you

Season one:

Episode 13: Pasture management in autumn post fire

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

To sow or not to sow pasture? That's the question some producers are facing this autumn following recent fires. There are a number of variables to consider, and to weigh them up, I'm joined in the studio by Agriculture Victoria livestock extension officer, Fiona Baker. Fiona, thanks for your time.

Fiona Baker:

Not a problem.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, do pastures generally need to be resown after a fire, or does it come down to the intensity of the fire, or is it even more complicated than that?

Fiona Baker:

It generally comes down to the intensity of the burn in particular as well as the species that are in the pasture at the time. So, when we're looking at a cool to moderate burn, we find that the fire just essentially rushes across the surface of the pasture. It burns those plants, but it tends to only burn the top of those plants and not the root material. Whereas, if we get a really hot burn, it can actually burn the entire part of the plant and burn into the soil and kill them. So, when that happens, we may actually need to resow those pastures. Also, if a pasture is less than 12 months old, so the producer may have resown it the previous autumn for one reason or another. If it's less than 12 months old, often that root system's not strong enough for those plants to recover even after a cool to moderate burn, so it may actually need resowing in that case.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, you explained that really, really well, but I assume there's got to be an assessment process from the producer actually getting out in the paddocks and determining, well, okay, it was quite intense in this paddock but not as much in the other paddock. What's involved?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So, the first thing they should do is go out and have a look at those different pastures. Some of the pastures depends on ... Different paddocks may have different species in them, so have a look at a couple of different paddocks, and have a look to see if there are any pasture plants present. Even if they look dead from being burnt, try what we call the pluck test, which is just grabbing hold of one of those remnant pieces of grass and seeing if that plant holds into the ground. If they hold into the ground, they're likely to still be alive and may recover when the rainfalls come.

Fiona Baker:

The other thing they can look at is they can do a water can test. So, that's taking a water can out every couple of days and pouring that sort of 10 to 12 litres in roughly a square metre area in that same spot, and just see what comes back after about a fortnight. That can give you an idea whether anything's going to regrow or not.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, it sounds like producers require a bit of a scientific approach to this though. I would assume you just can't go and stop once in a paddock and then go to the next one. I assume you got to sort of map it out and plan it out because it would vary from location to location. Wouldn't it?

Fiona Baker:

Yeah. So, when you do the water can test, we'd recommend doing it in the same spot. So, if you're going to choose maybe just two paddocks, you can do it in just one paddock if you want to see what's coming back, but if you choose two paddocks, I normally recommend putting a steel picket or an electric fence tread-in in the paddock where you're doing that so that you know to go back to that same spot each time to use the water to keep that area moist. Basically, we're providing the moisture for those plants to recover, simulating what it might be like if the rain actually falls.

Drew Radford:

What about that pluck test though? I would assume you'd have to map out across paddocks for that, or is it a similar scenario?

Fiona Baker:

No, that one you can just do randomly across a paddock. So, you only really need to do that once. So, post the fire, just go across the paddock, and you can do it in a couple of areas across the paddock. If you see a change in how intense that fire burnt, you might be able to see a change in the soil color, going from a sort of a brownish burn to a really dark black burn. That can tell you that the brownish area was a cool to moderate burn, and the real black area was a more intense burn. If you do find any plant material still in that blackish, really black colored area, do a pluck test in there as well just to see the difference between those areas because in the really badly burnt areas, if there is any remnant pasture material, it might just easily pull out. That really does indicate those pasture plants are dead, and that paddock will need to be resown or just that area might need to be resown.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, what about protecting the paddocks post fire? What are the things that producers need to consider?

Fiona Baker:

Yeah. That's a really good question, Drew. We often recommend putting, particularly if people have got a stock containment area, putting any livestock that you do still have on hand in those stock containment areas and fully feeding them with hay or silage, grains or pellets until those pastures have reached an ideal leaf stage while they're trying to recover. So, when we're talking about an ideal leaf stage, basically, we've got to wait until the rain comes to give that moisture for those plants to start to regrow and regenerate, but the ideal leaf stage for things like ryegrass are three leaves. So, once that individual plant has three leaves on it, it's ready for a graze. Cocksfoot and Phalaris are four to five leaves before they're ready for a graze. Then, when you do graze, and we recommend an on and off grazing system to minimise any back-grazing or re-grazing before that plant has rested and recovered and back to that ideal leaf stage. This helps to maximize that root growth, and it helps to ensure that they begin to thrive a lot quicker.

Fiona Baker:

Then, the other thing we want people to think about is that weeds recover really quickly, but if there's little grass present and we're not be able to resow right away, we recommend that people don't spray out those weeds as they're providing really valuable ground cover and preventing that soil from blowing or washing away. We recommend that they tackle them later when they're able to ensure a more productive species can take their place because often, the first thing that they need to do is get those fences back up so that they can get those stock out to graze properly.

Fiona Baker:

So, first and foremost, if you have a stock containment area, try and hold those animals in that stock containment area, but if you don't have a stock containment area and you do have a paddock that hasn't been burnt or only had a very minor burn go across it and the fences are still intact, you can hold those animals in that paddock. We call those a sacrifice paddock. Again, you'd be fully feeding those animals to try and give those recovering pastures as much of a chance as possible to get that leaf and those root systems up and running again.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, you've gone through some steps there to try and determine whether I should resow or whether it's going to recover, but is there also a bit of a halfway house with this too? It might take off, but it might not take off.

Fiona Baker:

Yeah, most definitely. So, when those rainfalls come, we can see a little flush of growth happening, but some of what we thought may actually recover may have actually died in that process between the fire and actually waiting for the rainfall events to happen. So, once the rains have come, I'd generally wait two to three weeks and go back across those paddocks and re-assess again what they actually look like. Is there clover germinating because clover seed may have actually survived the fire, and particularly what we call subterranean clover. It's an annual clover, so it normally germinates in autumn and gets up and gets going. So, is that actually filling in some of the blank spaces now that the rains have come? So, go across your paddocks, and look and see if there's above 70% desirable species. That might be your ryegrasses, Cocksfoots, Phalaris and your clovers, or it might be in your native pastures. We see those native pastures recover quite quickly from fire, and they usually recover a lot better than introduced species.

Fiona Baker:

So, if there's more than 70% of those desirable species, then you won't need to resow. They'll be able to thicken up over time, but if it's below 50%, reseeding will actually improve yields and that feed value on offer for stock. So, definitely, if it's below 70%, you might need to think about it, but if it is below 50% of desirable species, you probably should resow.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, then that begs the question, when should you resow if you have fallen below those levels that you just outlined?

Fiona Baker:

Yeah. It's an interesting one. A lot of people think you have to go in and sow straight away. What we often say to people, it depends on what stock you have on hand at the time. It depends on the conditions that have led up to that fire. So, in East Gippsland with recent fires, they had a drought leading up to those fires. So, stock numbers were already lower than they generally would be in normal conditions. Then, the fires came, and a lot of stock went off on agistment if they weren't unfortunately lost. So, there are a lot of people who actually didn't need feed straight away, so they could actually wait and start to plan for a resowing.

Fiona Baker:

So, a lot of people opted to wait till autumn the following year. Some also thought about the spring that was of that particular year the fire was in. So, you've got the option in spring. If you're starting to get more pasture growth happening naturally plus you want to bring some more stock back on, then you've got the option of doing a late spring sowing for summer fodder crops to get that extra feed. So, fodder crops are things like chicory, turnips, and brassicas and they'll grow over that summer period, whereas pastures may struggle to get up and get going. So, you have those growing over the summer, and then come autumn, you can spray those out, and put your permanent pasture in.

Fiona Baker:

If you don't need that feed over that spring and summer period, you can always wait for that following autumn after the fires before you resow those pastures. The worst thing you can do is resow pastures and then not have animals to consume that feed that you've just spent a lot of money on getting into the ground. So, try and match your resowing with bringing stock back onto the place or when you think you're going to bring stock back onto the property.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, if farmers are in a position to cut fodder, what do they need to remember?

Fiona Baker:

Yeah. So, one option is that pastures can recover quite quickly after a fire, and you may not have the stock to consume those pastures. So, got this great opportunity to build up that feed reserve, feed bank by cutting silage or hay or something along those lines. So, what you need to think about is if you do have any stock on the property, how much fodder can I actually cut? So, think about how much those stock will need to eat as a mob per day, and divide it by what the growth rate of that pasture is. That will give you how much area that you actually need for those stock for their fodder requirements. If you subtract that away from the total area that you've got available, that tells you how much you can cut.

Fiona Baker:

When you do cut fodder, one thing you do need to think about though is replacing any nutrients that you take off the property because when we cut hay and silage, it removes quite a lot of phosphorus, potassium and sulfur out of the system. Those pastures are already been hit hard by the fire and are struggling to recover. So, we've got to look after them as much as possible. So, if you do cut hay or silage off any of those pastures and remove it out of the system and don't feed it back within a couple of months onto those particular pastures that you cut it from, make sure you put that nutrient back. If you contact your local Agriculture Victoria livestock officer, we can help you calculate how much nutrient you need to put back onto those pastures based on how much fodder you actually cut off those areas.

Drew Radford:

Agriculture Victoria Livestock Extension Officer, Fiona Baker, thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio today.

Fiona Baker:

Not a problem, Drew. It's my pleasure.

Drew Radford:

If you are looking for further information about fire recovery, pastures and feeding livestock, the Agriculture Victoria website contains information on fire recovery support, including a recovery after fires booklet. The feeding livestock website is another great source, as well as the MLA website.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 12: Improved production and efficiency, with Peter Morrish

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Water. It's a valuable commodity, and when you're a horticulturalist paying literally for every drop. You want to make sure that each one counts. G’day I am Drew Radford, and this is something that's very much on the mind of Peter Morrish. Who's the development and water manager for Southern Cross Farms. Peter oversees irrigation on some two and a half thousand hectares. If that's not enough, that's spread over multiple farms across three states. Therefore, making sure that all of his team is up to speed on the best and latest irrigation practices is important. So he turned to Agriculture Victoria for a hand to find out what was involved and gained, Peter joins us for this AgVic Talk Podcast. Thanks for your time.

Peter Morrish:

Thank you for having me.

Drew Radford:

Peter you deal with a lot of irrigation these days, but that's not where your farming career started is it?

Peter Morrish:

Now I actually grew up on a wheat and sheep farm in the broadacre area of the Mallee, north-west Victoria.

Drew Radford:

That's quite a bit different from what you're currently doing now. What do you look after now?

Peter Morrish:

Right at the moment looking after about two-and a-half thousand hectares of horticulture incorporating, citrus, wine grapes, avocados, almonds, and a few mango trees.

Drew Radford:

That's a lot of horticulture Peter, and I understand it's not just one property.

Peter Morrish:

No, we've got approximately 20 properties across three states that we oversee from our head office in Mildura, which quite difficult under COVID-19 times, traveling across borders. But that's where it's important. The staff are very well trained on farm.

Drew Radford:

You've got all these staff dealing with these different properties. And I assume with all of those properties, you've got different water licences as well.

Peter Morrish:

Deal across about 10 different water zones and water licence types. So it's very important that we were on top of those markets for those owners and investors in those properties. Water's a huge input and a significant cost during different times of the year. So it's important. We keep a close on that and use the water to the best that we can use it on farm.

Drew Radford:

Every drop kind of counts?

Peter Morrish:

Correctly. You definitely want to maximize the inputs so we can get the best returns for those investors.

Drew Radford:

So Peter that sounds easier said than done because spread over that area with that number of staff, how have you gone about making sure that all your property managers are up to speed with the latest technology and processes? In terms of irrigation?

Peter Morrish:

We have a range of systems, some ranging up to 30 years of age on farms. So it's very important for us. We started to see some degradation of drip lines and some of the systems therefore incorporated the training day for all our farm staff. One of those staff hadn't necessarily had formal training when they'd moved into the irrigation side of the farm management and making sure that by doing the training that they are up to date with the latest information on the dripper of maintenance, checking the system, ensuring the pressures are all correct and operating to the most efficient operations that we can get.

Drew Radford:

Peter, it wasn't just a training course that you developed yourself that was it?

Peter Morrish:

No, we worked through a Vic Ag in this process. We'd have to work closely with the researchers and the extension staff with the department to ensure that the latest information is being presented to our farm staff so that I can uptake that and go with it.

Drew Radford:

So what sort of things were learnt then at the workshop?

Peter Morrish:

The main point of the workshop and what was really stressed was the maintenance of the system and the regular cleaning of the system. And how to measure how the systems going at the different times with a lot of these properties that were managing the irrigation system can be 30 years old. The drip tubes probably been replaced two or three times. We want to maximize the life of that drip tube. And the maintenance is extremely important. The regular flushing and cleaning to ensure that the water and fertiliser that is applied through fertigation is applied correctly to the points.

Drew Radford:

So nothing's consistent though, across any of these properties. Is it the principles you learned that are transferrable?

Peter Morrish:

Absolutely. And that's the important part also is that we do have staff that shift and are promoted between properties at different times. And we want to ensure that the systems approach is the same in terms of how they treat and manage those systems going forward, even though they may be different setups overall, in terms of measuring the efficiency and making sure the system is working effectively is very important.

Drew Radford:

How is this translated to how things are run on the properties now?

Peter Morrish:

We have a more regular maintenance program put in place we are flushing the system more regularly. Even to the extent of incorporating flushing manifolds on the property so that the maintenance can be done a lot more quickly using less labour. So the additional cost of the installation is we've saved in terms of the labour component of the regular flushing of the system we've even replaced some of the drip line that we found were inefficient. So renewing that dripper line to ensure that were covering all the plants and in that particular valve that is being irrigated.

Drew Radford:

Peter also in regards to some of these practice changes that you put in place, now you also looking at actually how the plants are transpiring and impacting on your water usage.

Peter Morrish:

Yeah. Traditional use of monitoring water use in plants is the evapotranspiration transpiration. So that's the moisture that's expired out of a plant during the daily periods. So we are forecasting that on a weekly basis, more regularly now. Providing that information to the farm managers, along with their checks out in the field and their monitoring systems that they've got in place, so that we're using as many tools as we can to predict the water use of the needs of the plants, to keep them in a stress-free state as possible.

Drew Radford:

Have you been able to calculate some sort of saving to the enterprise from this sort of work?

Peter Morrish:

It's not so much a saving to the operation. It's improved production and efficiency of the operation. So we're to better utilise staff in other areas of the farm rather than specifically flashing drip tubes, where ensuring that we're maximising every drop of water that's going on the farm and into production.

Drew Radford:

Particularly important with high flows coming down the river system at the moment because the river is somewhat more turgent at the moment.

Peter Morrish:

Absolutely. Yes. The importance of the filtration systems at the start of their pumping right through to the infield filters. Ensuring all our pressures and back flusher are working correctly so that we go to as clean of water going through. And at the same time we're also injecting fertiliser through our water system. So we want as clean a water as possible to enable the trees to take that fertiliser up with the water.

Drew Radford:

Peter. It sounds like a significant advance for your enterprise. What would you say to other farmers who work in irrigation and thinking about pursuing this workshop?

Peter Morrish:

I think it's very important for it to be regularly trained and updated on the latest information that's available. As I mentioned, we have a range of staff from green farmhands or right through to long-time farm managers. Then they all got something out of the workshop and that's the important part is they've all got something in the maybe slightly, a little bit different, but at least up with the latest information and ensuring what they've been doing on farm is the best practice are they utilising.

Drew Radford:

Peter you have a very big job spread over three states and some two and a half thousand hectares, making sure that every drop counts. Peter Morrish from Southern cross farms. Thanks for joining us for this AgVic Talk Podcast.

Peter Morrish:

Thank you very much.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk for more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback. So please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 11: Balancing location, variability and optimum capacity with Brett Findlay

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Managing a dairy of 400 head is a big enough task in itself. However, it becomes even more so when you're in a location that makes it too expensive to freight feed in. So you have to grow everything yourself. A location that also sees your property split in two by river. That's the life of Brett Findlay, who's a dairy farmer near Corryong, in the Northeast of Victoria. And he joins me in the AgVic Talk studio. Brett, thanks for your time.

Brett Findlay:

It's a pleasure to be here Drew.

Drew Radford:

Brett, you farm on a unique property. You're near Corryong, but you actually straddle the border, I understand.

Brett Findlay:

That's right. Yes.

Drew Radford:

How does that work?

Brett Findlay:

Most of the time, it's not a big issue. The New South Wales part of the property is effectively a little piece of Victoria that just pokes out across the river. During the COVID lock downs it has been quite interesting dealing with that. At one stage, technically we had to pick which staff member could go and get the cows in, in the afternoon. Because, not everyone was allowed across the border.

Drew Radford:

The fact that the border is a river is problematic unless you've got a bridge, surely?

Brett Findlay:

Yes, we built a bridge back in 1996 and that was money well spent. Otherwise, it would be quite difficult to utilise that country across in New South Wales for grazing on a regular basis.

Drew Radford:

Brett, dairying is in your blood. Your dad was a dairy farmer, was this his piece of land to start with?

Brett Findlay:

My great, great Grandfather actually bought "Towong Run", which was all the Victorian side of our valley, back in 1860. But then the family lost the place and my great Grandfather retained a chunk of it next door to where we farm now. My Grandfather bought the original block in 1939, it was an ex soldier settler block from World War I. And then during Dad's time on the farm, he was a pretty aggressive purchaser of land. And he built up about 400 acres, about 160 hectares at home where we milk. And another 900 acres on the other side of Corryong, which we use as an out paddock area.

Drew Radford:

That's a remarkable family history in that area, and being like most farmers, you've probably got fairly detailed weather records that date back, do you?

Brett Findlay:

Reasonably, yes.

Drew Radford:

Are they the sorts of things you occasionally glance at and say, "Well, it's not quite like what we used to get."?

Brett Findlay:

Where we are here, we get a fair bit of variability, both between and within seasons. So it is part and parcel of managing a farm in the Northeast that you've got to be prepared for things to be good or bad and, and farm accordingly.

Drew Radford:

We'll drill down into that a little bit more in a moment, Brett. But the dairy property you have, how many are you milking to start with?

Brett Findlay:

We regard 380 as about Par. So we've actually got a few more in, we're just over 400 at the moment. Generally, about 380 is about optimum numbers.

Drew Radford:

From what I understand, you're very focused on producing your own fodder.

Brett Findlay:

That's probably a typical Northeast trait. We like to be pretty self-sufficient in forage. We're a long way from most places and truck drivers don't generally like driving over the big hills, they charge us extra. So yes, the more self-sufficient we can be in forage, the better off we are.

Drew Radford:

Brett, is irrigation a very important part of making sure that you're able to produce that feed?

Brett Findlay:

We have a small amount of irrigation, we get a pivot that irrigates about 40 hectares and traveling irrigators that do about another 25. But the majority of the farm is rain fed and we can't irrigate it.

Drew Radford:

Growing as much as you can, whenever you can. But what about storing it? It is silage part of the process for you?

Brett Findlay:

We make a lot of silage. We tend to do round bales, mostly because the majority of my silage is made on the out paddock area and carted 20kms home to feed to the dairy herd. We've played around with pit silage, but transporting it is very problematic and the bales just work better for us. The downside there is we've got a limit on our storage time. We can only store for about two years. We have, on occasion, buried round bales in pits. The country on the out paddock is not very good for pits. It's decomposed granite country and they leak very badly. So, you're only going to get pretty degraded fibre out of the pits. But if you're in the middle of a drought and fibre prices have gone through the roof, you're paying through the nose for hay, it's worth having it.

Drew Radford:

Brett, if you're trying to grow as much as you can, I imagine nitrogen is pretty important to your farming process.

Brett Findlay:

Absolutely. We find nitrogen gives us very good value. I've always been an aggressive seeker of information and a lot of the time you find stuff that's interesting. And other times it's like, "Yes, well I've heard this before." And then occasionally someone's lips will open and some nugget will drop out. And I can vividly remember our consultant saying to us, "Why do you use all the nitrogen in the Spring? Why don't you use it through the Winter and grow the grass and feed it directly?" And that was probably one of the big steps forward we made during the farming career. Is we're probably less inclined to use nitrogen to grow more silage. We're trying to grow more grass through that... If we've got moisture and we've got a chance to grow some grass, let's give it every chance to grow, by providing it with some nitrogen.

Drew Radford:

Brett, you said you're an aggressive seeker of information. I was reading through one of the case studies that was done with you. And I was actually quite surprised at the list of apps you are constantly trolling through to seek weather information.

Brett Findlay:

Most of our profit is derived from growing grass and getting it down a cows throat, turning into milk. That's the most profitable thing we can do on our farm. So reading the weather and working with the weather and making the best use of the conditions is a big part of that. So, yes when I open my browser, most of the favorites in the bookmark bar are weather sites and I'm on there on a virtually daily basis. Watching what's going on and trying to pick, do I need to order some more nitrogen? We get most of our nitrogen in 8 tonne bins. So there's a bit of planning ahead. You need to ring up a few days in advance and make sure it's there on farm when you need to be putting it out.

Drew Radford:

You mentioned earlier, increasingly trying to manage around more frequent dry seasons or more extreme dry seasons. So I imagine nitrogen and growing as much as you can is part of that, but what else are you doing to try and do with that Brett?

Brett Findlay:

Plenty of silage, for those times when we just can’t grow it. We also feed a fair bit of grain in the bale to the dairy cows, it's variable. We tend to peak during the Winter when we've got large numbers in and growths slow. Between grain and silage, irrigation gives us another string to our bow. Particularly early in the Autumn, if we can get pastures up and running or keep them running through the Summer and have them ready to go in the Autumn. The other thing we do is... I always like to know what the next group of culls are. If I've got to sell 20 cows, which ones are they? We herd test 7 or 8 times a year. I like to know, they're the next group that are probably not quite there yet. We've got grass and we can keep feeding them, well good. But if things start to tighten up, they'd be the first ones to go. And after that... When you sell those, you start looking for the next lot.

Drew Radford:

Brett, you said irrigation is not a huge component, but you do, do a bit. And I understand that's quite a bit of work that's actually involved in making that work for you. Are you're looking at trying to change your irrigation set up to be more effective and less work involved?

Brett Findlay:

The topography limits our options for irrigating. So the pivots are very time efficient. I can irrigate for the day in about 20 minutes. Drive over there, start it, stops on a timer. If I want to do more, the traveling irrigators I can put on probably not quite enough water for a great deal of work. And we've been looking at changing that system, perhaps to fixed or big gun sprinklers. So they fixed risers with movable heads. There's a fairly significant capital outlay in that. And also a fair bit of time involved in doing it. We've been meaning to do that project for the last two Summers. And with the fires last year, and then this year we get caught up with a project at the dairy and there's only so much you can manage to do in the off season. So it hasn't quite happened yet.

Drew Radford:

Brett, you mentioned the fires there. Obviously, a traumatic thing to go through, that's an understatement and you had experienced some losses, but has that brought any changes to the way you're running the property?

Brett Findlay:

Probably not a whole lot. One thing we did see back in the millennium drought years. 2006 -2007, was a really bad year for us. And I saw some farmers who, for the next 10 years or so, they farmed for 2006. But we never had that season again. So you've got to take into account your farm for average conditions and then you have a plan for dealing with the variations on that. So the bush fire was quite traumatic and disruptive, but it's 56 years or something since it happened last time, it may be less time until it happens again. But from a management point of view, there's a limited amount we can do to protect ourselves against that.

Drew Radford:

Brett, you made a really good point there about farming for previous conditions. You talked about herd management there and looking at culling and also trying to keep your feed up to as great an extent as you can. But is there anything else that you're constantly keeping an eye on to try and be that step ahead, rather than managing for the year that's been?

Brett Findlay:

I try and keep an eye on what's going on with markets and what the price is likely to be. That's obviously a factor in the economics of producing marginal milk and more milk from supplementary food. We've tried to refine our system to work, as well as we can get it to work, with the conditions that we generally face.

Brett Findlay:

As a species where we're inclined to look at maximum settings as being the best thing, but actually on a farm what you're looking for is optimum settings. What's about the right cow number? What's about the right feeding rate? Let's sit somewhere there and then move a little bit, depending on the conditions. If we've got a low milk price and high feed inputs, we'll probably milk a few less cows. Get rid of those choppers a bit earlier. What we've seen in the last couple of years is probably the opposite, where we've got good seasonal conditions, relatively low grain prices and a good milk price.

Brett Findlay:

Last Spring, after the fires, we'd lost a few cows with mastitis and various things, through the disruption of the fires. And we did look pretty hard at buying some cows, but we figured by the time we got them into the herd and up and running, we probably weren't going to see a lot of benefits. And we had a lot of heifers coming in this Autumn. So we knew we'd be back up to the numbers by now. We suffered a little bit for production for that reason through last Spring, but we thought it was the best choice to make under the circumstances.

Drew Radford:

Brett, I do understand one of the things the fires did bring into focus was electricity, power management. You were without power for a while, and running a dairy and dealing with 400 cows, power is pretty important I would imagine.

Brett Findlay:

That was a bit of a challenge. Even though we have two of the largest power stations in Australia, just over the hill. Literally just in the next valley and the next valley over after that, Murray 1 and Murray 2. So even though we're quite close to those power stations, we have no direct connection with them. We're on the end of a long transmission line, so blackouts are a bit of a feature of life up here. Most people have got a generator at the dairy for backup power. So yes, that proved to be really crucial during the fires. We had 13 days without power and there were people who went for twice that long. The house was less well set up. So yeah, we have looked at our options. We're looking at solar and a Tesla battery on the house. But the Chief Financial Officer is not overly excited by that project yet. So we haven't quite got that one up and running.

Drew Radford:

Longer term then Brett, are you're looking at renewables just for the house? Or would that be something you would consider across the operation, or is that just too big a scale at this point?

Brett Findlay:

One of our dilemmas is power for the irrigation. So that consumes quite a lot of power. The problem is, with spray irrigation, the time when you're going to generate the most power is also the least efficient time to be actually utilising that for irrigation. The heat of the afternoon, when you've got high evaporation rates. That's the dilemma. And the moment... Battery capacity is quite expensive, you're looking at about a $1,000 a kilowatt hour. Generating the power, storing it, and then utilising it overnight is not really economic. Houses are relatively straightforward, they don't use that much electricity in the scheme of things. It's those bigger scale, the irrigation. And if we're moving to a carbon neutral future, how we provide that mobile power for tractors and vehicles, that's probably one of our bigger dilemmas.

Drew Radford:

Looking down the road to the future, do you see any major differences to the way you're running things now say compared to maybe in 10 years’ time?

Brett Findlay:

It's a case of taking it as it comes. We'd like to think that we're going to give our kids a chance to take over the farm one day. But my wife and I met relatively late in life, so we're facing that issue of a fairly large intergenerational gap. And we're becoming more dependent on employed labor, which is not ideal. That's something we've got to face in the future, I'm not sure what we're going to do, going down that path.

Drew Radford:

That sounds like a difficult thing that you're managing is as you get older and working out where the farm is actually going. What would you like to see though in terms of production on the property? Do you see any greater changes in, you mentioned carbon neutrality, but there seems to be a long way to go there and you're also focusing on even planting more trees just to try and provide more shade I understand?

Brett Findlay:

The trees are a work in progress, we'd probably like to plant more than we have so far, but that's one thing that I look at when we're looking at carbon neutrality. Access to that technology to get us from where we are now, to being carbon neutral. The path ahead is not always clear as to how that's all going to fit together. In terms of productivity, we've sort of reached that steady state. We've been running for about the last 8 years on a pretty similar level of production.

Brett Findlay:

We had an interesting experience about 15 years ago, we had the opportunity to join a discussion group, about a 100kms away, that was very long established. They had been meeting every 2 months over a period of perhaps 20 years. So they had a very good idea of how their farms ran physically, but they also did business analysis, so they understood one another's farms, physically and financially.

Brett Findlay:

We pretty quickly saw the similarities, they'd worked at what worked for conditions that were similar to ours. Trying to get as much grass down the cows throat as possible. We aim about 3 tonnes of dry matter per cow, per year. About 2 tonnes of grain and a tonne of dry matter of silage. And that produces high 500 kilos per cow. By running a modest stocking rate and not pushing too hard and having a reasonably high level per cow production, you've got the ability there to absorb bad seasons. You can always... You're not pushing the limit on cow numbers. You can take a bit of a hit for a per cow production without really disrupting the system too much. That showed us where we could go and move more towards that model over time.

Drew Radford:

Brett Findlay, you've done a remarkable job there building the property to where it is. And I really liked the description of optimum capacity. All the best for the road ahead and thank you for your time in joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Brett Findlay:

No worries Drew.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant, before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria. Authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 10: Challenging seasons drive on-farm change with Chris Nixon

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

What do you do when the land your family has been farming for generations, is hit by the longest drought on record? It was something Chris Nixon was forced to confront when his reliable country in East Gippsland recently experienced a prolonged drought, which also included their driest year on record. To find out how he dealt with it, and the long-term changes it's brought for running the property, he joins me in the AgVic Talk's studio. Chris, thanks for your time.

Chris Nixon:

My pleasure, Drew. I hope we enjoy the talk.

Drew Radford:

I have absolutely no doubt we will, Chris. Now, first of all, describe where do you farm?

Chris Nixon:

I farm on the Snowy River flats in Orbost, in far East Gippsland. So we're about 400, not quite 400 kms from Melbourne towards Mallacoota.

Drew Radford:

So, I could imagine that would be pretty much prime country really, wouldn't it?

Chris Nixon:

The Snowy River flats is considered the third most fertile river flats in the world behind the Amazon and the Nile Delta, so it's pretty spectacular, but unfortunately there's not much of it. So, very tightly held in the district, but we're not far from the coast. We're only four kms from the coast and the mountains are behind us. So, surrounded by national parks, we're in a beautiful end of the world.

Drew Radford:

Now you said they're very tightly held. I understand your family's got a long history in that region.

Chris Nixon:

Yes, we settled here in the 1880s, so we've been here a very long time. I'm the fifth generation and it looks like I've got the sixth generation coming behind me.

Drew Radford:

And Chris, mainly dairy, or is it a combination for you?

Chris Nixon:

We run 500 dairy cows, milk 500 dairy cows, but we also have a substantial beef holding, which we run on behalf of my family and my wife's family. The beef operations is about four times the size of the dairy.

Drew Radford:

So in regards to the dairy then, Chris, in that part of the world, are you able to grow most of your feed?

Chris Nixon:

The only feed we do not grow, except for times of drought, and we've had plenty of those in the last few years, is grain. We import all our grain. Freight costs are horrendous. It's 50 or 60 bucks from Melbourne and depending how far it's come to get to Melbourne, it's a lot of money. But we grow all our own silage. We grow a lot of maize silage, grass silage, oaten silage and we are pretty well self-sufficient in silage and hay in most years, other than drought years.

Drew Radford:

I want to drill down into that silage stuff in a minute. But you mentioned, you grow it, except in drought years. You have had pretty much three tough years, haven't you? Some of the worst on record, if not the worst.

Chris Nixon:

Definitely one of the longest droughts on record and the first year was the driest year on record. We only had 400 mm of rain for the entire year. In a normal year, we get 800 mm of rain. So it was nearly three and a half years before it started raining in March, April last year. So yeah, very tough period of time.

Drew Radford:

That sounds like a great understatement, Chris. So how do you then go about managing that? If buying feed in is so expensive, and you can't grow what you need, what's your next step?

Chris Nixon:

We did things slightly different to most people. We decided to cull cow numbers. So we'd calve about 500 cows down. We would then work out what the season looked like, how many cows we could run. So in that first drought year, we only ran 400 cows. I did try selling a few cows, older cows and a few stale cows and carry-overs and stuff and bought a few in, but they didn't last under the scenario. And they all disappeared out of the herd within two years. So that was a bit of a disaster for me, but so we calved 500 cows down. We decided we can milk 400 cows and we'd just sell the other hundred cows. So we culled most of them. It really did clean out the herd for a lot of things. We've dramatically changed how we run our herd since the drought started. And we used the opportunity of destocking to get rid of a lot of problem cows.

Drew Radford:

So in some ways that sounds like you've reassessed the way you run the property now, as opposed to running it for maximum. Is it more of an optimum setup? Or-

Chris Nixon:

That's probably a good call. The advantage of calving the 500 cows down, was that we could get our 200 odd heifers every year. You don't need much feed to grow a heifer on. So we grew out 200 heifers every year. So that's how we maintained our 500 cows, by the time you get a few empties and whatever. We did a few things. Any cow that got mastitis more than twice, was sold. Any cow that got lame and she had bad feet, she was sold. Any cow that didn't get in calf was sold. Now the last one has been a big game changer for us because we fell into the trap of carrying carry-over cows, the old extended lactation theory. They got pregnant. They came into the herd the following season, two years down the track, and we were slowly building infertility into the herd.

Chris Nixon:

So what this drought has done, we have actually reduced our joining of the dairy cows now to eight weeks, which is very short. And our six week in calf rate is 65%. That only leaves another two weeks for the bulls to work, and we have been getting some quite high empty rates at 24%. Now that sounds like a disaster, but when you've got 200 heifers coming in, it all works out quite nicely. So we're putting maximum pressure on fertility and making sure that we've only got highly fertile cows in the herd.

Drew Radford:

And at that level of 400, even with the dry years, you were pretty much self-sustainable with your own feed supplies?

Chris Nixon:

Yes. We do have a 80 acre fodder block about 10 km away from the dairy. Under irrigation, we grow maize silage and oaten silage.

Drew Radford:

You mentioned irrigation there, Chris, but I was reading, you had to put bores in, so that you actually had stock water. Is that a first for you during that period?

Chris Nixon:

No. The bores have already been here, but they collapsed under the long dry period and they were old and we had to upgrade it. The dairy itself doesn't have access to river water, so we can't pump water out of the river on a regular basis. We can't irrigate from the river on the dairy. So that's why it was important for us to get a block where we could get access to irrigation water, and grow some feed.

Drew Radford:

Chris, you're talking there about silage and how important fodder obviously is, but I'd imagine it became even more of a precious commodity during that dry time. I understand you put in a feed pad to try and deal with that and get maximum results. How did that work?

Chris Nixon:

A fellow dairy farmer in Orbost had built a feed pad out of what we call GEOHEX, which is a polycarbonate type product, comes in about half metre long sheet, and his was going for about seven years. So we followed that plan. We built a feed pad that can carry 500 cows with concrete troughs and this GEOHEX down on the ground and using really fine gravel, or in our case, crushed rock to fill it all up. It's into its third season now. It's been a wonderful addition to the farm because during those dry years, we had to make sure we was using every skerrick of silage that we were feeding out. And we just didn't quite appreciate the losses that we were getting just traditionally feeding it out in the paddock. So we saved a lot of feeding, we estimated that we probably nearly paid for it in the first 12 months in the amount of silage we saved feeding out.

Drew Radford:

Yeah, I was reading, it was about a third, you reckon you've saved. That's a dramatic amount of feed.

Chris Nixon:

Probably not quite such a high amount when it's really, really dry. But in the wet years, when it's wet, like at the moment it's really wet, they're not walking that silage into the ground and packing it all up. So the savings is enormous, yes.

Drew Radford:

And there's a great video too. I've actually seen that online. It's only about a minute long, of the construction of that. It looks really simple, but incredibly effective.

Chris Nixon:

Where we built the feed pad, it was just south of the dairy, the country there, it's on peak country and it's moved. So because of the GEOHEX, it's not concrete, it hasn't cracked or broken up. It's held up to it really, really well. So yeah, it's been a wonderful addition and we had 174 mm of rain last week and the farm's probably two thirds under water. So at the moment it's the only thing that the cows are really getting, so it's fantastic.

Drew Radford:

It sounds like you've been through really both sides of the swing of the pendulum over the last few years. You talked in detail there about how you're managing your herd now. Have you got any other strategies in place for dealing with those extreme variations in climate, particularly drier years in the years ahead?

Chris Nixon:

Well, it's just being able to make a decision and run with it. One of the biggest advantages we had in the drought was that we decided to de-stock relatively early. It was only mid-autumn, April, and we just said, "We can't go on like this." And we made the decision to start selling cattle. And we sold a lot of cattle that year. In the beef herd, we sold nearly 50 per cent of the beef herd at that point in time. And we sold a good 25 per cent of the dairy cows at that point in time. Now we could have got a late autumn break and we could have done lots of things, but we decided to sell. The long-term rain forecast wasn't looking that flash, so we sold. And that took so much pressure off what fodder reserves we had. We could extend through until the harvest off the fodder block later that year.

Chris Nixon:

So, it really did save us a lot of thing and that was the flexibility of it. So I've learnt that if we farm to what available fodder supplies we have, we don't have to buy too much in, other than grain, we can still turn a profit, just watching our costs, being careful, you can still turn a profit. And we have learnt that through these three and a half years of drought.

Drew Radford:

So Chris, almost from, well, not quite bust to boom, in regards to the rain, I understand you've now got more grass almost, that you know what to do with.

Chris Nixon:

Well, we did have until this week where we had 174 mm of rain just in the last few days. So it's all semi-flooded, but the last 12 months was a boom. And it's reflected that in our production has gone through the roof. We're probably up nearly 30 per cent for the year, year on year. So it's wonderful. And the tight calving pattern and all those things that were instigated during the drought, are really starting to pay dividends.

Chris Nixon:

I'll go back to the fertility one. Our heifers that calved this year were the first line of heifers that came through this tight joining period. And while the herd had 24 per cent empty, our first calf heifers only had 17 per cent empty on an eight week joining period. So, we're starting to see some real gains in fertility now. We're four, coming up to five years into this tight calving pattern. We don't have to hang on to those cows with bad feet. We don't have to hang on to those cows with bad udders. We can get rid of them because we've got the numbers flowing through the system and it just makes life so easy.

Drew Radford:

Chris Nixon, thanks so much for your time. And so very pleased that you've had a welcome reprieve from those three exceptionally dry years.

Drew Radford:

If you want to find out more about how Chris has dealt with the varying climate over those years, and also running his farm now, subscribe to Milking the Weather.

Drew Radford:

For now, though, Chris Nixon, thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Chris Nixon:

My pleasure, Drew, anytime.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating, and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant, before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian government, Melbourne.

Episode 9: Dealing with stress during difficult times with David Cherry

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

It's been a difficult year for many farming communities. Some have had to deal with everything from drought, fire, right through to the pandemic. The physical impacts of these are often easy to see. However, the mental effects on those living through it are not always so easy to detect. Recognizing those and dealing with them is important for not only your own mental health, but also ensuring that you're in the best position to make good decisions for yourself, your business and also your loved ones. David Cherry is a psychologist with over 35 years’ experience. 25 of those have been spent practicing in the agricultural sector. He's recently been running a series of workshops to help regional Victorians deal with challenging times. He joins me in the AgVic Talk studio. David, thanks for your time.

David Cherry:

Thank you.

Drew Radford:

David, we can usually see the impacts of flood, drought, fire and so on, what is harder to tell though is how challenging times affect the individual in terms of their mental health. What signs should people be aware of?

David Cherry:

The things that people should look out for in themselves are loss of energy, worry, sometimes quick mood changes. It might be anger. It might be feeling tearful or crying. It might be using alcohol to a greater level than they might've done in the past or using it too much against their own interests, and also possibly being inclined to make poor decisions and impulsive decisions. So they'd be some of the things that I would think about that a person would look for in themselves and indeed look for those same sorts of things in others.

Drew Radford:

You mentioned there David impulsive decisions and often mental health particularly with blokes is pushed away in the corner, but poor decision-making impacting on your business. That's a really tangible thing that I imagine a lot of people could relate to and understand, but not until it's pointed out to them like this in regards to mental health.

David Cherry:

Absolutely, okay. So, you made some really interesting points there. So people under stress and people who may be experiencing poor mental health are inclined to make, or sometimes make poor decisions against their own interests. You made that important point. And the other thing I just want to add too what might lead you to be concerned about your own mental health is if other people express concern about you. So, I would always encourage people to listen to others. So, if other people express concern that perhaps you need some assistance, I'd always encourage people to pay attention to that.

Drew Radford:

David, you've mentioned a range of things to be on the lookout, but what about those broader things that we talk about like anxiety and depression?

David Cherry:

Sure. If an individual feels that they are anxious a lot of the time, if they're worried a lot of the time, if they feel depressed or miserable or low in energy, I always encourage people to seek assistance and they might seek assistance through their GP, their local community health centre. So, you may be aware that at the moment, individuals are able to access up to 20 sessions with a psychologist through their GP after they got a mental health plan. And as I understand it, that help or assistance can be provided remotely.

Drew Radford:

David, what about another thing to be on the lookout for, is poor sleep an indicator that maybe something else is going on for you?

David Cherry:

Absolutely. So look, it's interesting that you mentioned sleep because sleep, as you would know, is an important pillar of health and I'd encourage anybody who experiences a sleep difficulty any time in their life to get assistance sooner rather than later. So what I mean by sleep difficulty is having difficulty getting off to sleep, having difficulty remaining asleep or awaking and not feeling refreshed. So many sleep difficulties can be assisted or improved or changed quite quickly. And as you've said, Drew, sometimes poor sleep is an indicator of poor mental health or may contribute to poor mental health. So always encourage people as soon as they experienced any sort of sleep difficulty, get assisted sooner rather than later. And it could be through a GP, it could be by approaching a counsellor or a psychologist.

Drew Radford:

David, you mentioned their sleep being an important pillar of mental health. What are some other things that people can do to maintain their mental health and look after themselves on that front?

David Cherry:

Things that assist all of us in maintaining good mental health are social connection, time with others. Ideally, we'll all have at least one person in our lives that we can talk to about things that worry and upset us. So, that's one important thing that contributes to mental health. Second thing is getting regular exercise and you may be aware that with increased mechanisation in the agricultural sector, that some people are getting far less exercise than they might've done in the past. So, getting enough exercise, that's really, really important.

Another really important thing is getting regular physical check-ups, including regular dental check-ups. They're some of the things I'd say. In addition to that, ideally all of us has at least one activity that completely absorbs us and relaxes us and might take us away from our daily worries. It could be gardening, it could be swimming, it could be spending time with friends. Any sort of activity that completely absorbs you. Crafts are also really useful for many people. So, these are some of the things that are really important for people. Another really important thing, which is easy for nearly everybody in the agricultural sector, is time in the outdoors and being in the sun and being in nature. Those things are really, really important.

Drew Radford:

You mentioned there David, the importance of absolving yourself in an activity and also the importance of actually social interaction can be often difficult. The social interaction part though for primary producers and it requires really that extra step.

David Cherry:

I think many people, primary producers, work very long hours because they're committed to their business. They're committed to looking after their families. They're committed to their communities. And that may mean that sometimes they don't look after themselves as well as they could. So, taking time for yourself and connecting with others is an important part of looking after yourself so that you can continue to contribute to the wider community and run your business as effectively as possible. Taking time for yourself is really, really important, both for yourself and also to help you continue to make your contribution to others, family members and the wider community.

Drew Radford:

That's such an interesting way to actually look at it and a logical way to look at it, David Cherry, because usually it's sort of, put up the shutters and all I'm ok, but actually now I'm not being effective in all these other areas that are important to me if I'm not looking after myself.

David Cherry:

Absolutely.

Drew Radford:

David, we often see people that we are concerned about. We go “Well, maybe things aren't going so well for you” or wonder if they're not going so well for an individual. How should you go about dealing with that?

David Cherry:

I think it's important that people are prepared to say to somebody that they may know that they're concerned about just to simply ask them how they're going. And then if the person says, "Well, I'm not going all that well," or say something, "Really worried about this,' it's just to learn what the person's concerns are and possibly suggest that they might seek assistance with that concern professionally, either from a GP, either if it's financial issues from the rural financial counsellor community health centre. So finding out what a person's concerns are and then suggesting that they seek assistance and doing it tactfully.

And the way you might do that tactfully, is rather than say, "Look, I think you need to go here and get this." You might say, "Well, I know other people who've had these concerns or these worries and they have been helped by going here and doing this.” So rather than saying, "So, you need to do that," you might tell, "I know of other people who've had these concerns and they have been helped by doing this."

Another important thing is that the language that you use when you're discussing another person's concern is important. Some people are happy to discuss feeling stressed, but they're not happy to discuss feeling anxious or depressed. So, you might say, "Look, many people are stressed in these times because it's difficult, they have been helped by going here." I wonder if that might be useful to you. So being tactful and being mindful of the language that may be acceptable to the other person, I think is important.

Drew Radford:

David, any tips then on how people can look after themselves during tough times when they're feeling stressed?

David Cherry:

One way that people may be able to help themselves is to use the difficult time to develop themselves, to develop their self-awareness and to develop new thinking skills and new behaviour skills. For example, for people who may be anxious, it's important to become aware of when your anxiety may be building so that you can take steps to reduce your anxiety. For example, by examining your thinking and changing it where possible to reduce your anxiety. I'd always encourage people, if they're going to learn new skills, to do this with the support of others. For some people, anxiety can be reduced by adopting new behaviours. For example, by meditating regularly. Another way people can help themselves, ideally with the support of others, is to learn new thinking skills and it might be important for some people who are depressed to learn to be less self-demanding and possibly less demanding of others. Another important new behave that people may be adopt, in particular for those people who are depressed and or anxious can be spending time with others or spending time engaged in enjoyable activities. And a really good resource for people who want to develop their own awareness, their self-awareness or develop new thinking skills or new behaviour skills is the Beyond Blue website.

Drew Radford:

David, some great insights there for dealing with difficult times. Thank you so much for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

David Cherry:

Thank you.

Drew Radford:

If this podcast has brought out any difficult emotions for you, please find someone you can talk to or call the Beyond Blue service on 1300224636, MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or Lifeline on 131114.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscriber wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with you friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 8: Maintaining ground cover to secure sandy topsoil with Ron Hards

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Ag Vic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Imagine farming on some of the most fragile land in the State and being able to say, after the worst rainfall figures on record a mere 25% of your 250 ml average, that you harvested a viable crop from 50% of your farm seeded area. And a further 25% was used as fodder. It's the remarkable story of Ron and Nick Hards, who farm in the Millewa at Yurara in the Northwest corner of the State and key to their success has been passionately protecting their topsoil. Ron Hards joined me in the Ag Vic talks studio and told me his journey into topsoil preservation began with switching to no till farming.

Ron Hards:

We had a fairly good long progression into no-till. We tried to reduce tillage for start with chisel ploughs and prickle chains and sowing on 14 inch spacings and that sort of thing. But only on cereals, we didn't venture into legumes at that stage, it was something that not very many people had done. We started off there probably 30 years ago, Drew doing that. We progressed through that and we did a lot of trips, with the Landcare Group, did a lot of trips through into South Australian and southern Victoria, where they were using no-till knife points and press wheels. And we started to get itchy feet, if you like, we could see how they were doing it, the reduction in bare fallows and stuff like that. It became very attractive to us.

Ron Hards:

So in about 2002, we actually changed our machinery. We thought there's no point in half doing it, we would change our machinery and make at work. At the same time, we employed an agronomist. We were sick of dust, bare fallows, erosion, and basically driving tractors. Because when you're doing a reasonable amount of tillage and bare fallows you were just finished one run and you just go back and start again. It really was extremely expensive and it wasn't getting us anywhere. So, we changed to no-till, and that of course involves boom sprays and chemicals.

Drew Radford:

So, did you see results change pretty much overnight, Ron? Was it a seasonal change or did you have to tough it out for a few seasons to start to see the benefit?

Ron Hards:

Yeah, look, we did Drew. It took a while. I think the soil's actually got to change with you. It does certainly change, become more friable. It certainly absorbs moisture better. You can see a thunderstorm goes through and there'll be water all over the stubble and within an hour so it's all gone. It's just soaks straight in and you don't have puddles in your paddock and water doesn't run like it used to. It changed the composition of the soil and certainly opened it up and it lets the moisture in right where it falls, which is a great advantage, I think.

Ron Hards:

And I'd think probably three or four years, we could see the difference. We could see the crops were improving and our control of weeds and what have you was getting better. I suppose we concentrated mainly on cereals for about seven or eight years. We had a little go at canola for three years. The inputs in this district were about the same as anywhere else, but the outputs are certainly less. So the profits weren't there with canola, so we dropped that out of the system and moved into vetch and peas and chickpeas and lentils and what have you to get the rotation a bit longer and open up our farming practices. We often do a fair bit of hay as I said.

Drew Radford:

So, in terms of the results that you are getting Ron, you've had a couple of the driest seasons ever on record. And from what I understand, you were able to harvest a viable crop from about 50% of your seeded area and further 25% was used as fodder. Could you have imagined those sorts of results 30 years ago before you changed your farming practices?

Ron Hards:

No, no Drew, I went through the 82 drought and know exactly what that sort of situation was. And I think actually the drought last year was probably worse, lower rainfall of what was in 82 when we virtually got nothing in that year, so a lot of crop didn't even come up in 1982. I think we harvest a little bit of seed off one paddock. Whereas last year it was the driest on record, as I said, and one paddock actually went 1.4 tonnes to the hectare of wheat. We did harvest some barley and some oats, but aren't even patches on the paddock. There was flats that didn't have anything on them. It was covered, but no viable crops.

Ron Hards:

And then we used a lot of the vetch and other product for fodder with the sheep. So certainly we had a little bit of drift on the paddocks, but they never actually scoured out. There was enough root matter under the vetch crop to actually hold the soil pretty well in place, even though there was some dust coming off of it, it wasn't doing any great damage to the soil. So we were pretty happy with last year and that was the biggest test we'd ever had since we started no-till.

Drew Radford:

No-till seems to be the foundation of all of this, Ron, but you seem to have some fairly firm rules about how you run the property these days to make sure that you can deal with drought. Maintaining ground covers, obviously part of that whole equation there but beyond that, you also have a fairly fixed plan. What are some of the key parts of the plan? Because I understand sowing early to deal with wind is really important, isn't it?

Ron Hards:

Yeah. I think so. Look, we sit down in January with our agronomist and do a paddock plan and that's after a visit straight after harvest. We certainly inspect all the paddocks then, but January is the main time, we do the paddock plan and endeavour to set out what we're going to do for the season with that visit. Weed populations in paddocks, count and previous crops and the rotations and so forth. And we set up a system from January through, the seasons through the year, of what we're going to sow where. In which paddocks and what the rotation is going to be.

Ron Hards:

And if you've got a plan like that, it makes it fairly easy to make snap decisions at the time when you're going through the seeding process, you know where you're going and what you're doing. And I think it helps knowing, by having that plan and trying to stick as closely as we can to it. We did change a little bit in the drought. We actually dropped two or three paddocks off altogether and didn't sow them. And starting seeding, we usually start late March with sowing vetch and fodders and just work through without too many stops. It makes it easy to run the program when you've got a plan set out.

Drew Radford:

Ron, I understand one of the other things that you've done in terms of protecting your ground cover is actually just slow down on your property in terms of vehicle speed.

Ron Hards:

Yeah, I think any form of cultivation needs to be done at a reasonably slow pace. 10 to 12 Ks seems to be an ideal speed. It doesn't shatter the soil so much and certainly with no-till knife points and press wheels, you need to be going at this speed that way you don't throw soil too far because the soil carries the chemicals with it too. And you'll end up with chemicals on top of your seed in the next row and that's something we need to avoid. So that speed is around about where we sit all the time. We've only got one pass a year with the seeder and we normally sow between the rows as well. So, I try not to interfere with last year's stubble. So your crop actually comes up and is protected between last year's stubble rows and with no-till knife points and press wheels and with guidance we've got these days, so, it makes it pretty easy to do that. And I think that that helps too.

Drew Radford:

I understand sheep are also part of your mix but it's also, I imagine a fine line in terms of how long you keep them on a paddock when things are marginal?

Ron Hards:

It is Drew, and I think that's one of the little mistakes we made last year. We left sheep in a paddock for probably only a couple of days too long, but it did make it a bit more vulnerable and we lost a little bit of soil, but in normal terms we run the sheep very conservatively over the stubble paddocks. Usually we buy in lambs in September, October and run through until Autumn the following year. So, they're not here consistently, but there is a fine line between stock and cropping and you're trying to do what we're doing and we're cropping most of the farm. You've just got to make full use of your containment areas. And that means a little bit of hand feeding in the containment areas. But I think it pays in the long run if you can containment feed for a couple of months of the year and maintain all your ground cover and your paddocks and get the crops up and moving without any haircuts with sand moving. I think you're far better off.

Drew Radford:

That requires very close monitoring then Ron, if you're talking literally a couple of days, the difference between damage to the top soil and getting the sheep off?

Ron Hards:

Well, it was Drew. There was actually some quite good feed on a couple of sand rises and the sheep insisted on staying down in the flats where obviously the feed was sweeter. And I thought, I'll just give them a couple more days and they'll clean those rises up, get the seeds off and so forth, but they didn't. They decided where they want to go, I can't make them go where they don't. And yeah, so it was a mistake. But it was a mistake you learn by.

Drew Radford:

Ron in terms of weed control, as part of your plan, how does that work?

Ron Hards:

Look it's very important. That's probably one of the main things with the rotations Drew is to maintain your weed control. Grasses are a curse right throughout any cropping area. And if you can keep those grasses under control in your legume phases, and sometimes we might run two legumes in a row, peas and vetch or, peas and lentils or whatever, however we do it to get two grass control phases in your legume crops before you get back into cereals. At the moment, we've got a couple of paddocks that are under a four year break. So we'll have peas and then we might follow those with vetch and possibly then, you might go to another, even two vetch crops in a row and then an oat and hay crop that you can spray out before you cut it and get the weeds in. So, you get your four year break in that way.

Ron Hards:

So it's a fairly intensive system and monitoring is a big thing. We probably monitor weeds in paddocks three or four times a year and make sure that we know what we've got and it doesn't take very much grass in one year if you let it seed and let it go through and do another crop. It's very quick to take over and so you've got to watch it very closely and make sure you've got it under control.

Drew Radford:

Ron, you touched on rotations a bit, but how important has it been in terms of getting nitrogen levels up since turning to no-till farming?

Ron Hards:

Yeah, it just an added benefit though I think from no till where all the legumes you put in a really good dose of natural nitrogen into the soil and you can certainly see the benefits in the following crops especially when you go back to cereals. You know I think its invaluable the fact you can do that absolutely free, just transitioning nitrogen from the air into the soil. It is great.

Drew Radford:

Your move to no-till and preserving your topsoil has been a big learning curve, who has helped you in that process?

Ron Hards:

There has been several things as I said earlier, we did a lot of trips into South Australia with the Landcare groups looking at what farmers were doing in other places. But, in the last twenty years there has been a huge amount of research gone on in the Mallee. Mallee Sustainable Farming with the three states involved, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales has been extremely important, not only their research, but their extension that we can see what we need to do. And also with the help from the Department of Ag in Victoria and the CSIRO have been extremely important as well. I think these three organisations certainly need some accolades for getting us to where we have got.

Drew Radford:

Ron, you talk of losing topsoil is not only damaging for your productivity, but also for your own wellbeing. What do you mean by that?

Ron Hards:

Oh, look, there's nothing worse than sitting inside or in the shed on a windy day and watch your paddocks go past. It's pretty distressing. I think the last year where we've seen dust storms go through the Mallee, particularly in our area here in the Millewa and Mildura was getting pretty fed up with it actually. Because normally your strongest winds are from the South and South West and in the West and they're right in line for it. So, Mildura was blacked out a couple of days. Doesn't do your image much good when you go to town next time, tell them where you come from. So, I think, we owe it to everybody to make sure that we try and keep things where they are and you can't grow crops on soil if it's gone. I think that's the most important, most valuable asset that you've got is your soil and the top 10 cm is probably the most important part of your farm and if it blows away, well, you start from scratch again and it takes a long time to get that country back, if ever, if you take that top soil off.

Drew Radford:

Ron, it sounds like you're doing a fabulous job with you and your son, Nick, keeping your topsoil in place. Thank you ever so much for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Ron Hards:

Thanks Drew, appreciate your time.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

Speaker 1:

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

Speaker 1:

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 7: Managing through dry seasons is all about preparation with Peter Young

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew:

Most farmers at one stage or another contend with dry seasons and drought. How they cope though often comes down to being prepared and awareness for the support systems that can be accessed to help them through. That was the case for second generation Gippsland farmer Peter Young, who produces wool, lamb and beef on their 550-hectare farm at Briagolong, some 60 kilometres west of Bairnsdale. After three tough years, there've finally been some good rains and things are looking up for Peter, who now joins me in the AgVic Talk studio. Peter, thanks for your time.

Peter Young:

My pleasure.

Drew:

Peter, you and your family have been farming in that part of the world for some time. How long exactly?

Peter Young:

Dad took possession of this property on the 1st of October 1950.

Drew:

So in that time, you've probably seen quite a few variations in seasons.

Peter Young:

Yes, we've seen the whole lot, I reckon.

Drew:

So dry seasons weren't particularly uncommon for want of a better term.

Peter Young:

They're nothing new.

Drew:

But three years ago you had more of an extreme one, from what I understand.

Peter Young:

In the three years up until end of January this year, it would have to be the worst one we've had.

Drew:

What did you actually see Peter, in terms of declining rainfall?

Peter Young:

Down to less than half. The major bit was that it was in dribs and drabs that were never enough to get anything going. So it was very difficult to grow a fodder crop or grow any grass because you might get 10 or 15 mills and then nothing for another three weeks when the ground's already dry.

Drew:

What sort of impact then did that have on your operation? You've got 550 hectares there with a lot of animals on it. What was the impact on you?

Peter Young:

Initially, we had enough fodder in reserve, but it meant over time that we had to continue to sell livestock and continue to buy feed.

Drew:

So how much livestock did you end up having to sell off Peter?

Peter Young:

We got rid of one third of our sheep and three quarters of our cattle.

Drew:

They're fairly significant numbers.

Peter Young:

Yes. It has a pretty big impact on the bottom line, I know that, especially when you're buying feed at the same time.

Drew:

During that time, did you and your wife Alison start thinking about, well, okay, how are we going to manage this if this continues on?

Peter Young:

Yeah, we sure did. One of the best bits of advice I received was to actually make a decision. It doesn't matter if you change it later, but if you make the decision, for example, to sell a mob of sheep at the end of October, you always felt a lot better because you had actually made a decision. Putting it off and hoping and all those things didn't help at all. But to actually make a decision and say, right, it's now end of September, if it hasn't rained within the month, significant rain within the month, X number of sheep are on the truck. And that's what we were able to do. Still didn't want to do it, but at least you'd made a decision and you stop worrying about it.

Drew:

But also, did you look beyond that in terms of what other assistance you might be able to get to help you keep on going or even modify the property to deal with dry conditions?

Peter Young:

Well, initially the first assistance that was available was the farm household assistance, but more pertinent to the longer term was some of the resilience assistance that was available, things like stock containment areas, water reticulation, things like that.

Drew:

Were they difficult processes to go through Peter? And also something unusual for you to go through too, because had you ever needed to seek that sort of assistance in the past?

Peter Young:

Well, no, we hadn't. The hardest part initially was with the farm household assistance FHA, getting all the required information together, it was quite extensive. Later on when the systems got themselves sorted out, it was a lot simpler to apply for help or to ask for help. By the time we got to the resilience grants, it was relatively straight forward.

Drew:

I understand Alison, your wife had a big part in terms of working through some of those processes.

Peter Young:

Yep. She's the one that understands that a lot better than me. And I'm sure there's a lot of wives who do the same thing as part of a partnership.

Drew:

Outside of that too, what about Rural Finance? Were they able to help you work your way through these processes as well?

Peter Young:

Rural Finance were excellent in their assistance for some of the support programs, like the emergency water grants and things like that, they were really good.

Drew:

So Peter, in terms of the Victorian Government drought support, what did you do to try and help set up the property better to cope with the ongoing dry conditions?

Peter Young:

Although we have good water here, we ended up with about, I think a dozen dams that were empty. We had them cleaned out, took the opportunity to clean them out. So that was part of it, so that they would actually hold more water in the future. And we also put in that extra water bore and integrated reticulation scheme so that we can put water into dams, water into troughs. The water bores are connected and then the stock containment areas were able to hang off the side of that as well, with good water in there.

Drew:

So Peter, in terms of moving ahead, if the conditions had remained dry, would have you been able to continue farming at your de-stock level with these modifications?

Peter Young:

Well, they certainly would have helped because at the time it was looking dry. We've still got the extra fodder that we bought over the summer, but we haven't had to use it yet. So, if we were preparing for another, at least six months at the time that we received some long-awaited rain, shall we say.

Drew:

I imagine that would have been a significant change for you. I mean, it's an obvious thing to say, but how did that make you feel going from feeding and constantly planning to deal with dry conditions, how did that affect you personally?

Peter Young:

I guess there were several effects. One, a great relief. At last, it's rained. The paddocks aren't brown and dusty. They've now got a little bit of green on them. Once we had sufficient feed to put the stock back out on the paddocks, the thing that took me a little while to adjust to was this fact of, I don't have to spend half a day, every day feeding livestock. So, the pressure was off, but you had to decide what you were going to do. I know that sounds ridiculous, but when the drought was on, you knew what you had to do every day. Once we weren't doing that, it took a while to adjust to say, Well, I'll need to repair that fence or do this job or do that job. So mentally, that was a bit of a shift.

Drew:

Have you been able to connect though with your community as much? You would have been hoping for the relief that the rain brought and maybe that would bring some sort of sense of normality, but now we’ve got the current situation and also your broader community recovering from bushfires. So, I imagine things at present aren’t quite what you may have imagined them to have been when you got past the drought.

Peter Young:

Yes. One of the changes I noticed during the drought was even though everybody was flat out doing what they had to do to survive, every now and then you'd get a random phone call from somebody just to say, "How are you going?" Previous to that, we would be just busy doing whatever and we'd meet at workshops or other organisational meetings of any kind, have a quick conversation then, but because we're all so busy, I noticed and I tried to do it myself, ring somebody just, "Oh, I better ring Billy Blogs, see how he's going." So that was one significant change. And now with the coronavirus of course, well, there's no face to face contact, so the telephone's still pretty important and meetings on Zoom are good, but they're not quite the same.

Drew:

No, it's not the same as that face to face contact at all, Peter. And I understand also you used to open your property up for field day type events as well. So, you're not getting that interaction either I'd imagine.

Peter Young:

No, no. And nor are the people who would often attend those field days, discussion groups, whatever. And I was happy to share what we do in the way of, oh, well we put in a bit of summer crop or a bit of this or a bit of that, trying to generate some feed for the stock. Happy to share what we learnt and pick the brains of others and put it all together, hopefully.

Drew:

In terms of sharing what you have learnt over the last few years, if there was a key message or two to somebody listening to this, going through similar, tough, dry times, what would a key bit of advice be Peter?

Peter Young:

Keep talking, make that phone call. Even if you're not feeling that flash, find out how your neighbour’s going. And if he's a good listener, he'll pick up that things aren't going too well for yourself. So, it's an opportunity to download. And also, there's plenty of professional help, either medical, financial, planning and counselling type things, if you feel you need it. One of the things I guess has changed is that it's not weak. It's not a negative thing to ask for help. It can still be difficult.

Drew:

Well Peter, it sounds like asking for help has been absolutely crucial for you setting your property up for a future to continue on following 70 years now in that patch of land.

Peter Young:

That's right. Yeah. Be a bit negative, we're better prepared for the next drought. We will have another drought. That's the thing, Drew. Even though we've got a fantastic season at the moment, all the water holes are full. The grass is growing, the sheep are fat and the cattle. It's now that we need to prepare for the next drought, and we will have one, I guarantee it.

Drew:

Peter Young, it sounds like you've been on a very significant journey over the last three years. And it sounds like you are well and truly prepared for another drought. Let's both hope that that's a very long way away. Thank you ever so much for your time in joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Peter Young:

My pleasure Drew.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

Speaker 1:

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

Speaker 1:

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria

Episode 6: Using soil moisture monitoring to help manage seasonal risk with Dale Boyd and Bec Marshall

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Should I apply fertilizer or not? If so, how much? They're questions all producers face. But, imagine having detailed, real-time soil moisture analysis at your fingertips, that gives you insight to if your crop is readily going to take up that fertilizer, or not. For over a decade, a number of soil moisture probes across Victoria, have been gathering that sort of information, to help give farmers confidence in their decision making. To find out how it all works, I'm joined in the AgVic Talk Studio, by Dale Boyd, Seasonal Risk Agronomist with Agriculture Victoria. Dale, thanks for your time.

Dale Boyd:

Thanks Drew.

Drew Radford:

Dale, what is the Soil Moisture Monitoring Network?

Dale Boyd:

The network is what Agriculture Victoria set up as technology in 2010, to see if we could assist dryland farming systems to understand the seasons better, with soil moisture probes. Now, climate change and extreme seasonal variation have been very challenging for farmers to manage, but we just thought by putting in this technology in the ground, farmers then would have a way of measuring it, and if they can measure it, then they can start to manage the variations that we do see in year to year with rainfall.

Drew Radford:

In terms of the monitoring, is that monitored across a range of depths or is it just a standard depth in the soil that the monitoring's done?

Dale Boyd:

One of the critical components to the success of the Agriculture Victoria Network is that, 10 years ago, technology being well-established and utlised in irrigation environments, but not so much in dryland, where we couldn't apply water, so our strategy was to put these moisture probes down deep into the profile. Our form of measurement is to measure from 30 centimetres down to a metre, and with sensors every 10 centimetres, which gives us a good resolution of what's happening down through that soil profile.

Dale Boyd:

The other advantage with the position of that probe down deep is that, with cropping systems, there's the annual sowing of the crop, where you're looking to sow over the top of the probe. So, it's representative with a good plant population similar to the rest of the paddock. So, by having that probe down so deep, the sowing tines can safely go across the monitoring point, without damaging the probe or the cable itself.

Dale Boyd:

It's good to really emphasize that it's a deep soil moisture that we're really looking to track, because between zero and 30 centimetres, it can fluctuate pretty dynamically. But, it's about this time of the year, September, where those deeper soil moisture reserves are so critical to get us through, and get those yields that might've been set up through that winter period.

Drew Radford:

Is that a real-time feed?

Dale Boyd:

Yes, it is. We're getting data recorded every hour, and then the upload of the data from the paddock occurs on an hourly basis as well, providing we can get a solid mobile network communication connection. Every hour, which is fantastic. It's not only good for soil moisture, but also rainfall. We match up a rain gauge with the monitoring point, with the moisture probe. I think that's been a bit of an eyeopener as well, to be able to get the hour by hour recordings of rainfall. We can actually determine rates of infiltration with the intensity of rain. Generally, the rain's been pretty steady, but some events, particularly in summer, they can get up to 25 mm, even a bit greater in that hour period. Some of these soils probably struggled to take in that amount of rainfall within that hourly period, but it's a good measurement point.

Drew Radford:

That's a lot of data coming in very quickly, real-time analysis. Does the data ever surprise you?

Dale Boyd:

Initially. Everyone was pretty surprised how effective some of these crops were at extracting deep soil moisture. Probably in the past, things might've been underestimated in terms of soil moisture conditions, and that's probably due to just those shallow assessments, that might've been done with a shovel. So, by having this real-time measurement, or certainly being able to observe at certain points of time moisture getting down, right down to depths, a metre potentially even more in those really wet years. But, when we've got a great biomass of crop growing above that soil surface, we've also got that pump happening with that well-developed root system. I think that's been a real eye opener.

Dale Boyd:

The other thing that can surprise people is, just the effect of cutting crops for hay. We do find that the crops can be using moisture quite well during that day period. Then, from the remote assessments of the data, I can actually pick up to the hour, of when the crop was actually cut, because when the leaf area is removed, the crop stops photosynthesizing, stopped using water, and it's just quite a dramatic change. Some of the farmers have been a bit surprised how I've been able to remotely assess what they were doing on farm.

Dale Boyd:

There's a few other things, that certainly they've been eye opening, particularly summer weed escapes, and just the damage they can do in terms of quickly extracting moisture, and down to depths as well. Really, this is all the deep moisture that you'd really like to conserve, and have for the following winter crop, and not lose that through summer weeds. So, there's been a lot of learnings and probably a few eye opening experiences along the way.

Drew Radford:

You said you started this in 2010, so you've got a decade's worth of data. What time of the year then is soil moisture monitoring most useful, in terms of the data?

Dale Boyd:

That's certainly a long data set, and it's probably shown that the information is quite informative in all parts of the season, but when we've worked with the farmers and industry, and determined what they thought the most useful part of when they could examine the data, it was identified as spring. Personally I think early winter can provide some early guidance on how the season's progressing, and then moving into spring then, we have obviously seen it being quite dynamic, that if you've got crops with yield potential, they will certainly use a lot of water if it's stored in those deeper levels, within the soil profile.

Drew Radford:

Okay. Well then, how do producers actually apply that information, in terms of the monitoring data you've got?

Dale Boyd:

For the farmers and the producers to best utilise, the soil moisture probes, it's really about understanding the seasonal conditions for that reference point.

Dale Boyd:

So, the thresholds are the upper limits of the outmost maximum capacity that those soils can hold, and then also the lower limits. So, how dry those soils can actually be dried down to, with crop growth and development, which generally gets to those lower limits in that spring period.

Drew Radford:

A person with firsthand experience with those limits, is Bec Marshall. She and her husband Ash, run a cropping farm at Normanville in Mallee country, about 60 kilometres from Kerang. They've been using the soil moisture monitoring information for nearly a decade.

Bec Marshall:

We really use it to help us make major decisions during our growing season, and even pre-growing season pre-sowing the crop. It's probably one of the big confidence givers.

Drew Radford:

What information from it are you getting, that gives you confidence?

Bec Marshall:

Just a really good snapshot of actually what moisture we have stored in our profile, which then we can sort of translate across to what sort of yield potential we might already have, the potential going into the season with our crops. That can really provide a lot of confidence around rotation going forward, how hard to push things in terms of nitrogen inputs especially.

Drew Radford:

How long have you been using soil moisture information in your business?

Bec Marshall:

I think maybe it was 2011 or so. There's actually been a local probe installed in our area, just in our neighbours farm at Normanville, and Ash and I really started following that from the start, and using that information to provide confidence with what we were doing here. Then, I suppose maybe three years ago, we went and started installing our own moisture probes set ups on our own farm, just so we could get that really fine-tuned advice for us.

Drew Radford:

Has that made a difference over the last three years, now that you have even more data coming through, to know really what's going on, on your property?

Bec Marshall:

Yeah, I think it has. It's been great for our learning certainly, just to be able to learn what's actually happening in individual paddocks. Our farm is reasonably spread out. We've probably got 20K's difference from top to bottom, North to South sort of thing. So, that does vary quite a bit during the season, and also a range of soil types. So, we've been able to really learn a little bit more about what's happening there, and really get that information that's tailored for us.

Drew Radford:

Okay. So, give me a bit of an example then, in terms of looking at the soil moisture, and then what sort of decision you might make off the back of that?

Bec Marshall:

The major one, well, there's lots that we might make. I guess one of the major ones we looked at this year was our top dressing, how we're applying nitrogen during the growing season to feed the crop. That's where soil moisture has been really handy for us, just having that knowledge of what's actually in the profile. You can actually have quite a dry growing season, not be receiving a lot of in crop rain, but have quite a full profile underneath. Just having the confidence around feeding that crop, to make it reach its full potential, I suppose.

Drew Radford:

So what would actually happen there, Bec? Without that information, would you hold off actually applying the nitrogen, because you're unsure it's dry, and it's not going to be taken up? Is that-

Bec Marshall:

Potentially, you could find yourself in the situation. Without that information to provide the confidence that your crop might actually have a better yield potential than what you're thinking, just based on your current rainfall, yeah. So, you might end up under feeding that crop nitrogen, and it doesn't reach its full potential. So, it can be that real signal, I suppose, to go harder in the right season, or also, it can be the reverse too. If you don't have the moisture in the profile, you could, as often happens in the Mallee, have a really fantastic looking crop early on in the season, and absolutely nothing in the profile, and just also needing to pull things back a little bit and not go too hard. So, there's the reverse here as well, I guess.

Drew Radford:

That is Bec Marshall from Normanville. If you're a producer and you're interested in finding out more about soil moisture monitoring, Dale Boyd says, there's a range of information that's readily available.

Dale Boyd:

Go to the agriculture.vic.gov.au webpage and search for soil moisture monitoring, and you'll come up with all the links and the background description of the Dryland Cropping Program. They've also developed recently, with the assistance of the Dry Seasons Program, a new dashboard. That's on extensionaus.com.au/soilmoisturemonitoring all in one word. That dashboard's been a really great development because, it not only provides an indication of the crop or pasture that's growing, because that obviously has a very big influence on soil moisture increases at the start of the season, but also the rate of depletion that you might see in late winter, and coming into spring.

Dale Boyd:

So it's good to have that description of what's happening, because obviously, these reference points are quite important, and if farmers and industry are going to take more note of them, there's obviously an indication of why they're being depleted at the rate they were, due to what is growing at that reference point. So, both sources have good information.

Drew Radford:

Dale, it's a phenomenal amount of information, and an amazing resource for producers to access. Seasonal Risk Agronomist with Agriculture Victoria, Dale Boyd, thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk Studio.

Dale Boyd:

Thank you very much, Drew.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating, and share this series with your friends and family.

Speaker 1:

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm. This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian government, Melbourne.

Episode 5: Balancing wet winters and dairy farming with Craig Dwyer

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Ag Vic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

If you mention managing seasonal variability, most people start thinking about strategies to deal with dry times. For some though, the opposite can be the problem, which is the case for dairy farmer Craig Dwyer from Bullaharre, just out of Cobden in South West Victoria. In this location, excessively wet winters can be a real problem when juggling the needs of a dairy herd against maintaining healthy paddocks.

Drew Radford:

To find out more, Craig Dwyer joins me in the AgVic Talk studio. Craig, thanks for your time.

Craig Dwyer:

No worries, Drew. Anytime at all.

Drew Radford:

Craig, the focus of our discussion is dealing with seasonal variability, but in terms of seasons, I understand you just had a pretty good one.

Craig Dwyer:

Ah, yeah, we've been pretty handy, given the spring kinder of lasted all the way through until, effectively, New Year. We did dry off a fraction and then had a very, very early break. Yeah, our down period was probably only about six weeks. I would have said last year, combined with a nominally high milk price, was probably one of the best ones we've ever put together.

Drew Radford:

For a lot of producers, the biggest seasonal risk is not enough rain for you though. I understand it's almost the opposite.

Craig Dwyer:

We can get very wet. We are a wet farm. We do have a lot of heavy black flats and a creek running through the middle of the property with kind of around that 850-millimetre rainfall average per year. Yeah. It's a management challenge in a wet winter. The winter we're going through right at the moment, up until this point in time has been very, very kind to us. Given that June was quite dry and July probably... I know others have had it, unfortunately too dry for them, but July's been ideal for us. The only thing that could have made it better was probably a little more sunshine.

Drew Radford:

What do you put in place, Craig, though, to manage the potential of a really wet winter?

Craig Dwyer:

We ensure that we've got enough grass cover on the property before we actually open the farm back up to the milking cows. We try to have grass cover levels at 2,500 kilos of dry matter to the hectare, and then once majority of the farm is at that point, we'll allow the cows to start grazing. Generally, with our calving pattern, we're calving around the 15th of May, so therefore we do sacrifice the cows off into a couple of paddocks to allow that grass cover to get ahead, to give us a feed wedge. Then once that wedge is established, we strip graze them around the farm to keep the rotation as long as possible.

Craig Dwyer:

It's around that 60 odd days before we're back in the same paddock again, which becomes a challenge though, in the middle of winter, when you potentially have to throw open... Most of the farm's divided into 10 acre paddocks, and when it does shockingly wet, we do have to throw the gate open and give them one complete paddock where you'd at least try to get two, if not three feeds out of the one paddock.

Drew Radford:

I understand also, you've been doing quite a bit in terms of pasture management, because it wasn't a dairy farm before, am I correct in that?

Craig Dwyer:

Well, it was a dairy farm through from about the early '80s up until 1999, but a very underdeveloped farm. Let's put it that way. It was just 22 paddocks with 22 dams. No trough infrastructure, or water infrastructure and very minimal lane ways, and that sort of thing. Then it was a beef farm from the late '90s all the way through until we bought it in 2012, but we leased it out for three years before we moved on to it ourselves.

Drew Radford:

So, to cope with the demands of a dairy herd, other than the infrastructure requirements, have you had to do a lot in terms of pasture development to support that herd?

Craig Dwyer:

Yeah. We've renovated virtually the whole place, Drew, back into the more newer varieties of perennial grasses. I'm not a big fan of the annuals, sowing annuals in, and then having to do the same thing again next year, I know you can get bulk feed off it, but I prefer to stick in the perennials, and given our wetter rainfall, or more likelihood of a reliable rainfall here, perennials seem to hang on better, that I've found. Yeah, we've renovated the whole farm over a period of five years, and upped the fertility base too, to support that grass. Yeah, I think we've almost got the place up to the right spec that we need for it to be producing as good as we could possibly get it.

Drew Radford:

Okay. You've got the pasture to a certain level, but you're still dependent upon fodder to a certain amount, aren't you?

Craig Dwyer:

Yeah, we do. We do buy in. We endeavour to cut as much silage as possible off the place, but we do buy in up to about 300 ton of cereal/clover hay that we have with a long-term relationship with a hay grower. Not far down the road for us, reasonably close. We've had that guaranteed for a few years now, so we do have that fodder up our sleeve to manage either a ridiculously wet winter, or a longer dry spell while we're trying to establish that pasture cover over the farm. It kind of swings both ways.

Drew Radford:

Are you having to store that on farm, or have you had to change infrastructure to deal with that?

Craig Dwyer:

We've just built a hay shed in May this year. It was purchased late last year, but unfortunately due to builder commitments and then some wet weather here through the early part of the autumn, we were unable to get it up until middle of May. At which stage the weather had already turned, and the hay that we had purchased this year had to be stored outside, so there wasn't much point putting slightly damaged hay into the new shed and being slightly damp as well. We definitely have upgraded the infrastructure, because it was the one thing that was missing on this farm, was a decent hay shed, and over this coming summer or this coming hay season, we will be reassessing our fodder requirements, and getting probably as much hay into that shed as possible.

Drew Radford:

Craig, in regards to assessing those fodder requirements, what are you actually looking at? I mean, what sort of planning tools, apps, or seasonal forecasts help you make those decisions?

Craig Dwyer:

I've already made decisions on which paddocks will be renovated for this coming spring. We'll put in a fodder rape crop into paddocks that have been either badly damaged by pugging, or have the most tired grass species in them, as in the ones that were probably sown five years ago. If they've got some ongoing issues, either from cricket damage, or pugging, etc, we'll renovate them, so those decisions have already been made for those paddocks that will probably get pulled out of the rotation.

Craig Dwyer:

Then we'll try and get those fodder crops in early to give us a feed wedge, to keep the cows milking through until hopefully at least February. Off some of that green feed, because we do pump our effluent water back over those crops to try and get a potential second, maybe even a third grazing off them. If the season's really kind to us with a little bit of rain fall and not too many stinking hot days, but we will also just bank on buying 200 ton of hay on this farm, pretty much every year without fail. I'd prefer to be over insured on the hay side of things by having that fodder on farm rather than having to go to the hay market, potentially, when everybody else is, if there is a shortfall. Hay in the shed, or hay on farm, we consider money in the bank here. It's plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Drew Radford:

Is that more of a seasonal plan that you've got in place as opposed to looking at seasonal forecasts and thinking, "Oh, maybe I need a bigger buffer, or even a smaller buffer"?

Craig Dwyer:

I do look at the forecasts potentially for the seasons coming. I did note the BOM this year predicted a very, very wet winter. That didn't eventuate here, thankfully, for a wet farm like ours. Yeah, I don't put a 100% faith in them. As I said, we will get as much fodder on farm as we can, and as our cashflow allows, anyway, and given that this hay shed is now here, and we'll probably try and keep that as full as possible over the journey. This season's shaping up like... The cereal guys up slightly north of us are having a cracking year at this stage, so if that continues, hopefully there'll be a fair bit of hay about, and the price might be back a little. The guys up north, New South Wales and Queensland, they've got some green grass about, so hopefully their requirements for fodder will be less, so the demand may not be there as there has been, but who knows, you throw a bushfire in there and the demand can go through the roof again.

Drew Radford:

Craig, looking further ahead. What plans have you got for your property to try and insulate it as much as possible from the extremes of either seasons?

Craig Dwyer:

Probably the next capital expenditure will be on some drainage, so we can avoid damaging some of that pasture that we're putting into the wetter paddocks. That'll allow us to get a little bit more traffic over those paddocks without doing as much damage. The drier side of things, we have got a lot better at the water storage on farm, given that there was 22 paddocks, 22 dams. There is a reticulated trough system to every paddock. Some of the dams have been cleaned out, so our capacity for storage on farm's a lot better. We've also put culverts in and redirected some drains to ensure that we do catch the surface runoff that we do get. Our effluent side of things, we're using that nutrient base, and the water that comes with that to go back over the fodder rape crops.

Craig Dwyer:

We're setting ourselves up as best we can here. We don't have any irrigation water, or any underground water here, so we're entirely reliant on runoff, so it is a very precious commodity that we have to try and manage better into the future.

Drew Radford:

Craig Dwyer. It sounds like you are doing a very detailed job of managing it, and in the process laying substantial foundations for the future. Thank you very much for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Craig Dwyer:

No worries, Drew. Appreciate that. Let's hope the season's favourable for everybody.

Drew Radford:

For more agriculture Victoria information on dealing with climate variability, you can subscribe to both The Break, and the Milking the Weather newsletters. Both of these you can find through the Agriculture Victoria website. Also, you can get in contact with your local dairy extension officer who can direct you to relevant information and advice to help you get started in understanding how your business can adapt to climate variability.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

Speaker 1:

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

Speaker 1:

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria. Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 4: Getting a foot in the door using drones on-farm with Clay Gowers

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Ag Vic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Imagine having a clear vision for making your farm more productive and less labour intensive, but not having the resources to even let you take the first step in making that happen. That was the story of Clay Gowers. A farmer from Carwarp in North Western, Victoria, who was certain drones could play a big part in improving productivity on their family property. He joined me in the Ag Vic Talk studio to discuss how he's now on the path to making his dream a reality.

Clay Gowers:

At the minute, what we do agronomically is we just drive around the paddock, just visually look and see if we've got an issue with any of the paddocks. I think our agronomists have told us to visually see a difference between that plant and that plant. It has to be a 10% difference and 10% is quite a lot when you start talking yield at the end of the day. So, what my plan would be, would be to fly my drone, be able to map a paddock. You get a bit better of a bird's eye view and you get the paddock as a whole. Whereas when we drive to the paddock, we drive through a bit of a corner or maybe through the middle and then out, you don't get a full idea of what the paddock's doing in every spot as you'd be driving around the paddock all day.

Drew question: So, it’s this ambition for drones that’s led you to apply to a Young Farmers Scholarship. Tell me about why you think then this would be a good fit?

Clay Gowers:

I'd always wanted to learn more about different farming processes. And I suppose I haven't really been able to fund learning different skills and all that sort of stuff. Some of the things you learn cost a little bit of money. So, I haven't probably thought it as a big priority financially. So I haven't sort of taken a step, but being able to get the scholarship has allowed me to take that scholarship money and be able to put it into an area where I'm really interested in, but haven't had the chance to sort of make that leap forward.

Drew Radford:

So, what is it you've put it into?

Clay Gowers:

The scholarship's pretty much broken down into two halves. So, you have up to $5,000 to study and up to $5,000 to implement. So, I've put my studying $5,000 in, which is the Upskill portion, I've put that into drone mapping. So basically, learning how to incorporate drones into the farm, to help map paddocks and gather data. And then the second half of my scholarship will be helping me to fund into a drone. So, it should pay for, I think, two thirds of a agricultural mapping drone, and then I'll fork out the last little bit to sort of help implement that into our farm.

Drew Radford:

Okay. So, you're getting into drones Clay.

Clay Gowers:

Yep.

Drew Radford:

But why do you see drones as an important tool for the future of your farming needs?

Clay Gowers:

So, it's just to get, I suppose, a better view of your paddock as a whole, as most farmers know, no paddock is equal from one side to the other. You've always got dead spots. You've always got hills that are either overproduced or under-produced and they address... I suppose, fertilizer side of things, they're addressed differently. And then I suppose if it comes to infestation of bugs or mice or any other kind of pests, you're able to visually see the damage faster and being able to address it earlier is always going to be a benefit.

Drew Radford:

Are you aware of drones being applied this way in other farming practices?

Clay Gowers:

I have on some small scale. I know that Agriculture Victoria, I believe in the Horsham Research Facility, they are doing tests on crops, but obviously that's a smaller scale. I believe there is a farmer in the Sea Lake, Manangatang area that is doing it. I have to look into that a little bit more, because I really want to go and visit him to sort of see how he's implementing it and how he thinks it works. And I suppose pick his brain of things have worked, things that haven't. But as for large scale, I don't know a lot that's going on in that space. But definitely if anyone, I suppose knows of anything can contact me, I'd definitely be interested in listening to what they got to say and even visiting the farm and I'm eager to learn. And I can see this space being a space that's... it's not going to get smaller. It's going to be one of those things where 10, 15, 20 years, farmers are going to be saying, "When did you get started implementing drones?" Not if you have but when you have.

Drew Radford:

So, you're going to be a bit of a pioneer in this space, in some regards Clay.

Clay Gowers:

That's the sort of the plan. Yeah. I already have a keen interest in drones anyway, but being able to implement this into the farm, it'll be learning from my mistakes and trying to work out well, what can we do better? How can we implement this technology in a easier or user-friendly way? Or I suppose it’s sort of very early stages in drone development in general. And then, yeah, you're trying to apply it into a professional space being in agriculture. There's always going to be some learning points and yeah, ways to drive that technology forward. So, I'm excited to see where it can go.

Drew Radford:

I guess the scholarship then has given you a chance to hyper accelerate your vision and pursue this technology because otherwise what would it have been. A bit of a have a go-show. Go and buy a drone and see what you can do with it. Whereas now you're going to be professionally trained and have the money to buy a piece of equipment that's fit for the task.

Clay Gowers:

Yeah, definitely. It's interesting that you sort of bring that up. I actually, previous to even hearing about the scholarship, I remember having a chat to my dad about maybe getting something like this to help with our spraying program. And I jumped online, looked at the price, said, "Yep, no way." And then shut the computer again, even just an entry level ag drone and I just looked at it and I thought I can't afford that, but I don't even know how to use it. I don't know anything about it. So that's going to be more training. And I just remember being overwhelmed the first time I saw the price of some of these ag drones, that can vary from five grand up to 40 grand. So, it was quite overwhelming. And then I suppose when the scholarship came out, I thought, well, why not use this as a chance to learn from people in the industry and try to, I suppose, implement this technology in a way that sort of never been implemented before, so.

Drew Radford:

Clay, you've given a bit of an outline in terms of a bird’s eye view opportunity it's going to give you in terms of looking at your crops and what may be occurring across the entire operation. Have you got a vision for other areas that may lead into for you?

Clay Gowers:

I believe in the short term, the next, let's say 10 years, it will be mainly focused on crop health. So obviously, like I said before, getting that bird's eye vision, being able to scan paddocks for the crops' photosynthesis. So obviously the green scale of the crop. And then obviously that's going to tell us if the plant is sick, if it needs either addressing because... And then finding the reason why it's sick. Could it be pest infestation or nutrients and addressing that issue. So, I believe that in the short term the main focus will be all for crop health and agronomic strategies and all that sort of thing. But I believe the long term will be people talk about drones. The first thing that comes to their mind is something flying in the air. But the definition of a drone is just anything that's unmanned.

Clay Gowers:

People talk about driverless tractors. I know in America they're testing driverless tractors at the minute. The biggest stumbling block is going to be obviously getting that over the line safety wise and OH&S. But I believe the future of farming is going to be more, less physical people in seats and more automated technology to have driverless tractors, driverless sprayers, driverless quad bikes, utes, all that sort of thing. So that then the farmer is more of a management of operations instead of sitting in the seat or having to employ five people to sit in each of these tractors. I think from a future visionary standpoint, I believe that the farmer is going to be more managing these machines and focusing on tasks that require hands, like filling up trucks again, or maintenance for breakdowns and all that sort of thing. I do believe that will be the next push. When that is, whether that's in 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, I believe it will be in my lifetime. I'm 27 at the minute so that will be either implemented or not far off being implemented.

Drew Radford:

Clay, as you said, you're only 27, but you're obviously seeing a change in terms of labour being available on properties. Is that part the driver also you think for this need for drone technology? Just simple access to people to do the job.

Clay Gowers:

Yeah, potentially. I know we usually employ people for harvest and sometimes for sowing. It is sometimes hard to get some people to say... Especially if they've got part-time job or another job to say, "Come work for us for two months. And then you can go back to your job." Most people don't want to do that. You need to almost find someone who either is looking for a job is only working let's say part-time and they can cut their other job back. So, to find that sort of person who's actually good quality people can be difficult to find because we... As we were running multimillion-dollar machinery, we don't want to just chuck anyone on there that doesn't really know what they're doing. We actually sort of almost filter through people before you even ask them. And then obviously those people are probably qualified or got jobs elsewhere.

Clay Gowers:

So, I don't believe labour acquisition is going to be the driver of it. I think it'll just be technology, making things easier so that you are working smarter. You're not working harder. You're putting your resources where they need to be instead of just sitting in a seat. I find sometimes during harvest and sowing, I'm just sitting there babysitting this machine, making sure that if something goes wrong, I'm on top of it. But 90% of my day is sitting there just watching. And if you could take out that portion and just have a machine that could literally drive itself and then if something goes wrong, it stops. And then you get a notification on your tablet or smartphone or whatever it may be, saying, unit such and such is encountering an error. And then you have to go and obviously solve that error. So, I just think that, that would... It makes you use your time more efficiently instead of sitting in a seat unproductive basically, is sort of my vision on it.

Drew Radford:

So, Clay potentially, is this scholarship putting you on the pathway of where you really think farming is going to be? I mean, your vision is moving farming towards a very high-end technical skill set as well as a high-end agronomic skill set as well.

Clay Gowers:

Yeah, definitely. The technology is here now to implement what I'm talking about. It's just got to be, I suppose, trialled and have issues sorted out and then obviously progress. And that period is going to take a long time. Right now, in America, they've got tractors that will drive themselves and you just set up your parameters. Here's the boundary, here's a tree. They'll go around it, not a problem. It's not that will be an implementation. It will be the part that the neighbour worrying about if it's going to drive through his house. It's going to be the safety side of things that will take a long time to get over the line to then start implementing. So, I suppose I've got my scholarship side of things, which is obviously is amazing. And I'm so excited to get started and start flying my drone around and start using it on our farm effectively and being able to make better agronomic decisions faster.

Clay Gowers:

But I can also see this other side of it where the future is going to be so incredibly interesting and the direction that it's going to go, really, it could go anywhere. But where I can see it going is just going to make life a lot easier. It'll be almost the same instance when GPS started being installed on tractors. Some people had them, some people didn't, but the people that did have them, they found the technology useful. They could see how it was saving the money with fuel, with chemicals, with not overlapping. So, they were saving more money and that paid for their unit in return. I can see this as another instance where once you implement it, it will save you more money and it'll pay for itself anyway. And then in 20 years, people will be saying, "It was the best thing I ever did. It saved me money. And when did you get your drone?"

Clay Gowers:

I believe this will be sort of the next step we'll be mapping. And then obviously in the future for the forward, it will be unmanned tractors and sort of progressed in that direction.

Drew Radford:

Well Clay, it's a very exciting future that you envisage. And I think you're probably on track for seeing it become a reality. How far are you through your training now with your scholarship in terms of the first part of the scholarship?

Clay Gowers:

I've pretty much only got one last portion of it. I'm doing my training down in Warrnambool and I've done the... basically the mapping and data gathering side of things. And then the third part is just a more in-depth learning how to fly larger drones and comply with aviation laws and things like that. I haven't been able to do that section of it due to coronavirus. I was pretty much set in to go just before it all started. And then obviously everything's sort of flared up. So that's sort of been put on the pause for the moment. And so once pretty much I can sort of get down to Warrnambool and organize that again, I'll be heading down there. And then once I've ticked that off pretty much, that's my Upskill portion of the scholarship covered. And then the next step will be the invest side of things, which will be where I'll be looking at purchasing an ag specific drone to help with my mapping.

Drew Radford:

Well, I'm sure you've been trolling the internet, looking for the perfect drone. Clay Gowers, thank you very much for joining me in the Ag Vic Talk studio and all the best with the remaining part of your scholarship and the exciting future road that it's going to take you on.

Clay Gowers:

No worries. Thank you, Drew. Thanks for having me on.

Drew Radford:
For more information about the Upskill and Invest Young Farmers Scholarship and other Young Farmer resources visit vic.gov.au/youngfarmers or search Young Farmer Business Network on Facebook.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to Ag Vic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant before making any changes on farm

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 3: Spring pasture management of fire affected pastures with Fiona Baker

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Spring is a crucial time for pasture management. What factors, though, should producers consider, if the land was burnt in last summer's fires? There's a range of things to take into account, and a person with experience and insight to this is Agriculture Victoria Livestock Extension Officer Fiona Baker. And she joins me now in the AgVic Talk studio. Fiona, thanks for your time.

Fiona Baker:

Not a problem.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, I'd like to take a bit of a step back. What sort of effects can fire have on pastures? And I imagine there's a range of things to consider, from fire intensity all through to the type of pasture.

Fiona Baker:

Yeah, so the intensity of the burn has a big impact on the potential for pastures to recover down the track. So really hot burns where we see an ash-bed being formed, we basically don't see pastures come back from that at all, and they tend to need to be renovated and started over again. But, generally, what we see on most farming situations is a much lower intensity burn, either a very cool burn or a moderate burn, and where we've got a cool burn going across, we see pretty much the whole pasture recovering. Where we've got a moderate burn going across, we can lose up to 50% of the pasture species out of those areas and they may not grow back, but it really is dependent on the pasture species that are present as well. Are they native pastures? Are they some of our improved pastures, ryegrass, cocksfoot, phalaris? And also the age of the pasture, we've noticed, makes a big difference as well.

Fiona Baker:

So, from the fires that we saw recently over January 2020, we saw that brand new pastures that had been resown the previous year, they were basically less than 12 months old, regardless of the species they generally struggle to come back. And what we saw with well-established pastures that had been there for quite a while, whether they were native pastures or introduced species, so your ryegrasses, cocksfoots, etc. If they were older than 12 months old, we've seen quite good recovery from most of those pastures. So it really does depend on that intensity of burn and the species as well.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, how, then, do the producers know if they actually do need to resow?

Fiona Baker:

One of the best things they can do is just to get out and have a look at those pastures. Have a look about how much bare ground they can actually see in those pastures, because too much bare ground leaves it prone to erosion, but also allows a lot of weed invasion in those pastures. And that's probably the last thing that they want to happen. Post-fires, they often have to bring in quite a lot of feed in terms of hay in particular, and sometimes silage, but hay's a large risk in terms of bringing in weeds, in terms of seeds that might be in that hay itself. So, the more bare ground that they've got in their paddocks where they're feeding hay, the more likely they are to get those weeds up and growing, causing issues down the track.

Fiona Baker:

So if they can have a look in their paddocks and just see how many species that they actually want in their pastures are actually present, versus bare ground, that will give them a fairly good idea.

Drew Radford:

Well, Fiona, drilling down a little bit further then, what's the best way a producer should go about making that assessment to resow?

Fiona Baker:

Getting out and wandering across the paddock. I guess it depends on how big the paddock is. So you can either do it on foot, or you can do it off a bike or a horse. If you're doing it by foot, I tend to do it every 10 or 20 paces, have a look down at the toe of my boot and see what's there. Is it bare ground? Is it a grass that I want growing, or is it a weed? And just making a little mark on a bit of paper in a notebook, or something along those lines, and do that as many times as you can across a paddock. Generally, I like to say do it a minimum of 20 times, ideally 50 times, across the paddock at 50 different spots to do the assessment. And then all you have to do, if you've done it 20 times, is multiply it by five.

Fiona Baker:

If you've done it 50 times, multiply it by two to get a percentage. And that gives you an idea of how much bare ground you've got, or how much of the desired species you've got. If you've got less than 70% of the desired species, so more than 30% bare ground as well, that's probably a trigger to say you possibly need to think about resowing. If you do that assessment in spring, it can be a very good time to do it, and that will give you an idea about whether you really need to have a good look in that autumn period. If you have good rainfall over the spring and early summer months, your desirable species of grasses, in particular, might actually tiller and thicken out in those pastures. Which means, basically, you may not need to resow in the autumn, but if we have a particularly dry spring and summer, those bare patches may actually increase in size and you'll definitely need to do resowing in that autumn period.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, you've talked a little bit about spring there, but what are the key grazing management strategies to think about this spring, following the fires.

Fiona Baker:

It's the common grazing management methods that we use during normal years, regardless of whether there's been a fire or not. Ideally, we want to graze to what we call "leaf stage" as much as possible. So, particularly, our introduced species like ryegrass and cocksfoot and phalaris, they have leaf stages that they prefer to be grazed at to make sure that they stay in the system. Ryegrass prefers to be grazed at two and a half to three leaves. Cocksfoot and phalaris prefer to be grazed at about the four-leaf stage. And if we do this, we actually maximise the amount of leaf we grow, but also the amount of root that's being grown below the soil surface.

Fiona Baker:

This really sets that plant up to be in your system long-term. If we keep coming back and grazing those plants too quickly and too early, and they don't get out to that leaf stage, we actually damage the root system underneath. They can be prone to being pulled out quite easily, and they also struggle to access moisture deep down in the profile. So, we actually shorten their growing season. Most grass species will actually tiller out, which is making new little plants off to the side of the main parent plant, and this is how our pastures thicken up over time. So, we need light to be able to get down to the base of those plants, to trigger off the tillering process.

Fiona Baker:

But most plants also won't start tillering until they get near that leaf stage for grazing. Ryegrass generally tends not to think too hard about tillering out until it's about that two, two and a half leaf stage. Cocksfoot and phalaris, probably about the three leaf stage before they think about tillering out. Then we want to also make sure we don't graze down too hard. So have the appropriate residuals left behind.

Fiona Baker:

If we graze down below 1000 kilograms of dry matter per hectare, we can actually start to damage the plant itself because it's actually got energy reserves in that last little bit of stubble. As well as energy out of the roots, it uses energy out of that remnant stem, or the residual, to start powering out those first new leaves before they can use the sunlight to capture it. So, when you're thinking about 1000 kilograms of dry matter per hectare, that's just three centimetres in height. If you can leave three centimetres’ residuals behind, that will set the pastures up really well for good, strong, healthy regrowth.

Fiona Baker:

Some of the other things we might need to think about over spring, particularly if we have got some weeds growing in what were those bare patches, is thinking about controlling those weeds with a bit of herbicide. Some weeds can be spray grazed, and that's just where a light application of herbicide is applied. There's usually a withhold period to keep the stock off, which is usually around seven days, and then you can put the stock in to graze the pasture, including those weeds.

Fiona Baker:

I guess, one other one that just sprang to mind, then, is if they do have some annuals or they don't have a lot of stock in their system, they've got some bare open patches, is it might be the kind of year where you might want to let grasses go to seed and drop that seed into the pasture to help thicken it up as well. The majority of thickening up of pasture happens through that tillering process, but recruitment from seed does happen as well. So, it might be one of those years, post-fire, that people might consider doing that.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, you mentioned, there, "post-fire". If farmers are in a position to cut fodder after a fire, what do they need to think about?

Fiona Baker:

Yeah, it's a good one. So where a lot of people may not have bought the normal number of stock back, but if they've had half-decent rainfall which has generated good pasture growth, they might be finding that they've got surplus feed on hand that they want to cut as fodder. In particular, what you really want to think about if you have cut fodder or are going to cut fodder, is as soon as you cut that hay or silage off those paddocks, is to replace the nutrients. Because what we're doing when we take off hay or silage off a paddock, is we're pulling phosphorus, potassium and sulphur out of those paddocks. If we were going to feed the hay and silage straight back onto those paddocks to stock, they recycle those nutrients and replace most of them back, but more often than not we'll cut off one or two paddocks and then feed it out somewhere else.

Fiona Baker:

So we're actually moving those nutrients to another area. If we want those pastures to grow back really strong and healthy, we need to put back that phosphorus, potassium and sulphur. And there's usually about 3 kilos of phosphorus for every one ton of dry matter removed in hay and silage. When we're looking at potassium in hay, there's roughly 15 kilos for every one ton of dry matter removed. So that potassium, in particular, we're removing quite a lot out of the system. We can actually cause a deficiency quite quickly if we don't replace those nutrients. So, it's just something to really think about.

Fiona Baker:

If we want those pastures to recover... They've already been through a very stressful period in terms of being burnt. We just want to make sure that they're well set up, as much as possible, to take into use the rainfall that comes in this autumn period that's coming forwards. Get those pastures really up and firing and growing, ready to have animals brought back into the system.

Drew Radford:

Fiona, looking a little bit further ahead over the horizon. Do people have to wait until autumn to resow?

Fiona Baker:

No, not really. Some people will try spring sowing, particularly of ryegrass, cocksfoot, phalaris. That can be difficult if you think it's going to rain over that late spring and early summer period. You can generally get away with a bit of spring sowing, but what we usually recommend is wait until autumn to resow, because you're more guaranteed a rainfall event to allow germination to happen. If you do need feed going through that spring and summer period, there are other options, such as summer fodder crops like chicory and some of the brassicas. And they can actually be used over that late spring, summer and early autumn period to fill that feed gap. Then, in autumn, you can move into putting in your actual pasture itself, your perennial species. So, there's options to think about, and probably talking to a local seed agronomist is a very good idea. Just to identify which species are best suited for what you're trying to achieve with your animals, as well as what you're trying to achieve in your pasture rotation.

Fiona Baker:

If you've got a lot of bare ground at the moment through this spring period, it probably is advisable to put some sort of fodder crop in. Just so you've got a good ground cover over that summer period to minimize any soil erosion, and then go into your pastures in that autumn period. But if you've got good ground cover already, and you're thinking, "Maybe I don't need a huge flush of feed over summer," you can actually hold off until autumn to do your resowing.

Drew Radford:

Fiona Baker, Agriculture Victoria Livestock Extension Officer. Thank you for joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Fiona Baker:

Not a problem. Cheers.

Drew Radford:

For more fire recovery, pastures and feeding livestock information, producers can visit the Agriculture Victoria website.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to AgVic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family. All information is accurate at the time of release.

Speaker 1:

Contact Agriculture Victoria, or your consultant, before making any changes on farm.

Speaker 1:

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne.

Episode 2: Managing a dairy farm in a variable climate with Kevin Fitzsimmons

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Climate variability is an issue for all producers, but when you produce something daily like milk, it becomes a very big focus of your planning. Kevin Fitzsimmons is a dairy farmer for Merrigum in the Northern Irrigation region. His family has farmed there for three generations, but he says since the millennium drought, running profitably has never been more difficult. He joins me in the AgVic Talk studio to discuss how he manages climate variability.

Drew Radford:

Kevin, thanks for your time.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

My pleasure, Drew. Thank you very much.

Drew Radford:

Kevin, you face challenges like never before. Once you were a farmer, now you're a water trader constantly focused on the market. On top of that, you've got a variable climate as well to deal with. Are you still passionate about what you do?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

Yeah. Look, I am passionate about it. I actually really love what I do. We have not been on a holiday for three years, but I don't feel like I need to go on a holiday. I get up every morning at four o'clock, seven days a week because I love what I do. To me, I feel like I'm in paradise. And when I say that to people, they sort of look at me a bit strange, but maybe it's just because it's what I've always done. It's what I know. And I don't know any different, I guess. Although I had worked off farm years and years ago, but I really genuinely love what I do. I love my cows and I like to look after them as best I can.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

It is hard when you've got to make those decisions. Well, we've never let the cows go without, so I've never had hungry cows. We've always gone and bought the feed or bought the water or done things to feed and look after them. So, yeah, it's just what I love to do.

Drew Radford:

Kevin, for those that don't work in the industry, they probably think that because you're on irrigated land, you wouldn't have to worry too much about climate variation. That though is a fair way from the reality though, isn't it?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

Yeah, it is. Basically, we have our water allocation, but we really need double the amount of water that we need to farm profitably. So, we've got to go into the temporary market and buy that water. At a certain point, that water becomes too expensive to make a profit out of. So, we've then got to obviously, to buy grain or hay and those costs have been high as well but get a better return out of that than the price of water.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

One mega litre will roughly grow you a ton of food and at 5-$600 a megalitre, it's too high when you can buy grain around 400 or hay at 350, a ton, dollars a ton, that represents a better value. It's still not economical, but to try and get through as best we can. That's how we've dealt with it and going forward, hopefully, water price will come down, but with the water market, water prices seem to be continually high and that's a concern going forward. So, unless we have a wet year, but the next year could be dry again. And then all of a sudden, it's back up again.

Drew Radford:

So you're constantly juggling, Kevin, then really in regards to how much water can you afford or have access to, to water your land. And look, for those that don't understand, you're not just watering pasture and keeping it green to graze cows on, you're actually growing pasture and stocking fodder away. Aren't you?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

Yeah. We are, and we've actually changed the composition of what we grow. We don't grow as much pasture now because of the cost of water, cost of putting it on in the summertime when there's so much evaporation and productivity drops off, as far as growth rates go. It's just not economic to put it on. So, we're probably changing to more crops and growing more annuals which is shaftal and ryegrass, things like that, which we water in the autumn. So, we've got feed through winter and probably takes two, maybe three watering’s in the autumn. And then it might take another couple of watering’s in the spring time to finish off depending on whether we get spring rain.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

So that could be a maximum of six watering’s on those annual pastures where, as summer pasture, it could be anything between 15 to 20 irrigations and you don't get that much more tonnage of feed. So things have changed because of the water situation of how we operate. And we adjust our numbers as to what we can feed and cost, obviously that drives either profit or reducing the loss that you're going to make that year.

Drew Radford:

So what other things are you doing, Kevin to try and constantly juggle, I guess the cost of water against what the climate is actually doing, because you're looking to the skies to try and bring you, I suppose, cheaper water for want of a better description. What other things are you implementing on your property to try and deal with variation of climate and access to water?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

Well, what we've just done in the last four or five months, we've installed a pipe and riser system. So that eliminates well evaporation, seepage, so all our water is now piped around the farm. And that was put in place, obviously with the rationalisation of the irrigation system and the modernisation. We've got rid of open channels, Goulburn Murray Water have rationalized some channels on our farm, and they gain the water savings. So, there's a saving there and they we're able to incentivise us, I guess, to put in a pipe and riser system. We had to put in some cash ourselves but in the long run, obviously that's increased our efficiency. Haven't actually used it yet. The system will start operating again, 15th of August is when the system opens up again, the irrigation season.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

But yeah, the results are...and I have actually used, we had a recycle system I need to move water from one into the others that we were going to run out of water at the dairy and that we're able to run water from one dam to another that had water in it. So, they had water at the dairy site which I could never, ever do before. So, it's worked really well that way. And obviously I can water paddocks more efficiently. I can get the water on quicker. I've got a higher flow rates and the water will come on instantaneously on those paddocks. Whereas before I'd probably have to wait three or four hours for the channel to fill up before I could get water onto those paddocks.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

So that's where we're heading now. And the water savings on that, well, we haven't monitored that yet but on other sites that have had them in, the water savings there have been quite impressive. So, we're hopeful that that's going to make us more efficient, more profitable going forward. And obviously for the next generation and the generations after we can keep staying here.

Drew Radford:

I get the impression Kevin, that a lot of your work is actually about debt management and also borderline being a stock broker or water broker?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

You're dead right. It's definitely been since the millennium drought about debt management. I suppose prior to 2000, things just ticked over from one year to the next and it was pretty easy, but it has been about managing that debt and trying to find... every year has been different, I guess, because our biggest inputs, obviously, our grain, hay and water. And we look at those each year and try to manage that and see what the season is going to do.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

We obviously monitor what the Bureau are forecasting and if they're forecasting like they have in the past, El Nino’s, we know water prices are going to be dear so we try and lock in our hay early so that we've got that there, so we're not exposed to the water market. So, we're always looking probably six months in advance to seeing what we can plan, how we can get through it for that next six months. And that's how we're managing it. It is a juggling act and it has been for quite a few years. So, we'll just see how it all pans out now that we've modernised our operation here. And we're also leasing land, so it can grow, be more self-sufficient and grow more feed. And we do all our own hay. So, we're trying to be as self-sufficient as we can and not being exposed to those markets where prices can just crucify you really, I guess.

Drew Radford:

I understand also, you've changed your watering regime in terms of trying to get a different root growth happening with some of your pasture. What was your aim there and what did you do and what have you achieved?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

I guess we always have topped in the past and that keeps the plant at a certain height. Last year, because we knew we were going to run out of water because we were putting the pipe and riser in, we didn't top. Basically, what happens on top of the ground, happens below the ground. But we made the decision that we're going to have a compromise and have a bit more growth on top and a higher residual that will keep the moisture high. You're not going to get the evaporation. So, it stretched out our watering. And also, the roots obviously are forced to go down to chase that moisture as well and that worked pretty well. Obviously, when we put the pipe and riser in, we weren't able to irrigate the whole farm went dry. And we bought a heap of food back last spring because we knew that was going to happen.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

But in the past, that is what we've done. Yeah. We tried to keep that residual a lot higher than what is normal in normal happens. So yeah, it's a lot of experimenting I guess, and trying to work out as things change from season to season. And as I said, we look six months ahead and try and forecast and see what's going to happen for that season. And then we'll make our plan accordingly.

Drew Radford:

So Kevin, what other things have you done in terms of changing infrastructure around your property to try and deal with hot weather and variation or excessive wet?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

In 2016, we had a very wet year, which we hadn't experienced for a while. And we sacrificed paddocks, and we just had hay rings in paddocks, and we wasted a lot of feed. I said, "I'm not doing that again." We had an area where we built a recycled dam and there was a bank of dirt there and it was built up, but it hadn't been gravelled or anything and probably a hectare in size. So we ended up graveling all of that, about 6 inches of gravel over it. And we put hay rings set up on that. The cows will come off the dairy and they'll go straight onto the pad and get feed off there. And it's just made things more efficient. And even when we have had a wet period they've gone on there. There's minimal damage to the paddocks, they're not getting plugged up. We can grow better quality feed on those paddocks that aren't out of production because they had been wrecked and ruining the soil structure.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

So that's been a big saving there and we're obviously not wasting the feed either. As far as, we put shade cloth on the dairy. We used to have a lot of problems obviously here in the Goulburn Valley and in Australia in particular, I guess. We're exposed to the sun. We used to have a lot of cows that... When I say a lot, probably one or two every few years that would go down with, get severe sunburn. So yeah, we put that on there. The cows coming into dairy even on really hot days and it creates its own breeze under the shade cloth, the temperature is so much cooler. And the cows come in there and they're not panting or anything like that, they're calm.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

So that's made a huge difference as well. We're always looking for what's best for the cow, how she can be as comfortable as she can. And also it's a workplace thing as well. So, there are things that we've implemented and quite happy with how that's worked out.

Drew Radford:

You've got a lot going on with your property in terms of juggling water and pasture and growth and running a dairy full time as well. What about calving, have you changed that around at all to try and spread the workload across the year?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

Yes, we have actually. When my parents were running it, we were just a spring calving herd. When I took over probably 30 years ago now, we went to spring and autumn. And we have, probably the last 15 years ago, we actually went to three times a year calving. So every four months, we calve and a lot of that came about, I guess, through fertility of cows. Initially with spring calving, if you didn't get a cow in calf, she had to be a really good cow to milk through for another 12 months, otherwise we would lose our cow, just send her to the abattoirs. And to me that wasn't profitable. So that's why we went to autumn calving.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

So it was a six month interval calving, obviously the same problem. The cow had to be good enough to carry through for another six months to get back in calf again for the next cycle. And the industry is addressing that fertility now through selecting for high fertility bulls and we've been on that program now for the last three years. And that has made a big difference as well to getting cows in calf. We have a short calving period of six weeks at each joining. Whereas in the past, in the spring time calving, we'd join for three months. So, you'd be calving for three months. So, it was a long drawn out affair.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

So, by going to three times a year calving and having shorter calving intervals, it has evened the workload out because you're not going flat out at one particular point in time. So yeah, one calving will come along, we will rear those calves and they'll be out through the system before the next one comes along. We're not overburdened with a heap of calves at one particular time. It just evens a work load out for everybody.

Drew Radford:

Kevin, you mentioned, you're always looking to the future and trying to plan ahead. What sort of tools are you using to do that, apps and websites and information?

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

We do a lot with... Always looking at the forecast and whatever information we can get through Dairy Australia. They put out a lot of information. There is a lot of information out there if you want to go and look for it to plan ahead. It's very good information that you can make decisions around. And at the end of the day, every farm is different, I guess. And you take out the information that you want, that suits you and your operation, obviously we're a family farm. There are bigger operations out there as well, which would have different structures. We're trying to keep our operation as simple as we possibly can. And that suits us. It's intensive enough the way it is and enough pressure, the way it is with what's happening with climate change and the Murray–Darling basin and everything else. So, we just try to keep that as simple as we can without complicating it too much.

Drew Radford:

It sounds like you are really focused on setting the property up to continue on for the next generation and for your son to stay firmly at the helm.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

Yeah, well, we are. My parents set it up for us and I'm eternally grateful for them. And I want to be able to do the same for my son and have a farm that is sustainable going forward. To me, it's a legacy. We're obviously trying to make a living out of it as well and survive and be profitable and have a good lifestyle. But we also are thinking of the next generation, as the generation before were thinking of us. So yeah, going forward, it is a priority for us that my son has got a future in the industry and obviously his family, if they decide to come back as well, have a future as well. That's our goal.

Drew Radford:

Well, Kevin Fitzsimmons, it sounds like you are well and truly on the path to achieving that goal. Thank you very much for your time today and joining me in the AgVic Talk studio.

Kevin Fitzsimmons:

My pleasure, Drew. Thank you very much.

Drew Radford:

For more Agriculture Victoria information on dealing with climate variability, you can subscribe to both, The Break and the Milking the Weather newsletters. Both of these you can find through the Agriculture Victoria website. Also, you can get in contact with your local dairy extension officer who can direct you to relevant information and advice to help you get started in understanding how your business can adapt to climate variability.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to Ag Vic Talk. For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

Speaker 1:

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

Speaker 1:

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria authorised by the Victorian Government Melbourne.

Episode 1: Turn a dream to farm into reality with Sarah McLean

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Ag Vic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Trying to get into farming from scratch is not something that happens often these days, as the price of land and equipment is prohibitive to most 20-year-olds. This was exactly the situation faced by Sarah McLean, who grew up in a fifth-generation farming family. She knew the possibility of running the family farm was a long way off, so she left to become a neuropsychologist, a career that would let her start saving for her own property. Along the way, she has pursued every opportunity to help make her dream become a reality, and one of those was successfully applying for the Young Farmers Scholarship. I'm Drew Radford, and Sarah joins me in the Ag Vic Talk studio to discuss pursuing a dream that many would've shied away from.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, thanks for your time.

Sarah McClean:

Thank you, Drew.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, you and your husband, Byron, have done it the hard way to become farmers. There aren't too many people that start from scratch these days.

Sarah McClean:

Yeah, that's right, Drew. I was actually born into a farming family; however, having two siblings, basically I didn't want to wait until any sort of succession plan because I didn't want to farm when I was 60, I wanted to farm when I was young and could still enjoy it. My husband wasn't born into a farming family at all, he actually was born in Geelong, in the middle of town, though he was always interested in farming, so he worked on some local properties and things like that from a young age.

Drew Radford:

But you left the farm to become a psychologist, though, so did you give up that dream at some stage?

Sarah McClean:

I always had the dream, I guess I just didn't really know how to follow that dream and do it when I was young. Everyone said that it's not possible and it costs too much money to buy your land, and then you've got to buy your cattle and machinery, so you can't really set up. Most kids where I grew up, they all left the family farm to get a profession.

Sarah McClean:

I remember when I was really young, a doctor asked me what I wanted to do, just my local GP, and I said I wanted to farm. They said, "Well, how are you going to do that?" I was about 12 at the time, and I said, "Oh, I guess I'll get an education and try and save up a bit of money so I can buy some land." So it was always in the back of my mind, and I always did like psychology as well. I worked with horses, and I think that sort of got me thinking about, I guess, the mind, actions, behaviours and mental state. So, I went to Melbourne and I studied neuropsychology, which was eight years in Melbourne.

Drew Radford:

That’s quite a step away from farming, what was involved in terms of getting you back on the land?

Sarah McClean:

I guess it was always in the back of my mind. As soon as I qualified, I got a job in Warrnambool, that was the closest large centre to where my parents were, to try and get back on the land. Then I guess I was trying to figure out how I was going to buy my first parcel of land. Originally, I was thinking maybe just 20 acres or something so I could have my horses, and then, when I met Byron, he originally wanted to go back and work on a station up at the Kimberley somewhere. As we got talking about different models, he had had the same background as me and said that he always thought that he would never own his own place, because that's what you're told: unless you inherit it, you don't get it. Then we saved hard, we worked hard, and then we managed to buy our first block of 90 acres.

Drew Radford:

That's a long path just to get to your first 90 acres. You've grown it from there, though, haven't you?

Sarah McClean:

We're up to about 700 acres now. We bought 90 acres, and a lot of people said, "Oh, I wouldn't be bothered with 90 acres." We could run 25 cows all year round, and their calves, and sell the calves as weaners, but you still need all your machinery, you still need all your tools, so it's a bit of expense for not much profit, but doing that helped us establish relationships with the bank. Though I'd grown up on a farm, there was actually so much I didn't know about running a business. It's a bit different running it yourself than having mum and dad to lean on and give you guidance of what's happening.

Drew Radford:

So, in regard to the bank, Sarah, and also the knowledge of running the business, is that where applying for the Young Farmers Scholarship comes in for you, to help build that knowledge?

Sarah McClean:

Well, originally, I'd suggested that Byron apply for it. I'm not really sure why I did that, I think it was just the gender stereotype thing. He ran out of time, and I said, "Well, if you're not applying for it, I will." I applied to do a course run by RCS, it was Grazing and Farming for Profit, and it's a pretty broad course. It covers business, land management, and the people aspect of your business. So, I didn't really think I had a lot of chance, because I only had 90 acres, in getting that. I just really hadn't considered myself as a farmer at that stage, I thought it was too small, but it really set the scene in a lot of different interest areas that I have now.

Drew Radford:

Actually, access to the scholarship helped you access doing the course. How else has the scholarship been beneficial?

Sarah McClean:

It's been beneficial in a lot of ways because the course helped me get a real framework in terms of my business, and it also introduced me to land management techniques and looking at soil health rather than just putting stuff on the land because it's what we are told to do. Also, different grazing techniques to get the most out of your land. The other thing that I guess opened my mind up a little bit was the people side of business. We hear a lot about farmers and mental health and people struggling on the land, and there's a bit of a story that goes with farming that, yes, it's tough, yes, it's hard, and you just have to suffer. Where, the courses I did makes you step back and go, "Okay, you've also got to work on your relationship," that's with your family, with yourself, with the land, and I guess be happy farming. It's not a narrative that we often hear in the farming sort of world, is, "Oh, look, they're farming and they're happy," but ultimately we all must love doing it because you wouldn't do the long hours otherwise.

Sarah McClean:

The second part of the scholarship is a infrastructure-type grant. I originally had put in my application that I wanted to do some tree lines and plant trees, which I still am planning to do, but in the more short term, the more pressing issue was to get a new cattle crush. Before the course, I would have said that that was unnecessary because I had an old crush. The head bail didn't even work; it was quite dangerous. I remember at one stage I was quite heavily pregnant with my second child and I was trying to put a fencing post in behind a heifer that was calving when she was having trouble. I had my young daughter on the outside of the yard, just the other side of the crush. Anyway, the heifer kicked the fencing post, knocked me backwards, and briefly knocked me out, and I had a bit of a mark under my chin. From that it gave me a bit of a scare, and I realised probably the biggest risk to my business is me getting injured, and to make sure that I would actually be set up properly and in a more safer way would actually be important in my business, where before I'd said it was probably a bit of a luxury. So, I ended up getting a new cattle crush, which is amazing.

Drew Radford:

So, it's actually sent you down a path of farm safety as well?

Sarah McClean:

Yeah, that's right, and I didn't think about that aspect too much. Obviously, I'm always making sure that my kids are safe, and then, when I realized that, "Hey, if I'm knocked out in the cattle yards, I actually can't keep my kids safe," because my daughter was only 18 months old at the time and while I was alert I could actually watch her and she was quite happily just playing where she was, it was a bit of a wake-up call that the people in your business is probably the most important thing in your business, aside from grazing, and financial, and all the rest.

Drew Radford:

You've got a lot going on, Sarah. You're a mum, you're still practicing as a psychologist, you're trying to build up a farming enterprise. Was taking the scholarship on just a real opportunity, really, to start going down a different path?

Sarah McClean:

With the business that we've got and starting from scratch, you have to invest in yourself. Using the scholarship money, I did the RCS course because otherwise it's hard to justify, when you're trying to start a business, spending that sort of money. Now I see that that would've been the best money I could spend, even if it was my own money, but just getting that money out of your pocket in the first instant is difficult. I've also done a KLR Marketing School. I've recently just done a dog and stock handling school with Neil MacDonald. We're now studying Next Steps, which is like a mentoring program for your business. Some people would say, "Oh, it's just extra time. I don't have time for all that stuff," but if I didn't do that, then it would make my job so much harder and I probably wouldn't, even if I had the opportunities that have come forward...

Sarah McClean:

For example, the biggest part of my farm is actually lease land. There was a lady down the road that was looking to get out of farming, and she saw that I obviously tried to educate myself, I had the background in farming, and was actually doing it on my own. She gave us the opportunity, so credit to her because most farmers who are looking to lease their land would go for, say, an established farmer or a larger company where there's a bit more security. She took a bit of a chance on us because, number one, I guess we'd already shown that we were farming, and, number two, she did want to give the opportunity to a younger person. If you've got young people farming your community, that has flow-on effects for the local school, the kindergarten, the sporting teams, and all the rest, compared to just giving a lease to an already established, usually older farmer within the area.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, your commitment to farming seems to be very, very deep because you're also a member of the Young Farmer Advisory Council as well. What made you pursue that?

Sarah McClean:

I think, basically, because I'd been told that you can't start farming from scratch. I also have an interest in farmer mental health and in sustainable farming practices, and, I think, unless you're involved to some degree or you have some sort of platform to have that voice, that you can't really comment too much about what's going on in politics or what programs are offering or what there is available. Where, if you've actually got that platform to speak your mind, then you can really contribute and help other people and maybe make it a little bit easy for the next lot of farmers that come along as well.

Drew Radford:

Are you continuing on with the council? It sounds like you've got an enormous amount going on in your life as is.

Sarah McClean:

Yes, I'm continuing on in the next term. That's another three-year term. I'm going to be the chair of the next advisory council. I think it's nine members all up for this next term.

Drew Radford:

Congratulations with that and everything else that you've got going on ahead of you. Sarah, how far do you think you are from your dream and becoming a full-time farmer? Back to that question, I guess, that the doctor asked you when you were 12 years old.

Sarah McClean:

To be honest, the progress that we've made since buying that first block has surprised me, it's been a lot quicker, so I'm hoping it's not too long. Obviously, as I said, the biggest part of our business is lease land, so that's a risk to our business because you can lose a lease at any stage. I guess we just need to expand a little bit more to minimize that risk before we can look at doing full-time farming, but hopefully in the next five years.

Drew Radford:

Sarah, lastly, what would you say to somebody who's listening to this and contemplating applying for the scholarship?

Sarah McClean:

I would say don't contemplate, just do it. There's not much to lose in doing it. It takes maybe an hour or two of your time and it can really set you up to do what you love doing. It doesn't matter what level of farming business. Don't be put off if you think that your business is too small or it's just in the ideas phase. Even having it written down, even if you don't get the scholarship, putting your dream down on paper can be of a benefit anyway too.

Drew Radford:

Sarah McLean, you're doing an amazing job of pursuing your dream of being back on the land in between running a farm, being a mum, a neuropsychologist and also Young Farmers Scholarship recipient. Thank you so much for joining me in the Ag Vic Talk studio.

Sarah McClean:

Thank you very much, Drew.

Drew Radford:

For more information about the Upskill and Invest Young Farmers Scholarship and other Young Farmer resources visit vic.gov.au/youngfarmers or search Young Farmer Business Network on Facebook.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to Ag Vic Talk.  For more episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

Speaker 1:

All information is accurate at the time of release. Contact Agriculture Victoria or your consultant before making any changes on farm.

Speaker 1:

This podcast was developed by Agriculture Victoria, authorised by the Victorian Government-

Introduction with Dougal Purcell

Hello and welcome, I'm Dougal Purcell from Agriculture Victoria. We are really excited to bring you Ag Vic Talk.

In a first for Agriculture Victoria, we bring you this AgVic Talk podcast series. Follow along as we bring you stories, information and advice from around our great state of Victoria. In our first series we will be covering contemporary problems and solutions for bushfire recovery, drought and dry seasonal conditions, weather and climate as well as hearing some fantastic inspiring stories from our young farmers.

For episodes in this series, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or rating and share this series with your friends and family.

Page last updated: 29 Nov 2021