In the aftermath of the floods
The rise of native ingredients
A guide for sheep breeders
The mouse explosion
Finding a way forward after the catastrophe
Utilising what Mother Nature gave us
What's on the horizon for the sheep sector?
Behind the scenes of a shocking plague
M AY - J U N E 2 0 2 1 / $ 9. 9 5
INTO BATTLE Managing biosecurity from the frontline
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From the editor
PUBLISHER James Wells EDITOR Michelle Hespe ART DIREC TOR Ryan Vizcarra
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Darren Baguley Ian Lloyd Neubauer Jeanette Severs Lisa Smyth Lucy Knight Michael Burt Paul Henderson-Kelly Phil Somerville Rachel Lenehan Sandra Godwin Susan Gough Henly Tony Blackie NSW FARMERS
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MANAGING DIREC TOR Simon Grover GM OF OPERATIONS Chris Baker FINANCE MANAGER Mina Vranistas PRODUC TION MANAGER Jacqui Cooper HEAD OF DIGITAL Pauline Grech HEAD OF EVENTS Beth Tobin The Farmer magazine magazine is published for the NSW Farmers Association (ABN: 31 000 004 651) by The Intermedia Group (ABN: 94 002 583 682) 41 Bridge Rd, Glebe NSW 2037. All rights reserved. Printed by IVE Group. Getty Images were used throughout the magazine.
In the aftermath of the floods
The rise of native ingredients
A guide for sheep breeders
The mouse explosion
Finding a way forward after the catastrophe
Utilising what Mother Nature gave us
What's on the horizon for the sheep sector?
Behind the scenes of a shocking plague
ust when we thought things were settling down after the bushfires and the pandemic, along comes a mouse plague, followed by floods. I can see that for so many people, on so many days, it's just too much. It's heartbreaking. But then I see the stories of resilience and hope, and it shows me just how strong people can be. During the March floods, my parents’ former hometown of Port Macquarie was particularly badly hit, and I watched in horror as places I knew so well disappeared under water. Locals immediately began to help one another. One man who we covered in our newsletter stood out to me, because he and his family were already going through a tough time, and yet he dropped everything to help others. David Tunsted is a fifth generation oyster farmer from Port Macquarie, and he estimates that he’s lost half of his oyster infrastructure and stock (about one million oysters) at a cost of $500,000. He has no insurance. David's parents’ home went under in the floods, and his father has just begun radiation for cancer. And yet David took his oyster punt out on the dangerous waters with a group of other oyster farmers who had also lost so much, and began helping others. The group took hay to farmers cut off by the floods so that they could keep feeding their livestock, and he saved a lady who was stuck on the roof of a submerged caravan. Without David’ s quick actions she would have been swept down the river. It’ s selfless acts like these that make me think of all the good things in the world, and make me proud to be Australian.
But then came the mice. No one could believe their eyes when the photos and videos started rolling in of sheds and fields carpetted in endless rodents. Farmers lost years’ worth of work, and yet again, did what they could to help others. One of our staff members in an affected area shook her head during one of our meetings and dryly said – “I already had enough housework, and now on top of everything else, I have so much mousework. But what can you do, hey? You just get on with things.” We also always ensure that there’s lighter reading in The Farmer, as sometimes all we need is a postitive tale to lift the spirits. So I hope you enjoy our features on innovative start-ups, farming families doing well despite the challenges, and stories on interesting trends such as the rise in use of native ingredients. Take some time out and enjoy the read.
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M AY - J U N E 2 0 2 1 / $ 9. 9 5
INTO BATTLE Managing biosecurity from the frontline
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MAY - JUN 2021
Contents THE MUSTER NEWS AND VIEWS
Agriculture and the State budget; The Health Star Rating of juice debate; Wrap of NSW Farmers’ Executive Council meeting; Managing land use; Rural land prices soar; Rural fitness groups ������������������������������ 6
THE BIG PICTURE
AN AG IDEAS HUB
Cicada GrowLab in Sydney’s Redfern is a thriving engine room of innovative agricultural solutions that will change the face of farming ����������������������������������� 46
Some new Aussie products�������������������
The challenges, innovations, and ways that NSW farmers can stay connected ���������� 14
THE BIG ISSUE
ENVIRONMENT OF MICE AND MEN
WHAT'S YOUR BEEF? THE BUSH TELEGRAPH
A dive into the pain points behind the scenes in Australia’s beef industry ��������� 52
The recent devastating mice plague was like nothing we’ve seen in Australia in the last 40 years ��������������������������������������� 80 BY THE HORNS: TACKLING FERAL PIGS
Landowners are working together to cost-effectively control wild pig populations ����������������������������������������
EVERY DROP COUNTS IN THE WAKE OF FLOODING
In the aftermath of the devastating March floods, we meet some of the farmers badly affected, and look at what assistance can be accessed to help in the recovery ������� 30
Reducing on-farm water consumption while maximising crop yields ���������������
NEW GENERATION: THE BARTLETTS
After more than 60 years working the land in Outback NSW, the Bartletts always see the silver lining ����������������������������������� 88
TREND THE VERTICAL REVOLUTION
Farming with no concern for weather conditions or pesticides ����������������������
FARM DOGS 60
BOOTS AND ALL
With a career as a podiatrist and a passion for finding solutions, you could say that Penny Crawford’s thriving boot business was cut out for her ������������������������������ 34
Banjo Bake from Coffs Harbour is a goofy German Shephard who loves milk �������� 95
DIVERSIFICATION AND DEMAND: MEET SOME MEMBERS
Record demands for Australia’s native foods has risen from a dire 2020�����������
Meet Menindee Branch members Terry and Jane Smith ����������������������������������������� 96 MEET THE TEAM AT NSW FARMERS
SPECIAL REPORTS PRIMEX PREVIEW
Primex Field Days has returned, and it’s still one of the largest primary industry exhibitions in Australia ����������������������� 70 AHEAD OF THE FLOCK
New automation, nutrition and genetic technology are helping sheep breeders to do a better and more efficient job �����
POLICY ON THE FRONTLINE
Beetles, mites, influenza and more – NSW Farmers calls for a stronger partnership with the government on biosecurity ����� 40
NSW Farmers’ Cattle Committee Chair Deborah Willis at her cattle farm in Northern NSW.
MAY - JUN 2021
THE TAIL END
WHY ARE FARMERS IN INDIA PROTESTING?
A shift in agricultural policy has driven hundreds of thousands of farmers in India to protest in New Delhi ����������������������� 36
Checking in with Senior Policy Advisor in Plant Industries, Christian Staacke ���������
Three farmers from the lower Darling River have been immortalised in an exhibition by French photographer, JR ����������������������� 98
Internet Solutions for Farms of all Sizes Activ8me and parent company Australian Private Networks are leaders in remote and regional Australian connectivity. Offering communications solutions for farming businesses, large and small, our satellite services cater for single, family run properties through to agribusiness operations and pastoral companies.
Solutions for Small Farms Sky Muster™ Plus Simplifies Doing Business on nbn™ Sky Muster™ Sky Muster™ Plus services use the same hardware as standard nbn™ Sky Muster™ services. On Sky Muster™ Plus, business activities like checking emails and online banking are unmetered. This means there’s no fear of running out of monthly data and not being able to get online for business needs until the next month starts. Switching to Activ8me and Sky Muster™ Plus can be arranged over the phone. Call us on 13 22 88 or visit activ8me.net.au for full details.
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l STATE BUD GET REP ORT
Agriculture at the fore of fiscal recovery
In conversation with NSW Farmers CEO, Pete Arkle Projections of a record-breaking $65.9 billion in national output this year bode well for agriculture’s 2030 productivity targets, but an investment drought might be the road block that stops the sector reaching its full potential. Words EMILY SIMPSON
dopting key learnings from COVID-19 and reinforcing longstanding priorities, NSW Farmers has identified areas where the NSW Government can invest in agriculture and regional NSW. NSW Farmers CEO Pete Arkle hopes these areas underpin the 2021/22 State Budget when it is released in mid-June. “Agriculture is NSW’s untapped economic engine. By making agriculture a priority in government planning and investment over the next two years, NSW can build back better,” Mr Arkle says. “With the right settings in
place, the agriculture sector can reach its goal of $30 billion in output by 2030 and drive the state’s recovery from the fiscal blow of COVID-19.” THE PRIORITY AREAS
Mr Arkle says a stronger regional infrastructure network will be necessary to accommodate growing agricultural production and to expand access to domestic and export hubs. “The Great Western Highway upgrade is a priority project, and its significance is heightened by the looming arrival of the Western Sydney Airport and accompanying agri-precinct in 2026.
MAY - JUN 2021
“A sub-three-hour journey between the airport and the Central West will be gamechanging for fresh food producers seeking to increase market access in Asia and the Middle East.” With more freight expected to traverse regional roads over the coming decade, Mr Arkle says the key arteries connecting our over 800,000 square kilometre state must be as safe and efficient as possible. He says in the immediate term, the NSW Government should fund a Newell Highway bypass feasibility study for Dubbo. After years of uncertainty shaped by drought, bushfires,
floods and pandemic restrictions, Mr Arkle says farmers deserve to be able to plan for the future. “The NSW Government can invest in strategies to minimise the cost of key farm business inputs, as well as contribute funding to pestmanagement and drought preparedness to help futureproof farms. Reactivating the flying fox netting rebate, investing in wild dog exclusion fencing in north-western NSW, and further enhancing the Farm Innovation Fund will all be paramount. “Much of this uncertainty can also be doused by a concerted effort to reduce
red and green tape for farming operations. Reducing this burden on local food and fibre production is a low-cost budget item that will result in improved productivity. That’s why we have asked for things such as removing the transfer duty on the purchase of a first farm, legislating the Agriculture Commissioners’ role, water planning coordination and for NSW to lead the national harmonisation of fair trading requirements to reduce red tape and improve competitiveness.” Mr Arkle says our reputation for producing clean and safe products underpins our market access and ability to attract high premiums, and to capitalise on this, the NSW Government must make biosecurity, traceability and research, development and extension ongoing funding priorities. Despite demand for our food and fibre here and overseas, Mr Arkle says our ability to extract value from these products locally is disproportionately low. “After seeing the impact of disruptions such as COVID-19 on global and domestic supply chains, funding for local manufacturing and value-adding should be on the Government’s radar. Grant funding for micro-processing incubators is a way of testing the viability of small-scale, product-specific
manufacturing or processing plants close to growers.” Mr Arkle says farming will be impacted by a number of evolving conditions over coming decades, from shifting consumer preferences to environmental variation. “Farmers need to be empowered to adapt to changing trends, and education and technology will be key enablers of this. The NSW Government can help improve access to business-enhancing innovations such as drones.” He says the government can also support education opportunities that build farmers’ financial literacy, digital literacy and business acumen to help them explore value-add and direct-tomarket opportunities. Mr Arkle emphasises that a strategy for agriculture must include building regional areas. “Regional NSW is a mainstay of the NSW economy, and thanks to a popularity boost over COVID19, it is becoming home to more and more Australians. The NSW Government should leverage this trend and put down the building blocks to promote the longterm growth of regional areas. This means investing in local infrastructure, health, education, and telecommunications to create vibrant and sustainable regional communities.”
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Citrus growers reach for stars The citrus industry is not giving up on its quest to overturn a decision to slash the Health Star Rating of unsweetened 100 per cent fruit and vegetable juices. Words SANDRA GODWIN
ederal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall have promised to continue supporting the citrus sector in its bid to reverse a decision of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation to penalise juices for their high sugar content. Recommended in a fiveyear review of the Health Star Rating (HSR) system, the changes assign plain water an HSR of 5, unsweetened flavoured water 4.5, and ‘diet’ drinks up to 3.5. “Based on their sugars and energy content,” 100 per cent fruit and vegetable juices would rate 2.5-4 stars, and sugary soft drinks 0.5-2 stars. The issue has been top of mind for Citrus Australia since that review was released in August 2019. CEO Nathan Hancock says the forum’s
decision to adopt that recommendation highlights inconsistencies in the HSR system, and it should be reviewed and overhauled. When it was implemented in 2014, the HSR was intended as a nutrient-based front-of-pack labelling system that assesses the healthiness of packaged foods on a scale of 0.5 to 5 stars, based on their content of risky and positive nutrients. “We will argue that the HSR should not target one element of a product – in this case sugar – at the expense of all others, such as nutrients like vitamin C,” Nathan says. “It does not provide enough information for consumers to make educated decisions; it does not recognise the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables in the diet; and it is easily manipulated by manufacturers of highly processed goods who simply
MAY - JUN 2021
adjust their additives to beat the system.” Griffith Citrus Growers Association chair Vito Mancini, who is co-owner of specialist blood orange producer Redbelly Citrus at Lake Wyangan, is still shaking his head over the move. As well as putting at risk an industry conservatively valued at $736 million a year, Vito says the livelihoods of hundreds of fruit and vegetable growers are at stake. “The citrus category in total will take a dive,” he says. “The juicing sector is an important part of the citrus industry – we rely on a strong juicing sector to hold prices up for fresh fruit. When that juicing price drops it lowers the benchmark for everything.” Vito says it’s time to follow the lead of the dairy industry, which succeeded in having its beverages, such as flavoured
milk, placed in a category of their own before the HSR system was implemented in 2014. “The government may need to look at segregating the beverage category a bit further, dividing it into artificial versus naturally contained sugars,” he says. “We can’t possibly remove the sugar out of our products. If milk can have its own category, surely fruit and vegetable juice can have their own category too. It makes sense, doesn’t it? As an industry, we’re not supporting the idea of drinking two litres a day of orange juice. We’re just trying to say that, as part of a healthy balanced lifestyle, a glass of orange juice a day fits perfectly.” In the meantime, Nippy’s managing director Jeff Knispel says the company will drop HSR information from labels on future production runs of its unsweetened juices before the changes take effect in two years’ time. “They all previously achieved a 4.5 to 5 star rating, and that’s a good, positive message,” Jeff says. “But under the new regime, it’s possible they’ll drop down to something like 2 or 3 stars, which is a fail, in my view.” Jeff says it’s “almost deceptive” to continue to use the term HSR when the only measure being considered is sugar content. He also supports the idea of putting fruit and vegetable juice into its own category, pointing to Europe and the UK, which went through a similar process. “I believe they had an exemption for unsweetened vegetable and fruit juices,” he says. “If we’d followed that path, that would have been a better way to go. But it’s happened now. We tried hard, and our view is we’ll just remove it from the packaging and get on with life.”
A HOME AT SCHOOL Come and see us at the Boarding Schools Expo Dubbo - Friday 14 - Saturday 15 May Griffith - Thursday 3 June Wagga - Friday 4 - Saturday 5 June Narrabri - Friday 23 - Saturday 24 July
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We are also available to visit families in rural NSW to answer any questions about Boarding at Knox - please get in touch.
The Muster l GOVERNMENT SUBSIDY
Government to foot half the hotel bill for international arrivals
l DROUGHT ASSISTANCE
Emergency water infrastructure rebate to help drought affected farmers A welcome boost to the Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate (EWIR) scheme will see up to $25,000 tucked back into farmers’ pockets around the state. The allocation of new funding gives eligible primary producers access to up to a 25 per cent rebate, capped at $25k, to purchase and install new water infrastructure. The NSW Government has allocated $15 million to the scheme, matching the Federal Government’s dollar-for-dollar contribution. The total $30 million injection is said to ease the ongoing struggles of drought-affected producers and allow them to make strides to build resilience for the future. NSW Farmers President James Jackson says it’s a win for the state: “The scheme enables farmers to install infrastructure on their farms to make them more resilient to prolonged dry conditions, and this injection is set to provide $5 million worth of bores, pipes and dams on farms across NSW.” Application and rebate processing times remain an ongoing worry, however. “One of our main concerns last year was that existing applications were not being processed, creating uncertainty for those with funds pending,” says Mr Jackson, though he remains hopeful that the state and federal governments will continue to work together to ensure the fastest processing time possible.
The NSW Government has pledged to subsidise half the cost of quarantine for agricultural workers arriving from overseas to help plug the huge labour gap across NSW farms. After amassing millions of dollars worth of crop losses from drought, bushfires and floods, the new subsidy is a welcome financial relief, but a short-lived one if the government doesn't extend it past it’s EOFY expiration date. “While the immediate financial support provided by the announced subsidy is welcomed by our members, financial support for hotel quarantine costs is also needed for the 2021/22 cropping season,” says NSW Farmers President James Jackson. The cost for hotel quarantine will drop from $3,000 to $1,500 per worker and will also provide retrospective support to employers who have already incurred the full hotel quarantine costs to bring desperately needed workers into the country. “Our modelling shows a 50 per cent decrease in seasonal workers would result in a $500 million reduction in the state’s output of fresh produce by the end of 2021-22 season,” says Mr Jackson. Australia’s ag sector needs a further 4,000 seasonal workers to fill the immediate gap and an additional 2,000 to cover peak seasonal harvest demands.
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REPORT NSW FARMERS EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING
BACK TO GETHER
Executive Council member and Orange City Mayor, Reg Kidd, said after a year of meetings online, it was wonderful to meet in person.
NSW Farmers takes Executive Council meeting to Orange
Land use, mice, water management and trade were among the key topics covered at the two-day event which included a panel session with National Farmers’ Federation President – Fiona Simson, and NSW Agriculture Commissioner Daryl Quinlivan. Words SHEREE YOUNG
After a year of disruption, the NSW Farmers Executive Council was able to meet in-person recently for a two-day conference in the Central West NSW regional centre of Orange. Over 70 Executive Council members from across NSW attended the conference at the historic Hotel Canobolas, with a formal dinner function and
panel session at the beautifully renovated Peacock Room at the Oriana Orange, a 1970s motel that has recently been restored to its former glory. Executive Council member and Orange City Mayor, Reg Kidd, says after a year of online meetings, it was wonderful to meet in person and reconnect with old members, as well as meet
new ones. He said Orange was a perfect place to host the conference due to its central location and ease of access from most parts of NSW. The regional centre is also the location of a number of agribusiness headquarters, with the NSW Department of Primary Industries based there, along with the Federal Government’s Regional
Investment Commission and Paraway Pastoral Company, a privately owned operating entity of the Macquarie Pastoral Fund. “Orange is a very mixed agricultural and horticultural region,” Reg said. “We have wine grapes, apples and cherries right through to sheep, cattle and all forms of farming, and we are also very close to large grazing areas and cotton, so having 70-plus people in Orange from the Executive Council over those few days is certainly a good injection of funding into the local economy.” There was also a packed agenda to get through, with key topics including land use, mice, water management, trade and much discussion about the proposed property tax reform in NSW covered. Land use planning reform >
MAY - JUN 2021
REPORT NSW FARMERS EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING
also featured heavily in the discussions as this is now firmly in the sights of the NSW Government. NAB’s Agribusiness Strategy Executive, Bel Quince, also addressed Executive Council on the new partnership between NAB and NSW Farmers’ Association. “NAB recognises its critical role in both protecting and enabling Australia’s agricultural industry, and we
are continuing to invest in supporting this sector. “The great opportunities this partnership presents is for us to both listen to industry, to ensure NAB continues to meet industry’s changing needs, and to also share our insights on financial literacy and data driven industry trends. Where we can share openly between industry and NAB, I believe that can be really powerful for our customers.”
“Land use strategy is very important because that affects a whole range of issues that are occurring across the state at the moment, including Inland Rail, solar farms and carriageways for power lines,” Reg said. “Biosecurity was also a big issue and we discussed all kinds of threats ranging from bats and mice to how these threats tie in with the Inland Rail as well.” NSW Agriculture
Commissioner Daryl Quinlivan attended the meeting, giving NSW Farmers the opportunity to discuss a land use strategy which protects agricultural land and minimises land use conflict. NSW Farmers President James Jackson says a clear message that emerged from the meeting was that farmers need to be consulted on any proposed changes in relation to the NSW Government's
MIXING BUSINES S WITH PLEASURE
Top, then left to right: Head of Communications Kathleen Curry runs the evening’s panel with NSW Farmers’ President James Jackson and DPI Director General Scott Hansen; At the EC dinner at Orana Hotel in Orange, everyone was impressed by the local food and wine offerings.
MAY - JUN 2021
plan to deliver five Renewable Energy Zones in the CentralWest Orana, New England, South-West, Hunter-Central Coast and Illawarra regions. “Following several discussions on largescale solar and transmission lines, as well as a need for a land classification system in NSW to identify and protect important agricultural land, a clear message emerged from the meeting that farmers need to be consulted on any proposed changes,” James said. Trade also came up for discussion with NSW Farmers committing to exploring avenues to expand export opportunities and market access for the state’s premium produce. “Demonstrating the adaptability of our policy-setting system, NSW Farmers was able to formalise its support for the continuation of the International
Freight Assistance Measure (IFAM),” James said. A panel discussion was also held with National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson, Mr Quinlivan and the Director General of the NSW Department of Primary Industries Scott Hansen, to discuss the opportunities and roadblocks for agriculture as it works towards its state and national productivity targets by 2030. ADDRES SING IS SUES
NSW Farmers President James Jackson opening a meeting with a smile; NAB’s Agribusiness Strategy Executive, Bel Quince, addresses the Executive Council on the new partnership between NAB and NSW Farmers Association.
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FROM THEN UNTIL NOW
The exponential leap forward in the technology surrounding telephony seen in our lifetime includes a move from the local country exchange and party lines to the delivery of high-speed internet and WiFi via satellite.
The bush telegraph There’s a plethora of ways to stay connected in the bush. Many of the options can seem daunting, but do your research and call in the experts, and you’ll be right, mate.
Words TONY BLACKIE
MAY - JUN 2021
n March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell spoke through a transmitting device to his lab assistant Thomas Watson, saying, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you”. Despite the fact Watson was in the next room, that transmission began the greatest change in the way we communicate, setting in motion a rapidly evolving development of scientific innovation in telephony and communication. Now, 145 years later, Bell would be shocked to see the way his invention, the telephone, has evolved. For people living in rural and regional areas, the advancement in communication technology has also brought huge advantages to the way we farm and do business. The exponential leap forward in the technology surrounding telephony seen in our lifetime includes a move from the local country exchange and party lines to the delivery of high-speed internet and WiFi via satellite. This allows us not only to make phone calls but to download movies, send vital medical information such as X-rays and scans to hospitals in major cities for instantaneous consultation, attend conferences via video link and interact virtually with other attendees, and use artificial intelligence (AI) tools to send data to central computers to evaluate crops and stock and improve farm productivity. But with all that choice comes a great deal of complexity and, of course, confusion. Working out exactly what services you need to procure for your farm can be mindboggling. How much bandwidth will you need? Do you need satellite, or will the terrestrial services suffice? Are there blackspots on your property that WiFi and other forms of communication don’t reach?
THE BIG PICTURE CONNECTIVITY
THE NBN TEST
Sam Dimarco is NBN’s general manager for Segment and Stakeholder Relations. He is also a farmer running cattle on his property at Dorrigo in the Northern Tablelands. With his unique insight into the needs of farmers and people living in rural and regional areas, he can empathise with the confusion surrounding matching the right technology with the right farm. “I would say that farmers generally know what access to data can mean for them and their farm businesses,” Sam says. To help farmers and other rural residents understand the technology and decide what’s best for them, NBN has developed the Digital Capability Assessment Test. According to Sam, “It’s a fiveminute test that provides a score that helps you understand how connectivity will work for you.” As part of the test, Sam gets farmers and other rural users to develop a digital plan on a page. Then, with the results of the Digital Capability Assessment Test, they are able to fill in the gaps and understand what is available to suit their needs. NBN also ran a Flexible Lifestyle Survey, to gauge how people were using their connectivity facilities during the pandemic, and how they were changing their lifestyle to get optimal balance between work and home life. “The survey found that many people were more productive working from home. It also found that with the productivity there was a rise in the trust factor of employers. In addition, a third of people surveyed were keen to move away from urban centres, with most wanting to head to the regions.”
Sam says NBN is providing the infrastructure to allow this move to rural and regional centres to continue, with people being able to maintain high-level telecommunications connections. NBN has already rolled out Business Fibre to 230 towns across Australia, allowing businesses to tap into high-speed fibre optics for their data needs. On his own property, Sam says he is running several communication links, including cameras for security, to maintain a watch for wild dogs and to check on his cattle. In addition he is able to run video conferencing facilities from his farm to keep in touch with his NBN team. While he admits it’s still early days in some parts of the country, the range of technologies – fibre, WiFi, 5G, satellite and so on – are coming together to allow rural uses to get the same level of coverage as urban subscribers. ACTIVATING ALTERNATIVES
For more than a decade, Rod Hill has been helping regional and remote customers select the telecommunications services that best suit their needs.
As National Channel Manager for Activ8me, Rod specialises in working with agriculture and remote work camps customers. He has sorted out the data and telephony needs of customers as diverse as a mining camp in the Northern Territory and a caravan park in New South Wales. In all cases the needs vary. The mining camp had 70 users, all of whom moved around over wide distances, but still required high bandwidth connectivity. “The workers needed reliable connectivity in very remote sites, so a mobile satellite-based solution was the best option,” Rod says. “It is a portable service that you can pack up and take with you to the next location.” Rod describes the equipment as a tripod with a dish, which is set up to align with a satellite using an auto finder. “Activ8me is the only operator offering a portable solution like this,” he commented. “The caravan park had 126 users, and they needed WiFi mainly for email and to check availability at the next park. That’s okay as long as you’re not streaming data, but when Mum >
NBN ROLL- OUT
NBN has already rolled out business fibre to 230 towns across Australia, allowing businesses to tap into high-speed fibre optics for their data needs.
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THE BIG PICTURE CONNECTIVITY
and Dad are streaming Netflix and the kids are playing online games, you might have a problem. Sky Muster Plus is a better option here.” He says Sky Muster Plus provides faster speeds than other base residential satellite offerings, but adds that the different requirements of each individual case will dictate different solutions. “We were dealing with a farmer who had to drive 100 kilometres a day to check water. With the satellite connection, WiFi and a water sensor, he could do that from home, saving thousands of dollars and a lot of time that could be spent on other, more productive activities,” says Rod. He adds that many people are not aware of the range of services available, and often, without professional advice, they opt for something that does not meet their actual needs and costs them too much. He urges farmers and rural users to seek advice before committing. RAMPING UP RADIO
Another alternative in the connectivity puzzle is RF or Radio Frequency solutions, using the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) bands to provide radio communications across a range of activities, including emergency beacons. GME is an Australian owned, Sydneybased electronics manufacturer specialising in the design, engineering and manufacture of RF communications products. According to Lewis Pascoe, GME’s head of marketing, radio is often the only solution available to farmers and others working in remote areas. “The fact is that phones only cover 14 per cent of the nation geographically, and therefore wireless, UHF, is really the only way many people in remote areas can communicate,” says Lewis. The solutions available within the RF range are increasing rapidly, and are far more than the ubiquitous CB radios installed in many off-road vehicles. GME is trialling new technologies for commercial and military use at their research and development lab in Sydney. RUGGEDISED FARM-WIDE WIFI
Dan Winson is the founder and CEO of Zetifi, a wireless networking company that creates ruggedised, off-grid optimised wireless network devices and systems. The company provides, among other things, innovative solutions to deliver connectivity in rural and remote locations using solar-powered WiFi networks.
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According to Winson, the company is building the platform of choice for costeffective, farm-wide voice, video and data connectivity. By providing fast and reliable WiFi, their solutions offer improved productivity for farmers and other business operators in rural and remote areas. One example is Bob McKay, Executive Director of inventory management platform AgriDigital. As well as his work with AgriDigital in Sydney, Bob also runs a grain farm near Warren, NSW, and balancing the demands of these two ventures was made even more challenging by persistent coverage issues at the farm. “We were working in the city trying to get to the farm as often as possible, but it’s a six-and-half-hour drive,” Bob says. “When we did get to the farm, communication was difficult because we are outside the coverage area for NBN fixed line and wireless. We had to walk around holding a phone in the air just to get a signal.” COVID-19 meant that Bob was often working from home so he decided it was time to address his connectivity issues, so he could make it a more regular and productive base for work. He met the Zetifi team at a trade show and the rest is history. Zetifi team assessed Bob’s property and came up with a solution using a proprietary ZetiCell with high-gain antennas fixed to the roof to capture and boost the 4G signal, BY PHIL SOMERVILLE
which was patchy at ground level. This strong signal then connected to an access point inside the home. The end result was fast and reliable connectivity inside the home, and a 300-metre field of WiFi outside via the roofmounted ZetiCell. “We now also have a weather system and a watering system running on an Internet of Things (IoT) connection, and cameras for security so we can watch the property when we aren’t there.” Bob says he is now spending more than 50 per cent of his time in Warren on the farm while continuing to run his business. The new technology has provided connectivity and speeds in excess of 85/40 megabits per second. “The speeds at the farm are faster than what we have on NBN in Sydney,” Bob says. GET AUDITED AND MAKE THE CALL
In the future, technology will reach out and cover rural and remote Australia with the full scope of connectivity options. But there are already plenty of options for farmers and regional residents if they know where to look, according to Ran McDonald, director of Powertec Telecommunications. “We are the largest distributors of the legal mobile signal booster called Cel-Fi,” Ran says, adding that in many cases this is a good solution for farmers and rural business users. In order to decide on the best solution, Ran recommends farmers have an audit done of their property. Powertec maps out a farm using geospatial technology and determines the best site for a tower, if that is what’s required. Boosters can then be used to enhance the signal. Ran’s company has had a major increase in business over the past year as more people have moved their business into rural areas. He’s found many people don’t know which solutions are the most cost effective for them, while remaining realistic. “Farmers are often a bit sceptical about many of the solutions,” Ran says. “A lot are on Sky Muster and are aware of the bandwidth limitations.” He says the future of an alternative, highly effective solution such as low orbiting satellite technology is, unfortunately, a long way off for Australian users. “Reports are that by 2026 the US will have their country covered this way. The US and Europe are spending a lot of money on low orbit – but we are five to 10 years behind.” He says 5G offers the best solution in the meantime and, with boosted signals, most people will get the connectivity they want and need. l
The Muster l LAND USE CONFLIC T
Whose land is it anyway? Conflict between industrial and urban expansion and agricultural land used to produce food and fibre will continue unless there are some key changes to the planning system in NSW. Words JEANETTE SEVERS
hat conflict was front and centre at NSW Farmers’ Executive Council in March, with several branches raising issues about solar power industrial zones. But the issues have been longstanding in the State, according to NSW Farmers President, James Jackson. Not least is the use of Orwellian double-speak to describe solar and wind power-generation industrial zones as farms, to soften understanding about their environmental footprint and visual amenity. If the Culcairn solar generated power plant receives planning approval, it will feature 1.1 million single-axis solar panels and a storage battery, built on 350-400 hectares of prime cropping land. The land in question already features TransGrid’s power infrastructure, and the proponents obviously intend to tap into this as a cost saving. The project, at the time of writing, was at the post-consultation assessment stage, and awaiting a government decision. Investing in large-scale renewable energy industrial zones is part of a response to corporate Australia sourcing electricity outside of coal-power stations and the Australian Government’s plans to mitigate national greenhouse emissions. In March, Coles supermarkets extended its reach into the renewable energy market, by committing to source 45 per cent of its electricity consumption from wind and solar power companies by 2023, and 100 per cent by 2050. Woolworths and Aldi had already committed to sourcing electricity from renewables by 2025. Coles Group CEO, Steven Cain said the commitment to renewable energy was in response to queries from shareholders, investors, staff and customers. The decision has been lauded by conservation agencies and the Australian Greens. REACHING TARGETS AND THE RIGHT TO FARM
According to the Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), in 2019, Australia met its 2020 target of 23.5 per cent of power generated from
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renewable energy. Many of Australia’s states and territories have now committed to a 40 per cent target for renewable energy sources by 2030. Wind is the largest power generator, at 7.3 per cent; solar comes in at 6.7 per cent, and hydropower at 5.4 per cent. There was a 46 per cent growth in solar output and 19 per cent increase in wind power between 2018 and 2019. But NSW Farmers is concerned at the lack of coordination between governments and departments, which impacts on farmers. NSW Farmers President James Jackson said an essential change is adoption by all departments and agencies of ‘a duty to consider the effect on agricultural land’ when decisions are made. “This duty, along with a Government wide adoption of a definition of what constitutes important and strategic agricultural land, and a commitment to retention of land that is essential to agricultural development, is the way forward,” James said. “It’s time the philosophical positioning of departments makes way for cooperation to ensure all areas of government work together for agriculture and the benefit of the states’ production capability.” In 2020, the Australian Government, through ARENA, released a discussion paper and invited submissions to develop a Technology Investment Roadmap, to accelerate low emissions technologies including solar, wind, batteries, hydrogen and gas. Improving soil carbon and reducing methane emissions in agriculture were also flagged for investment in an indicative list of 140 new and emerging technologies. The NSW Department of Primary Industry’s Right to Farm Policy Review was published at the end of last year. Prior to that, the Australian Farm Institute released its report – after undertaking research for NSW DPI – titled Managing farm-related land use conflicts in NSW. The NSW Government also appointed an Agriculture Commissioner, career
COMMITMENT TO RENEWABLES
Coles supermarkets has extended its reach into the renewable energy market by committing to source 45 per cent of its electricity consumption from wind and solar power companies by 2023.
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diplomat Daryl Quinlivan, who this year sought industry feedback into the content of the Agriculture Land Use Planning Strategy. Daryl has recommended developing the strategy to address three key issues: minimising the loss of productive capacity, reducing and managing land use conflict, and supporting the growth of agriculture and regional economies. NSW Farmers recently provided input into the strategy, and James Jackson met with
the Premier Gladys Berejiklian in late March to discuss how ignoring agriculture’s value to NSW would benefit other states. Critically, a land use mapping project undertaken several years ago by Government has stalled and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment appears keen to use the 2016 Biodiversity Conservation Act to force environmental overlays on farming land, according to James. “Using coercive powers
to implement environmental practices on private land has been proven to fail globally, because you’ve got to have the right balance between the Act and implementation,” he said. “It’s very easy to virtue signal to urban voters that you’ve implemented reform, even when you haven’t. Covenants on private land should be balanced with reward for valuing biodiversity for the community as a whole. Of course, the government hasn’t funded this.”
COMMERCE AND CONSERVATION
“We’re not opposed to renewable energy power generation, but there is a lot of high-quality arable country that is being, or potentially going to be, covered by solar panels. Most of the solar panels are not amenable for combining with grazing activities,” NSW President James Jackson says.
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James says agricultural land needs to be assessed by government for its commerce and conservation values, in the same way that farmers do. This meant rewarding farmers for protecting biodiversity. He pointed to the State Environmental Protection Policy (Koala Habitat Protection 2020 and 2021) that now applies to 83 local government areas in NSW. “Remnant vegetation on farms is there because farmers graze animals under those trees and protect the koalas and native birds that live in them from bushfires and predators such as wild dogs and feral cats,” James says. “There’s a view within some
BY PHIL SOMERVILLE
sectors of government that the only way to protect biodiversity is to lock it up. The science doesn’t support their view that commerce and conservation can’t coexist. The bushfires basically demonstrated that view is wrong; koalas still exist in biodiversity parcels on farmland, because farmers actively manage those environments.” LOOKING AND PLANNING AHEAD
James says information needs to be integrated across government departments and between tiers of government. At the moment, if a farmer wants to erect a shearing shed, or a roof over the stockyards, they needed to deal with multiple departments and tiers of government. In contrast, renewable power generation proponents appeared to deal with one department and tier of government. “The industrialisation of landscapes with renewable energy zones needs to be reassessed on footprint and amenity,” he says. “We’re not opposed to renewable energy power generation, but there is a lot of high-quality arable country that is being, or potentially going to be, covered by solar panels. Most of the solar panels are not
amenable for combining with grazing activities. “Planning should consider the agronomic value of land before it’s industrialised or turned into urban development. “At the moment, the proponents are setting the assessment criteria. There’s no consideration for agronomic value nor amenity controls, and I don’t think integrated social values are taken into account. This approach is creating divisions within communities.” He says it is imperative that NSW DPI resurrects its focus on accurate land mapping, or important agricultural land, and its potential for high value food and fibre production, would be lost to industrialisation. “We need a planning system that supports agriculture, sets targets for retainment of important agricultural land and mandates the consideration of agricultural interests in decisions around land use,” James says. “In the quest for driving agriculture forward to our goal of $30b by 2030 in NSW, its time our State and Federal Government backed up their rhetoric around cutting red tape, and created a ‘can do’ attitude in working with farmers.” l
l LAND PRICES
The rise and rise of farmland values Surging commodity prices, a break from the drought and recordlow interest rates are seeing rural land values surge across the state. But that's not good news for the next generation.
Words IAN LLOYD NEUBAUER
hen it comes to big issues that can hurt a farmer’s livelihood, 2019 and 2020 took the cake: widespread and deep drought, the worst bushfires in NSW recorded history, the first global pandemic in more than a century and punishing sanctions from Australia’s biggest trading partner China. But the year turned out to be anything but bad, especially for landowners.
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“Regardless of the doomsayers, rural land values increased by 4.8 per cent off the back of strong commodity prices and sustained demand for farmland,” NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said following the February release of land valuations for the 2019-20 financial year by the NSW Valuer-General. “The market is absolutely crazy,” says Paul Mcintosh, rural sales manager
for Ray White Goulburn in the Southern Tablelands of NSW. “We are selling properties off our website without inspections, and we can’t find new listings to replace them. In the past six months, prices have probably gone up 15 to 20 per cent for farms that are presentable in any way. If a farmer wants to sell, now is the time,” he says. “But if you sell,” adds Chris Meares, CEO of Meares Associates in Sydney, a stock and station valuer with nearly half a century of experience, “you’re going to have a hard time finding a comparable asset, because the supply of land for sale is quite limited. Farm values probably went up 10 to 15 per cent since July 1.” SMASHING THE SHARE MARKET
“Market sentiment was particularly strong for quality properties in areas with higher historical rainfall,” says Will Rayner, COO at Rural Bank. “The improvement in
A CRAZY MARKET
“The market is absolutely crazy,” says Paul Mcintosh, rural sales manager for Ray White Goulburn in the Southern Highlands of NSW (Pictured here). ”We are now selling properties off our website without inspections.”
seasonal conditions in 2020 helped drive increased interest from buyers in both grazing and cropping areas.” But Chris says rural land values have been on the up pretty well across the whole state, including the Far West, a drier region that receives a just 150mm to 500mm of rainfall per year. “The introduction of sheep meat that can exist in under 380mm of rain has made that land valuable. Farmers out west are also making a lot of money out of cattle because cattle prices are so strong, and they’re catching feral goats and making a killing out of them,” he says. Cash flow in those pastoral areas has risen dramatically – and that has underpinned land values.” The bull run on rural land is tipped to continue this year, after the Australian Bureau of Statistics upgraded its projection for national farm revenue from $61.5 billion to $65 billion. > MAY - JUN 2021
Farming is now one of the best performing asset classes in the country. The Australian Farmland Index shows the sector delivered returns of 12.35 per cent last year – smashing the 1.4 per cent earned on the share market and 7 per cent earned on property. Rural confidence has also hit its highest level since 2008, while investment intentions are at their highest level since 2011, according to the latest Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey. INTERESTING RATES
In November, the Reserve Bank of Australia dropped interest rates to a record low of 0.1 per cent – lighting a firecracker under the property and land market. “Low-interest rates and people’s capacity to service a debt are partially the reason we have seen the increase in land valuations,” says NSW Farmers President James Jackson.
HIGHER & HIGHER
The bull run on rural land is tipped to continue this year after the Australian Bureau of Statistics upgraded its projection for national farm revenue from $61.5 billion to $65 billion. Pictured here: the beautiful Bega Valley.
“Say you borrow a million bucks at 2 per cent. The cost of repaying it is not too much – only about $50,000 a year – maybe less than what it would cost you to rent a comparable property.” But there’s a downside to all this growth: high land values can discourage young farmers from stepping onto the property ladder – much in the same way many first-home buyers have been locked out of the Sydney property market. “If you already have land you’re good. But if you don’t you have to take on a massive mortgage or lease,” says a 29-year-old man who asked for his name to be withheld. “My plan was to buy a house on 100 acres of land about four to five hours from Sydney to start an organic egg farm. “The numbers on my spreadsheets looked good until this year. But now I would need to invest $900,000, and no bank will lend me enough money.” l
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The Muster l WELLBEING
Fitness assists with mental health Group fitness is not only a fun and social activity to get into, it’s also an ideal tonic for mental health. Words SUSAN GOUGH HENLY
It all started for me with the Ride for Resilience, an Active Farmers charity bike ride in September 2019,” explains 31-year-old, fifth-generation Coleambally irrigation farmer Joe Briggs. I decided to give it a go as a big fella to help me take my mind off the drought. It was 420 kilometres and I’d never ridden a bike before. I borrowed one, and some shoes and a helmet. Everybody sponsored me because nobody thought I could do it. We clicked over $31,000 between the charity auction and my personal sponsorship.” Next was an eight-week fitness challenge in February, where 60 blokes turned up the first week in a town of just 660. “There was a barbecue afterwards and the atmosphere was just like at the local pub with farmers chatting about the bloody crops or other difficulties. It breaks the isolation,” says Briggs. “We had everyone from the age of 23 to 75 there.” Founder of Active Farmers, Ginny Stevens, explains that “Our overarching aim is to have an impact on the physical and mental health of rural communities as they’re the ones who feed and clothe us all. By offering a proactive program of affordable health and wellbeing initiatives in small farming towns, which often have little more than a public hall and sports oval, we believe we can help build stronger and more resilient rural communities.” According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, on average, Australians living in rural and remote areas have shorter lives, higher levels of disease and
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injury, and poorer access to and use of health services, compared with people living in metropolitan areas. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says that suicide rates (especially among men) in rural and remote Australia are significantly higher than the national average and are rising. Tessa Cummins, Program Manager for the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health’s Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) says, “Research has been telling us that exercise is important not just for our physical health but also for our mental health. Being involved in regular fitness activities can also provide an opportunity to be socially connected, which is also good for our mental health. This is particularly important for people in rural communities who face the challenges of isolation.” Ginny started Active Farmers in March 2015 when she moved to her husband’s family’s dry land cropping and sheep farm in Mangoplah. Having grown up on a farm in Tasmania, worked as a jillaroo in the Northern Territory, studied agricultural science at Melbourne University and worked for eight years in agribusiness banking, she’s always been concerned about the health of farmers and others living in remote, regional Australia. After developing the group fitness model first in Mangoplah, she expanded Active Farmers to nearby Uranquinty. When Delta Agribusiness came on board as a foundation sponsor in January 2017, Ginny left her job and began working on Active Farmers full
time with the goal to expanding the service to more rural communities. In March 2018, it was registered as a not-for-profit health promotion charity. “The focus is the same as when we began as there’s lots to be done,” says Ginny. “I still have the same concerns about the mental health and suicide rates among farmers and others living in remote areas. Some figures state that the suicide rate is double that of urban populations.” “As technology improves, farmers do less physical work and can operate more on their own, which is great for the bottom line but not great for the soul. Farmers don’t tend to look after their health and they also lose a sense of connection with others, especially when they’re in remote areas,” says Ginny. Dugald McKay, a 58-year-old mixed farmer and an early adopter of the Active Farmers group fitness programs in Mangoplah, agrees. “Besides the fitness benefits, it’s a wonderful thing to re-engage with your own community, which you tend to do playing sport when you’re younger but, as you start having kids, fitness and social interaction go by the wayside,” he says. “Active Farmers is a great thing for males as we’re generally pretty hopeless. We feel like we’ve got to just work, work, work. “Once I started and it became part of my routine, I could see the benefit from the extra strength I developed and haven’t had any problems with over-lifting on the farm. Not only that, but I also find it helpful to share experiences with my neighbours,” he says. “Regular exercise has certainly given me
Through Active Farmers, a team of 31 qualified personal trainers runs more than 200 classes a month for over 1,000 regular participants in 43 communities across Australia.
more mental clarity to make better decisions on the farm so I’ve become a better business person, too.” Today, through Active Farmers, a team of 31 qualified personal trainers runs more than 200 classes a month for over 1,000 regular participants in 43 communities across rural Australia Within New South Wales, 24 communities are serviced, mainly with a focus on the Riverina region, while programs operate as far as Hughenden in Queensland, Tambellup in Western Australia and Campbell Town in Tasmania. Many additional communities are in the pipeline. “Communities get in touch with us when they hear about Active Farmers,” explains Marliese Heffernan, who was acting CEO in 2020 while Ginny was on maternity leave with her third child. She is now Active Farmers Trainer Manager. “We’re on Instagram as activefarmers, and on Facebook, which is such a fabulous free marketing platform for not-for-profit organisations like ourselves. We’re also launching sponsorship opportunities for communities to underwrite their own personal trainer programs.” In addition, Active Farmers runs fundraising events, such as the Ride for Resilience and Run for Resilience, which not only raise money but also are great awareness building campaigns. The Active Farmers Games is another fun and challenging communitybuilding event that reinforces the importance of rural physical and mental health. Active Farmers also offers intermittent health-related workshops on topics such as mental health first aid, nutrition and mindfulness. “When people are working on their fitness and having fun with others in the community they’re helping their mental health without really realising it,” Ginny says. “Our goal is to expand Active Farmers to 100 regional communities around Australia within four years.” As Joe Briggs says, “Looking after your mental health is so important. Rural suicide rates are too high. Active Farmers is a great way to help strengthen people’s connections so they can give moral support to each other. I’ve had blokes ringing me asking, ‘When are we starting again?’ It’s about breaking a cycle before the cycle even starts.”
SOME OTHER ACTIVE OPTIONS FOR FARMERS
For farmers who don’t have access to Active Farmers, Mallee Sustainable Farming – in conjunction with Shane Morrison of Mildura’s Lime Therapy – has developed a free on-line stretching program called Cabin Fever which can be done against the wheel of a tractor and inside the cabin. These basic exercises, which help prevent muscles seizing up, are particularly useful for broadacre farmers spending long hours inside fully automated tractors. Ifarmwell is a free website that’s been designed by Australian farmers to help other Australian farmers cope effectively with life’s challenges and get the most out of every day. Five short modules, which can be completed at home, in the tractor or shed, offer new practical tools to help farmers deal with stressful situations and difficult thoughts and feelings so they can focus on the things that make them happy. Check out the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) website for more information and tips on how to look after your mental health. It includes the downloadable Take Time magazine and Let’s Talk podcasts as well as information about how to find your local RAMHP coordinator by using the postcode locator on the home page. If this article raises any issues or concerns, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s mental health, you can call the NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 for advice.
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After the floods
As the water recedes, farmers across the state are assessing damage to crops, livestock, infrastructure and land – and asking how they will recover from this latest devastation.
Words MICHAEL BURT
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or cattle farmers Alison and Simon Deicke, the dry, rocky creek bed 20 metres long and a metre deep that now cuts through a grazing paddock is a stark reminder of the ferocity of the March 2021 floods that hit the Upper Rollands Plains. “Simon gave up checking the amount of rain after we got to 950mmm, but some neighbours recorded 1200mm,” says Alison. The couple experienced two floods over two days; it was the second that did the most damage. “It caused massive amounts of erosion and deposited hundreds of tonnes of rocks on two of our main paddocks. We won’t be able to plant some of our winter pastures at all this season,” Alison says. She and Simon run Kogo Angus stud and a commercial herd on the 150-hectare farm, which like many others in the Mid North Coast region was recovering from the November 2019 bushfires. Their livestock survived the deluge, but damage to the farm and waterways is daunting. “We’ve lost kilometres of fencing. Fencing is expensive and time consuming, but it can be replaced. The erosion, the rocks and our river system is a whole different ball game. It will
THE BIG ISSUE FLOODS
take a coordinated effort to fix it, and that’s where I think groups like Landcare should get more funding.” Seven kilometres down the road, the Noakes family dairy farm has a new island, after the flood gouged a new creek bed in the middle of a paddock. Diana Noakes estimates the damage on the family’s 325 hectares to run to $280,000, not including the cost of repairing erosion and restoring riverbanks. “The damage is massive. We’ll need some sort of bridge or cow pad to get cows across, as they won’t walk on the rocks,” Diana says. “Our valley was hit hard, we had no power or phone connection for 10 days and had to dump 30,000 litres of milk due to road closures. My father says it was bigger than the 1968 flood.” Sixty-three Local Government Areas in the North Coast, Sydney Basin and North West regions were declared natural disaster zones due to the March flood and storm events. The full extent of the impact on the agricultural sector is still being assessed, but it is clear that beef, dairy, horticulture and oyster farmers face a tough 12 months ahead. In the North West, where floodwaters moved more slowly, farmers near Mungindi were isolated for up to 10 days and had to receive food and mouse bait drops by air. “Farmers were telling me mouse bait supplies were just as important as the floods were pushing them by the thousands over levee banks,” says NSW Farmers Regional Service Manager Mick Collins. He adds that damage to the road network in the North West has been extensive, and grain growers have been forced to delay winter crop planting. Garah wool producer and NSW Farmers Wool Committee Chair Helen Carrigan says the flood coincided with lambing time, leading to some mortalities and pregnancy sickness. “Our whole farm went under as we have two creeks that come together, and because there was a good grain crop last year the floods have pushed a lot of stubble on to our fences.” HOME TURF
The March floods will not only impact food supply. Homeowners, sporting organisations, golf courses and councils will be facing a shortage of natural turf. NSW turf farmers grow around 9.5 million square metres – around a quarter of the total Australian turf production – with the majority along the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Freemans Reach turf farmer Tony Saad says his family’s 50 hectares were swallowed by up to three metres of water. Tony and his brother Paul grow commercial couch and kikuyu varieties to supply sporting fields, golf courses and parks. “Some paddocks won’t be harvested for another 12 months now. Spring is the busiest time for us in terms of harvesting, and the yield will depend on how much silt was dumped. There will be some paddocks with reduced yields and others that won’t reach the harvestable stage.” Tony’s family managed to save the machinery, but there has been damage to sheds and irrigation infrastructure. NSW Farmers President James Jackson says the State and Federal Governments and the Rural
FLO OD -RAVAGED LAND S
NSW Farmers CEO Pete Arkle witnessing erosion damage on the Noakes family dairy farm in Rollands Plains with Diana Noakes and neighbours Alison and Simon Deicke. Photo: Mark Bulley
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Assistance Authority (RAA) have stepped up to ensure farmers can apply for recovery grants of up to $75,000 as soon as possible. “This has provided some certainty to farmers in flood affected regions, allowing them to start planning the recovery process,” he says. “The need for this assistance is widespread, as livestock producers need to organise fodder and repair fences, and oyster farmers need to replace stock and equipment.” The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Local Land Services (LLS) have been working together as the Agriculture and Animal Services Functional Area (AASFA) to provide on-theground assistance. “AASFA staff have assisted with animal assessment and veterinary advice, providing livestock feeding and management advice, stock disposal, and caring for animals in evacuation centres,” says AASFA Incident Controller Simon Oliver. “Primary producers are encouraged to apply for the disaster recovery grants scheme so the RAA can determine eligibility.” Applications for the recovery grants can be made via the NSW Rural Assistance Authority, by calling 1800 678 593 or online at www.raa.nsw.gov.au.
MAY - JUN 2021
FLOODS SWAMP OYSTER RECOVERY
Left, then clockwise: Upper Rollands Plains cattle farmer and NSW Farmers member Simon Deicke in a new creek bed forged by the floods; The chooks managed to stay dry as flood waters covered Helen Carrigan’s farm at Garah in North West NSW; Oyster punts loaded with hay were a welcome sight for stranded livestock in the Port Macquarie region.
“Every cent people get off their oysters in the next few years will go into restocking and buying gear,” says NSW Farmers Oyster Committee Chair Todd Graham. Spat, or juvenile oyster stock, need warm conditions to grow, and Todd says hatcheries and nurseries will struggle to have spat to sell until the warmer spring months. “With oysters taking three years to reach maturity, any disruption to the growing cycle sets the industry back.” The NSW oyster industry was in recovery mode after a double whammy of bushfires and a COVID 19 shutdown, and farmers were working hard to meet a surge in demand over the Easter holiday period. The March floods swamped that road to recovery, particularly on estuaries north of Sydney. Sheds were flooded and growing infrastructure destroyed or lost, and farmers estimate oyster mortality will be in the millions. “It’s going to take a couple of months before we know how many oysters we’ve got left,” Todd says. He farms oysters on the Macleay River on the Mid North Coast near Kempsey, and estimates he has lost about 50 per cent of his oysters. But despite their devastating losses, oyster farmers in the region were hailed heroes for braving the floodwaters in their punts to save lives, and deliver essentials to isolated homes and fodder for livestock.
THE BIG ISSUE FLOODS
David Tunstead, a fifth generation oyster farmer on the Hastings River at Port Macquarie, was among them. “In the first week all we did was help people and deliver hay for cattle – the flood was so high and extreme. Since then, we’ve been trying to fix our farms and work out what’s been lost,” David says. He estimates he’s lost half his infrastructure and stock, which equates to about one million oysters of varying ages, at an approximate cost of $500,000. NSW FARMERS LAUNCHES FLOOD APPEAL
NSW Farmers has launched a Flood Appeal through its Natural Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) to assist farmers with recovery efforts. “The extent of flood damage won’t be known for some time, but we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to assist farmers to recover,” says CEO Pete Arkle. “The Fund provides financial assistance, goods or services to primary producers adversely affected by flooding, to ensure they can continue to operate their farms while dealing with or recovering from a natural disaster,” Pete explains. “I headed to the Mid North Coast region in April and the damage is daunting. The floods have really decimated riparian zones.” For more information or to donate, please visit nswfarmers.org.au/donate. l
Flooded farms in North West NSW, causing significant damage to roads and fences.
Bushfire Legal Aid Scheme Grants to help farmers with legal costs related to the 2019/20 bushfires Apply now! Contact the Disaster Response Legal Service on 1800 801 529 or visit our website
BUSINESS CRAWFORD BOOTS
Penny Crawford has always enjoyed finding solutions to problems. Blend that passion with a career as a podiatrist, and it’s not surprising that she ended up creating a new kind of boot ideal for those working in farming and mining.
Words MICHELLE HESPE
BOOTS AND ALL 34
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aving worked as a podiatrist for nearly 30 years, Penny Crawford has treated every foot shape, size and condition. “Many patients have had nail and skin issues or general foot pain, but others had more serious injuries sustained from poor foot biomechanics, ill-fitting footwear or harsh working conditions,” she says. “Nowhere was the latter more apparent than with patients employed as underground miners – working long hours, in difficult conditions, and donning unsupportive gumboots,” Penny adds. Some of their injuries were a direct result of a slip, trip or fall. Other longer-term injuries manifested as a result of intrinsic muscle fatigue.” Penny explains that the amount of energy expended and muscle fatigue experienced by someone wearing ill-fitting gumboots is equivalent to running a marathon in a pair of thongs. “When wearing them you tend to shuffle to stop the boots slipping with each step, toes gripping to maintain stability. And you know what happens when you step in mud – the boot stays put and the foot comes out. Imagine navigating all this in the dark with heavy equipment on your toolbelt, while concentrating on the work task.” This is why Penny knew that she needed to design and build a better boot for these patients: one that gave them the comfort, stability and fit of a leather boot, with the waterproof capabilities of a gumboot. As Penny tells all of her patients, our feet are our foundations. They allow you to stay upright, balance and walk properly. “Crawford Boots are designed to maximise stability and give your foundations structural integrity. The opposite creates cracks in those foundations, leading to problems at the base and higher up,” she says. “It’s similar to your house. You wouldn’t build your house on weak foundations because you know it will only lead to a world of pain in the long run.” It was working directly with clients and taking the time to understand their needs and pain, that drove Penny to creating her renowned boots. “I knew the foot and lower limb biomechanics involved in ensuring a strong, stable foundation and
Penny Crawford’s three significant business moments “Trialling the boots for the first time and getting such great feedback has to be one of my proudest moments,” Penny says. “Seeing the reaction on people’s faces and hearing comments such as – ‘Where have you been all my life?’ was such a fantastic feeling. I knew in that moment I had created something really unique.” Winning the 2019 NSW Minerals Council Health Innovation Award in conjunction with Whitehaven Coal. “It bestows Crawford Boots with the credibility and industry validation that cannot always be achieved through feedback,” Penny says.
walking pattern. I knew the important role supportive footwear plays in providing that extra stability. And I knew first-hand the fit, comfort and safety problems associated with the gumboots currently available. That’s why I created the WedgeTech inserts.” Three different sizes of the inserts come with all boots, allowing the wearer to personalise the fit to their individual foot shape. Essentially, the wearer ends up with waterproof boots that offer the fit, comfort and stability of leather boots. As anyone who has established a business knows, there are always multiple challenges to overcome. “Sometimes you just have to focus on the outcomes you want to achieve, even if you don’t know how you will get there. It’s one foot after the other, and do excuse the pun!” Penny says. As well as running her business, Penny is married to a farmer and they run cattle on a property near Gunnedah. “In 2018 like many others, we were forced to destock due to the drought which was devastating for us both emotionally and financially. However it was also a bittersweet moment as it enabled me to fund my first shipment of boots,” she says. Penny advises those starting out in business to not navigate the journey alone. Her team includes an industrial designer who was instrumental in helping develop Penny’s concept to a patented product, manufacturers, a sales, marketing and business adviser, and a graphic designer. “Surround yourself with a team of experts and align with people who can help you succeed,” she says. “For me that meant building a team that could aid with a multitude of things, from turning a concept into a manufacturable product, to distributing it across Australia. It sounds straightforward, but this has been an eight-year journey. Resilience is key to helping your business not only survive, but thrive.” l
GOING THE DISTANCE
Penny explains that the amount of energy expended and muscle fatigue experienced by someone wearing ill-fitting gumboots is equivalent to running a marathon in thongs.
Having patents granted in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Europe and Canada – plus design patents in the US. This is a huge achievement because it opens the opportunity for Crawford Boots to go global. It makes me incredibly excited for the future!” she says.
MAY - JUN 2021
Why are farmers
The protestors’ cause sparked a war of words on social media that made the Indian Government react to pro-farmer tweets by environmentalist Greta Thunberg and pop star Rihanna.
MAY - JUN 2021
CURRENT AFFAIR INDIAN FARMER PROTESTS
in India protesting? A shift in agricultural policy has driven hundreds of thousands of farmers in India to protest in capital New Delhi.
Words IAN LLOYD NEUBAUER
magine you believed your livelihood was so threatened by new government policy that you would put aside your daily duties and the million other things that need doing on your farm and travel to Canberra to protest in front of Parliament House in the middle of winter. Farmers in the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, the country’s wheat belt, don’t have to imagine this scenario. Hundreds of thousands of them have been living it since September, at protests focused on the capital New Delhi to demand the repeal of three new agricultural laws the government says will improve the ease of doing business, but which unions say will leave farmers who barely make ends meet at the mercy of big agribusiness. The protestors’ cause has evoked widespread sympathy across the globe, and sparked a full-blown war of words on social media that made the Indian Government take the unusual step of reacting to the pro-farmer Tweets by environmentalist Greta Thunberg and pop star Rihanna. But are the new laws really that bad? Or a painful but necessary measure to reform an antiquated system that delivers small-scale farmers just 60 per cent of the country’s average monthly income? In the first instalment of The Farmer’s new Current Affairs section, we take a long hard look at the issues behind the headlines in New Delhi. THE GREEN REVOLUTION
To understand why Indian farmers are so incensed about the changes that they refuse to negotiate or compromise, it is necessary to know something about the agricultural system the new laws aim to change. > MAY - JUN 2021
CURRENT AFFAIR INDIAN FARMER PROTESTS
In the 1960s, when parts of India faced famine, high-yielding wheat and rice varieties were introduced along with tractors, irrigation, pesticides and fertilisers, to achieve grain self-sufficiency. It was called the Green Revolution. It was accompanied by the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, a law giving government monopoly power over the sale and marketing of staples to put an end to food shortages and the exploitation of poor farmers by free-market traders. Farmers who grew rice, wheat and 22 other crops covered by the scheme could only sell to centralised state government markets called “mandis”, at a “minimum support price” applicable throughout India. Essentially, the Indian Government purchased the grain and sold it to poorer consumers at subsidised prices through what is known as the Public Distribution System. Hartosh Bal, Political editor of The Caravan - an English-language, magazine covering Indian politics and culture described the system as the “biggest social security program in the world.” “The Food Corporation of India, which is managed by the Central Government, buys around 80 to 90 million tonnes of food grain at a minimum support price,” Mr Bal told ABC RN’s Rear Vision program. “That grain is sold at so-called fair prices shops at highly subsidised prices. It’s almost free actually
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“Indian farmers, like Chinese farmers who have undergone agricultural commercialisation, need market-oriented reforms,” says Hansong Li, a Chinese scholar at Harvard University.
and provides for about 800 million people. It’s a very important source of food security.” The changes increased crop yields and helped India become grain self-sufficient. But they also gave birth to a raft of new problems common to socialist experiments. “The system is far from perfect. There has been quite a bit of corruption in the past, but that has improved in recent years,” Mr Bal said. Food processors, retailers and exporters could only purchase grains from the mandis, increasing the cost of transportation. Poor storage facilities at market yards meant crops regularly rotted before they reached consumers. Estimates show 5 to 7 per cent of Indian grains perish in storage. For fresh fruit and vegetables, spoilage is 25 to 40 per cent. Worst of all, many mandis took advantage of the absence of market competition to form cartels that drove farmgate prices below the minimum support price. Many farmers consequently earned only a fraction of the price at which crops are sold to the end consumer, despite little to no value being added by the mandis. Some mandis also illegally hoarded farm produce, forcing food prices to skyrocket when the market was starved. Add extensive subsidies that turned small-scale agriculture into a charity, and foreign and inter-state export barriers that deny farmers profits at times of
Did you know? Farming is the largest source of livelihood in India: 70 per cent of rural households depend on it. More than 80 per cent of farms are small and marginal. India is the world’s second-largest food producer after China, but farm productivity remains low. Only 10 per cent of agricultural production is exported (compared to 70 per cent in Australia).
plenty, and it’s easy to see how these policies have perpetuated rural poverty in India over the past 50 years. WHY ARE FARMERS PROTESTING?
Under the new Farm Bill, growers can bypass the mandis and sell their crops at market rates to anyone who wants them, including e-commerce platforms. The bill also loosens restrictions on private-sector storage of crops and includes a framework for contracting between farmers and the agribusiness firms. According to Hartosh Bal, there is also nothing in the new laws that prevent the central government from purchasing food grains at minimum support prices. So why are farmers so opposed to being allowed to sell their crops to buyers of their own choice? “The farmers fear that this is a kind of slippery slope and it comes back to an issue of mistrust,” Mr Bal told ABC RN’s Rear Vision program. “They fear that the next step will be to attack the system of food subsidies, which would have dramatic consequences for farmers and for the consumers that depend on it.”
Many mandis (middlemen) take advantage of the absence of market competition to form criminal cartels that drive farmgate prices below the miniumum support price. Many farmers consequently earn only a fraction of the price at which crops are sold to the end consumer, with no value added by the mandis.
Part of the reasoning for farmer opposition can also be found by looking at the experience of rice farmers in Bihar, a state in eastern India, where the APMC Act was scrapped in 2006. Buyers swept in, offering rice farmers higher prices, putting nearly nine out of 10 government market yards out of business. But the good times were short-lived. India’s National Sample Survey Office last year showed rice farmers in Bihar earned an average of $208 per tonne on the open market, while rice farmers in Punjab insured by the minimum support price earned $326. Farmers are also concerned that the reforms will only benefit large corporate players and not small farmers. While large corporates make easy targets for protest groups, the social crisis caused by the Farm Bill does reflect a lack of public trust in big business in India to support the immense community of small and medium size farmers in a unregulated market system. “Indian farmers, like Chinese farmers who have undergone agricultural commercialisation, need market-oriented reforms,” says Hansong Li, a Chinese scholar at Harvard University. “However, compared with China, the US and some Latin American and Caribbean countries, India’s [Farm Bill] lacks supporting risk-mitigation policies. The [minimum support prices principle] that lies at the heart of the dispute was suddenly removed, and supply and safeguard measures were not put in place,” he says. An editorial published ThePrint, a pro-business online magazine in New Delhi, expands on this argument. “Throughout India’s agricultural history, the knee-jerk reaction to farm distress has been populism and charity: short-term relief policies that inherently depend on state control, whether through state-owned banks or market yards. “State control allows political parties to promise easy sops in exchange for quick votes, even if the benefits of populism are short-lived. But a liberalised farm economy with limits to government control,” it says, “would make populist measures more difficult to roll out.” Where and when the protests in New Delhi will end is anyone’s guess. But one thing’s for sure: they are just the start of a new movement demanding a better deal for marginal farmers. in India and elsewhere in the developing world. To quote pop star Rihanna, “Why aren’t we talking about this?” l MAY - JUN 2021
On the frontline
Beetles, bacteria and border closures are on the radar for NSW Farmers, as the organisation advocates the Commonwealth Government to become a true partner in Australia’s biosecurity practices.
Words JEANETTE SEVERS
MAY - JUN 2021
POLICY BIOSECURITY REPORT
BUGS AND BEETLES THAT ARE A THREAT
Left to right: A entomologist studies leaf miner larva; the stink bug (BMSB) feeds on 300 plant species including crops such as nuts, grains, berries, cotton, citrus, and soybeans.
e need better biosecurity at the border,” says NSW Farmers president James Jackson. “We need a levy that helps pay for the cost of checking overseas tourists, as well as their packages and containers. It’s the responsibility of importers to pay for the cost of biosecurity. “The people who benefit from the trade of importing goods, should pay for the risk. We don’t want to rely on the lucky chance of an entomologist opening the door of his new [imported] fridge and a beetle dropping out.” There are a number of issues related to biosecurity, including inspections of products and containers, how traceability reinforces producers’ responsibilities to global markets, and integrated risk. Farmers, industry bodies and the NSW Government are key partners in protecting the State from disease and vector incursions. Australia’s geographical isolation has meant that our farmers have to deal with few of the pests and diseases that affect agriculture industries overseas. The efforts of everyone else is undermined if the Commonwealth government is not protecting food and fibre industries and the environment from pest and disease incursions. Last year, the Commonwealth Government failed to adopt the Onshore Biosecurity Levy (also known as the Biosecurity Imports Levy), and stated there would be no replacement program. The Government cited COVID-19 among its reasons for ceasing the program and lack of replacement action, even though
a report requested by then Minister for Agriculture, Senator Bridget McKenzie, and received in 2019, recommended increased funding and improved data control and management. The authors of the report, Biosecurity Imports Levy: A Way Forward (May 2019, updated September 2019), cited concerns about the varying level of taxpayer funding provided year-on-year to prioritise biosecurity and the lack of data available to quantify and validate funding. They noted biosecurity was becoming increasingly complex and needed to be at least partfunded by importers. “Biosecurity needs to be better funded at the national border level,” James says. “Once a bug gets into the country, it’s a State and Territory responsibility. When the state decides they can’t deal with it, they call it endemic and it becomes the farmer’s responsibility.” NSW’s Department of Primary Industries, for instance, is trying to identify why containers of whitegoods and children’s highchairs were not fumigated or checked for khapra beetle by Commonwealth Government agencies. Other biosecurity risks that arose in 2020 include fall army worms, leaf miners, influenza and stink bugs. Here we delve further into the main issues. KHAPRA BEETLES
The khapra beetle is a destructive pest and a significant biosecurity risk to Australia’s grain industry. The beetle is found in at least 75 countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Movement vectors include items such as imported grain, foodstuffs, machinery, cargo, mail and travellers. This century, the khapra beetle has been found > MAY - JUN 2021
POLICY BIOSECURITY REPORT
in shipping containers on at least three occasions in Australia – in Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales. This year’s discoveries have been in WA and NSW. If the beetle was to establish itself here, many of Australia’s trading partners would reject our stored produce, and 80 per cent of Australia’s grain exports would be at risk if it was classed as endemic. As Australia exports much of the grain we grow, the beetle could cause huge losses, affecting Australia’s economy. “Like most biosecurity incursions, the risk to agriculture is attached to everyone, including tourists,” James says. FALL ARMY WORMS
Since 2016, fall army worm (FAW) has spread throughout Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and southeast Asia. There are approximately 350 plant species hosts, including economically important cultivated grasses such as maize, rice, sorghum, sugar cane and wheat; also vegetable and fruit crops and cotton. FAW was detected in NSW in October. FAW eggs hatch within two to four days after being laid on lower leaf surfaces. Adult FAW moths are strong flyers and will travel hundreds of kilometres on storm fronts. The larvae can also be spread in cut flower, fruit and vegetable consignments. Fortunately, the same parasitic wasp can be used against FAW and cotton bollworm, as part of integrated pest management (IPM). Parasitic wasps have proven effective with up to 70 per cent control of FAW, by laying their eggs on or inside FAW eggs and larvae. The cotton bollworm, or corn earworm, is widely distributed across Australia, particularly in the eastern states. The bollworm evolves rapidly against insecticides; but since the mid-1990s, Australia’s cotton breeders have been including Bt insect resistant genes in seed varieties. CSIRO research reinforces industry data that there has been an 80 per cent reduction in the use of chemical pesticides previously required to control bollworms. This means safer working conditions for growers and it is also beneficial for the environment. LEAF MINERS
There is one species of leaf miner under management in the Peninsula area of Cape York. From July last year, after serpentine leaf miner was detected on chrysanthemums coming into Australia from Malaysia, importers have been required to apply methyl bromide fumigation. Leaf miners affect many vegetable, legume, fibre (cotton), fruit and flower crops. Importation of infested plants, plant material or soil is the most likely way that leaf miners could make it to Australia. INFLUENZA
The domestic and export market for chicken meat and eggs was affected by regional and border closures in 2020. Outbreaks of Avian influenza – H7N7, H5N2
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KEEPING THEM OUT
Top to bottom: Leaf miners affect many vegetable, legume, cotton, fruit and fibre crops; the dreaded khapra beetle. Opposite page: An interstate quarantine bin at Parklands Terminal interstate railway station in South Australia.
and H7N6 strains – were detected among commercial poultry birds in Victoria. After a successful eradication program supported by multiple states and Animal Health Australia, on 26 February 2021 Australia officially regained freedom from highly pathogenic avian influenza in accordance with international guidelines published by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Known as proof of freedom, this official evidence is an important milestone in re-establishing export markets for Australian poultry and egg farmers. STINK BUGS
Ships were stopped from unloading when the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) was detected as a hitchhiker pest on containers in Australian ports early last year. The BMSB feeds on 300 plant species, including agricultural crops such as nuts, grains, berries, cotton, citrus, soybean and some ornamental and weed plant species; it is classified as a significant biosecurity risk for Australia’s agricultural industries and the environment. AFRICAN SWINE FEVER AND FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE
African swine fever (ASF) and foot and mouth disease (FMD) virus fragments were again detected in pork products seized at Australia’s international mail centres in a two-week period over the Christmas holiday period.
MATTERS OF COMPLIANCE
The same imposed expectation of compliance needs to be part of the work of Australia’s national border controllers. NSW Farmers wants the Commonwealth Government to move into the modern era, ensuring quarantine officers not only double-check that paperwork submitted by an importer complies with requirements, but using technology to reinforce the nation’s border control. NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall recently said the economic cost of biosecurity breaches was increasingly borne by NSW, Victoria and Queensland. “It’s safe to say we’re terrified about what could potentially happen. Even collectively, the three states do not have the resources to do our work plus the Commonwealth’s job,” he says. “Khapra beetle can enter Australia on plant products as a hitchhiker pest in sea containers. Changes to the management of sea containers to address hitchhiker risk needs to be Australia’s most urgent priority.” NEW SYSTEMS FOR THE FUTURE
These findings do not change Australia’s FMD or ASF-free status, but they do highlight the significant biosecurity risk these products pose for the nation. Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud, said FMD was considered the biggest animal disease threat to Australia’s agriculture. “An outbreak of FMD in Australia would lead to the closure of major livestock, beef, lamb, dairy and pork export markets with serious economic and social effects in other sectors, including tourism,” Minister Littleproud says. “Studies have estimated a large multi-state outbreak of FMD in Australia could result in economic losses of $50 billion over 10 years and an outbreak of ASF could cost Australia $1.5-$2.3 billion over five years.” The pork products were seized at international mail centres in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Overall, 24 per cent of samples tested positive for ASF virus fragments and 1 per cent tested positive for FMD virus fragments. EFFECTIVE TRACEABILITY
Innovation is improving through-chain traceability for Australia’s farmers. Technology provider Gravotech Australia and NSW Department of Primary Industries are identifying the best laser tattoo method suitable for melons. Success will decrease the amount of plastic used and discarded into the environment, and provide validation in the supply chain that when the customer buys an Australian melon, it is grown in Australia. On a more local level, Australia’s truck drivers regularly practice traceability requirements to ensure grain and oilseeds are clean of residues that can cross-contaminate food being exported and risk our global markets.
James Jackson wants to see blockchain technology integrated into Australia’s national border protection. While the Full Import Declaration (FID), appropriately completed, is an authoritative document, it could be enhanced using new technologies to gather science-based, quantifiable data on biosecurity risks. This would enable a history of container ships to be part of the data available – block chain technology would identify if a container has been in a country endemic with Khapra beetle. This knowledge would alert Australia’s border inspectors to isolate that shipping container so it can undergo testing. A system adopting these technologies would also alleviate the risk of holding up ships. A levy could be applied to the FID to fund biosecurity border control, by slightly modifying the declaration. This recommendation was made to Senator McKenzie in 2019. “We need an improved tracking and tracing system, and a levy imposed against importers that pays for the cost of checking overseas tourists, packages and containers,” James says. NSW Farmers has joined with the State Government to pressure the Commonwealth to increase biosecurity and border control funding in this year’s national budget and implement a levy such as the Onshore Biosecurity Levy. Australia’s geographic isolation has meant there are relatively few of the pests and diseases that affect agriculture industry overseas. “However, there is a growing risk of exotic disease outbreaks and pest and weed incursions fueled by the transfer of goods between countries, including bulk, container and parcel post. This is further increased by the movement of people around the world,” James says. l MAY - JUN 2021
Local problems need local insurance. Hard days are different out here. So, when the worst happens, it’s good to know you have a local to help you out. Give us a call to chat about your current cover and we can provide options to ensure you’re properly protected
Speak with your local WFI Area Manager by calling 1300 934 934 or visit wfi.com.au Alternatively, call NSW Farmers on (02) 9478 1042 or visit www.nswfarmers.org.au/wfi to be referred to your local WFI Area Manager. Insurance issued by Insurance Australia Limited ABN 11 000 016 722 AFSL 227681 trading as WFI. You should consider the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and your personal circumstances in deciding whether to buy or hold our products. You can get a copy of our PDSs from our website or by calling 1300 934 934. NSW Farmers Association (NSWFA) is an Alliance Partner of WFI and does not make any recommendation or provide an opinion about WFI’s products. If you take out a policy with WFI, NSWFA receives a commission from WFI between 5% and 10% of the value of the premium payment (excluding taxes and charges).
IN THE GOLDHOUSE
LLEAF's innovative luminescent greenhouse technology harnesses the power of sunlight to improve crop yield.
AN AG IDEAS HUB Step into an engine room for deep-tech agricultural solutions.
Words SUSAN GOUGH HENLY
MAY - JUN 2021
INNOVATION CICADA GROWLAB
ucked behind Sydney’s Redfern train station, Australia’s pioneer deeptech business incubator is buzzing with activity in a heritage red-brick building that once housed a steamengine workshop. With onsite residencies, fully equipped wet labs, prototyping facilities, mentoring, and business and investor networking, Cicada GrowLab (the agrifood program of Cicada Innovations) is committed to bringing cutting-edge, sustainable technology to market. Supported by the University of Sydney, the University of NSW, Australian National University and the University of Technology Sydney, “Cicada GrowLab provides high-growth agrifood tech companies with the tools to take their ideas and innovations from the lab and out into the farms and industries where they will have the most impact,” says Cicada CEO SallyAnn Williams. The proof is in the pudding. Since its foundation in 2000, Cicada has helped more than 300 companies raise over $450 million in venture capital and government grants, created hundreds of jobs, filed more than 500 patents and trademarks, and launched more than 700 deep tech innovations globally. And it’s twice been awarded Top Incubator in the World by the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA), the international peak body for business incubation and entrepreneurship. Some of these innovations will soon become available to farmers in NSW. Here are the trailblazers. FLUROSAT
Ukrainian aeronautical engineer Anastasia Volkova combined her passion for space technology and environmental sustainability to create FluroSat. FluroSat offers a range of products, including a cloud-based crop management and analytics platform, high-resolution satellite imagery and other artificial intelligence to help agronomists and farmers make informed decisions about plant health and efficient fertiliser use to reduce wastage and farm more sustainably. Their data analytics platform uses proprietary algorithms to assess the health and potential yield of crops, identify and classify problems and propose solutions. Using imaging sensors to detect when crops are in trouble long before their distress is discernible to the naked eye, FluroSat compares the crop in ground with its digital twin to make real-time recommendations to farm managers. “Cicada was invaluable in our early-stage project guidance. They ensured we identified and researched the most pressing issues facing farmers so we focused on the right solutions,” says Anastasia. FluroSat’s technology is now being rolled out worldwide. The engineering and science team is located at Cicada, while Anastasia has moved to Los Angeles, where the commercial team is based. They also have offices in Europe and Latin America. > MAY - JUN 2021
INNOVATION CICADA GROWLAB
BEHIND THE SCENES
InvertiGro co-founders Ben Lee and Paul Millett’s mission is to feed the world in a smarter way, producing higher yields of nutritious fresh produce with less water, land and waste, with no herbicides or pesticides, and independent of climate extremes and supply-chain disruptions. They took part in GrowLab’s accelerator program in 2017-18 and have developed fully integrated, cost-effective and flexible indoor vertical farming solutions to enable sustainable, reliable production of fresh produce, from herbs and leafy greens to berries, fruit, vegetables, fibres and stock feed. “Having all the lab facilities, as well as many other tech start-ups onsite, meant that we learned so much both from peers and mentors,” says Ben. InvertiGro is working on the scalability and commercial potential of its technology with the goal of giving farmers new options to diversify their crops, reduce exposure to unpredictable climate conditions and grow their own supplementary livestock feed.
Left to right: The 2020 cohort of Cicada GrowLab innovators; InvertiGro pallets in the warehouse.
The meaning of the word sustinent (‘serving to sustain’) expresses this start-up’s business model of embodying the circular economy. Harnessing biotechnology to transform agricultural green waste into new resources, the company’s first proprietary process converts sugar cane trash and crop stubble into nutrient-rich stock feed. They are also researching the possibility of converting stubble from hay, corn, cotton, rice and hemp into a wide range of high- and low-value end products, such as insulation panels, biodegradable packaging, medical products and human foods. The business model involves partnerships with primary producers, where Sustinent creates the biochemical and technical components, and manages
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the branding, marketing and distribution of the end products, and the producers do the material handling and production. It’s all about collaborations to convert waste into revenue streams. Co-founder Phil Ellery went through the GrowLab residency and presented his graduation idea, which interested entrepreneur Peter Tomich, who came onboard as CEO. “Cicada offers both elements for start-ups: the wet labs for deep tech as well as the mentoring to bridge the gap and take a great scientific idea into a commercial reality,” says Peter. Sustinent is in the final stages of setting up a production site, in partnership with Sunshine Sugar, to convert sugar stubble into stock feed in the Northern Rivers. With offices at Cicada GrowLab, production facilities in Harbord and a research lab in Burleigh Heads, the company has gone from a laboratory concept to a product to raising capital, preparing production and earning revenue within two years. LLEAF
LLEAF co-founders Alex Soeriyadi and Alex Falber combined their skills in polymer chemistry and polar technology to create an innovative luminescent greenhouse system that harnesses the power of sunlight to improve crop yield by up to 40 per cent, with little operational cost. A recent graduate of Cicada GrowLab, the company has focused on the complicated relationship between sunlight and yield,
and how different light filters impact both the growth of different plants and when plants stop growing and start making fruit. “Cicada gave us great support with wet labs and all sorts of deep tech infrastructure, but equally important are the mentors and the networking and brainstorming opportunities within this close-knit community,” says Soeriyadi. “They also helped us refine our business plan and develop a road map for the future.” LLEAF’s technology has been trialled with four crops on three different continents and shown promising yield increases. They are now doing commercial trials in greenhouses at Western Sydney University as well as on the Central Coast, with conditions as close as possible to the weather farmers face. The company is seeking funding for even larger trials and aims to launch products later in 2021. HILLRIDGE TECHNOLOGY
Having witnessed the devastating impact of extreme weather on his family’s wheat and sheep farms in Victoria’s Millewa region, Hillridge Technology’s co-founder Dale Schilling wanted to arm the farming community with financial tools to better manage weather risks. Dale saw how large mining companies handled similar weather risks in his roles steering oil and gas projects for Mitsui & Co and leading the Boston Consulting Group’s global mining operations, and wanted to give equivalent options for familyrun farms.
INNOVATION IN ACTION
Top then clockwise: Anastasia Volkova discussing Flurosat's technology with her colleagues; FluroSat helps grow cotton with fewer inputs like nitrogen and water, enabling growers to respond to the needs of the crop without over-application. With Sustinent’s proprietary processes, sugarcane trash is converted into feed for livestock.
Another recent graduate from Cicada GrowLab, Hillridge Technology has been refining its technology to connect farmers to insurance underwriters, who develop weather-index protection for short-term insurance coverage based on the crops farmers are planting in specific paddocks. “Cicada GrowLab gave us a fundamental understanding of how start-ups work, showing us the importance of telling our story so that it resonated with potential investors. Their mentors have a deep knowledge of the agricultural domain and gave us key introductions to major agribusiness investors and government agencies,” says Dale. Farmers can already buy short-term insurance through links to underwriters on the Hillridge Technology site. Premiums are based on the likelihood of poor weather based on where and what is farmed, while the decision to pay comes from a trusted weather data source, not the arbitrary judgement of an insurance assessor, with payments automatically triggered when weather conditions are met and loss is confirmed. Indicative prices show how much it would cost to hedge against specific weather events. As a Harvard MBA graduate, Dale is also paying things forward by becoming a mentor himself for the next generation of start-ups at Cicada GrowLab. In the process, Cicada is creating a community of founders to build an ecosystem of innovation across Australian and international agribusiness. l MAY - JUN 2021
Helping our regional and rural customers Introducing the Regional Advisory Network (RAN): a new program we’ve put together for our regional, rural and remote customers that ensures we’re going the extra mile to help when and where they need it most. What is it? The Telstra Regional Advisory Network (or RAN) is a program that helps our regional customers (Consumer, Small Business & Enterprise) to get connected wherever they are in regional, rural or remote Australia.. It provides holistic service solutions using our experts from regional Australia, as well as our Network & IT team and field technicians, to provide customers with a range of services from a simple fix to fully integrated and bespoke network solutions to ensure you’re able to make the most of your connection using our regional footprint. And it’s a big footprint. We have the largest regional mobile network by a country mile: We cover 1 million square kilometres across regional Australia that is not served by any other network. It’s because of this investment and long history of supporting the regions that we wanted to ensure that
Why have we created it? our customers outside the major cities are able to get the help they need and deserve. The RAN program has been designed to help customers who are having connectivity issues in their home, business premises or on the road. We want to be able to fix these problems the way that our regional customers need: by putting the right people on the job who understand the issue in detail and who can recommend a solution. The RAN team is made up of expert Regional Network Advisors (or RNAs) from our Networks & IT team and Local Communications Advisors (LCAs) from our skilled field technician team, who are supported by the wider Regional Australia team. The RNAs and LCAs are scattered around the country so no matter where you live, you’ll have access to them, locals helping locals!
In an ever-evolving digital world, we understand the critical role telecommunications plays in regional Australia. Whether it’s connecting with family and friends, educating the kids, running your business or calling for help, having a reliable service is essential. We also have a dedicated regional team with deep technical knowledge who understand the reality of connectivity and are able to help all customers make the most out of the network. So, we have put two and two together to deliver a personalised face to face service to help our customers by leveraging our team of experts. The RAN is an integral part of Telstra’s broader Regional Workforce Strategy with a focus on maintaining Telstra’s workforce integrity in regional areas.
How does it work? You can find out more about the Regional Advisory Network and how to speak to someone on our team at our Regional Australia page https://Telstra.com/ regionalaustralia For Mobile Coverage issues – You’ll be asked to complete a few questions online that will go to the specialist team, who will then arrange to call you back to understand more about your situation and what solutions will help get the outcome you’re after. To invite a network expert to your event – This will give you the option to request the engagement of an RNA/LCA to attend a community event, to ensure the event has the right network support.
O U Y R S ’
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Supply and demand, cost of production, price pain points and markets are all part of the discussion when it comes to the Australian beef industry’s future.
Words JEANETTE SEVERS Photography GETHIN COLES
he global economic recovery from the recession after the outbreak of COVID19 could be compared to the recovery of Australia’s livestock and particularly its beef sector. And what happens nationally is reflected in NSW’s cattle production sector. Australia’s beef herd fell to 24.6 million head in 2020, after a near-record increase in exports in 2019 of 1,298,167 head of cattle, according to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. That herd total is on the rise as farmers hold on to their heifers and look to naturally increase their breeding numbers. That in itself is maintaining a premium price point, as demand continues to outstrip supply. Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has forecast a 2 per cent increase in herd numbers across Australia in 2021, to 25.2 million head. It has also estimated cattle slaughter will drop by 3 per cent to 6.9 million head.
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MLA also reported more than one million cattle were in the domestic feedlot sector; this is a significant number, given a large quota of heavy cattle were exported live out of northern Australia into Asia in the first quarter of this year, particularly in readiness for Ramadan. Some cattle were finished, while others were lighter weight and intended for feedlots part-owned by Australian processors. MLA market insights manager Tim Ryan recently told ABC Rural that cattle exports into Asia were expected to drop as low as 850,000 in 2021. While Australia doesn’t rely only on Asian markets, that continent remains a key business destination for a lot of our local processors. GREENER GRASS
The drought that began in NSW in mid 2017 saw many farmers doing what they could to keep their core breeding stock and protect their pastures and soil. They sold mature cows, and calves at younger ages and lighter weights. Even as prices back to
the seller minimally rose in saleyards, and from processors competing for a shrinking supply, that income was spent on fodder and drought mitigating management. Consistent rainfall from late summer last year saw many farmers hold on to their existing breeders and their younger livestock; they focused on keeping heifers to naturally increase their herd size, and steers to grow out or sell at an older age to finishers. These decisions led to fewer cattle in the supply chain and a lot of competition between restockers, finishers, feedlots and processors, which helped drive prices. While prices excited some commentators at the end of 2020, many farmers and analysts are saying, justifiably, it is the reward for maintaining commitment to the beef industry. In a lot of respects, as the pandemic settled in last year, the shortening supply was a boon to processors – the demand for beef by cruise ships, airlines and the tourism hospitality sector stopped overnight. If climate conditions hadn’t changed in 2020, >
A FARMING FUTURE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
“The global economy is looking at carbon neutral farming and it’s one of the Cattle Committee’s priorities to create opportunities for measuring carbon emissions that are of value to our NSW farmers,” NSW Farmers’ Cattle Committee Chair Deborah Willis (pictured above and left).
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and the same tonnages of cattle were being offloaded because of drought, there was a significantly smaller tourism hospitality market to sell that meat into. This continues to be the case in many travel markets, but government initiatives and promotional campaigns are encouraging people to travel domestically – which should naturally increase the demand from tourism markets for meat. There have been additional costs in the processing industry as well, as a result of the pandemic. Workplace changes have been well-documented in the past 12 months, and processors are not exempt. For many processors a combination of reduced supply, high prices and the additional cost impost of pandemic control measures along the supply chain is creating a financial headache that is likely to play out over the next 18 months. “The food service sector crashed in the early days of the pandemic, and we saw an immediate drop in sales to wholesalers who just weren’t able to sell the product,” says John Seccombe, chair of the Northern Co-operative Meat Company, which has three processing plants. The co-operative boasts more than 800 farmer members, 1200 employees and a number of industry-operator members that hire the processing plants and workforces. “Cattle prices have also made it difficult to trade beef,” John says. “The restocker market is paying well-overdue premium prices for cattle, which is also affecting the operation of processor facilities. We are planning 18 months before stability returns to the market.”
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That stability will see some small dips and rises, before landing at a price not incomparable with current returns, according to some analysts. WHILE THE SUN SHINES…
For many processors, a combination of reduced supply, high prices and the additional cost impost of pandemic control measures along the supply chain is creating a financial headache that is likely to play out over the next 18 months.
So, let’s explore the trends coming out of this, and what some farmers are doing to benefit from premium prices. As part of an economic stimulus package coupled to the drought and COVID-19, the agricultural sector has also benefited from the government’s instant tax write-off for improvements and assets. In a special report titled Post-harvest Infrastructure in The Farmer, January-February 2021, we explored how farmers were investing in the Federal Government’s instant asset write-off. Up to $150,000 is available with sheds, silos, stockyards and solar panels in the mix. Shorthorn breeders and grass finishers Bill and Alison Archinal, of Mount George, have invested in improving their stockyards this year. They got through the drought by selling more of their calves as young weaners, rather than taking them through to two years old and finished on grass. “By selling younger than usual, it’s been lucrative, so we’ve been able to move ahead,” Bill says. The couple sell 80 per cent of their annual draft through the Gloucester saleyards, to a return buyer who targets grass-fed cattle. Now, with premium prices paid during the past year, they have invested in improving the farm’s stockyards and increasing land care, especially weed control, on their rangeland.
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The Archinals sell the remaining 20 per cent of their annual draft as meat, an innovation that began 12 years ago to improve and diversify their income. They have found it’s important to some consumers to know the story behind how their beef was raised. “I think there’s a growing market for a grass-fed product,” Bill says. “Environmental management is critical to all the issues of the beef industry. Consumers want to know the farmer is being responsible about weed, grassland and feral animal management. “Australia is well placed to build on its reputation for clean and green beef, and paying premium prices for MSA accreditation and guaranteed antibiotic-free and grass-fed rewards the farmer for their stewardship. MSA grading has been a game changer for the beef industry – it adds value to what we’re doing, but it has also lifted the value of the wider market.” PREMIUM VALUE
In the November-December 2020 issue of The Farmer, in an article titled Reform after COVID-19, NSW Farmers President James Jackson talked about how investing in some key priorities can help farmers create value from growing premium products. In particular, it is about industry and government investing in logistics support and policy reform at the local and regional level, to grow NSW agriculture to a $30 billion industry by the end of this decade; and a key partner in the national industry’s ambition of $100 billion by 2030. The priorities for farmers include environmental stewardship, value adding to products and investing in data systems, supply chains and infrastructure. Industry initiatives such as Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading and Livestock Data Link (LDL) provide farmers with data to help add value to their production system. NSW Farmers’ Cattle Committee Chair Deborah Willis produces vealers from a self-replacing cross Santa Gertrudis cow herd, and she works on a
SERVICING CHO SEN MARKETS
Deborah Willis (above) says “Meat Standards Australia (MSA) is a wonderful tool for producers. We pick a market to sell into, and breed or manage our herds to service those markets.”
property adjoining State Forestry and National Park on the Mid North Coast. She says this data enhances Australia’s traceability systems, and encourages farmers to participate in local delivery of extension services, share information and identify their own industry research and development priorities. “MSA is a wonderful tool for producers. We pick a market to sell into and breed or manage our herds to service those markets,” she says. “The data that is gathered as our cattle are processed is part of an important chain of events that can attract a premium . LDL adds value to tracing the performance of our cattle, and gives you confidence in the industry and in the cattle you’re breeding.” Bianca and Dave Tarrant of Our Cow, located near Byron Bay, combine farming and processing with a 100 per cent nose-to-tail paddock-to-plate experience, selling meat direct to customers. Beginning with beef, they expanded their delivery into lamb, pork and chicken. They operate a butchery and packaging plant that employs 15 people on-site and several remote workers. They work with other meat processors in NSW and Queensland, and their products are delivered Australia-wide direct to people’s homes. Technology and traceability are key to the success of their venture. “We started with a Facebook post and sold six bodies of beef in our first month,” Bianca says. “Traceability and animal welfare are very important to us, and to our customers. It’s really important that we know our farmers comply with our expectations of animal welfare and management, weights, breed, fat score, grass-fed and grass-finished product. We want the story we tell to be a story we’re proud to tell; so we spend a lot of time just making sure our farmer-suppliers meet those criteria and are looking after their operation. “We need to be able to prove we’re farming sustainably and can produce a good quality product into the future. People want to know they are buying from a transparent food chain. “I believe people are willing to pay more for a product when they are confident farmers’ practices prove they’re aware of the environmental impact of what they’re doing; and they’re making positive changes to secure a farming future for the next generation.” Deborah says it is obvious the retail market is already responding to grass-fed and environmental stewardship accreditations. “The global economy is looking at carbon neutrality and it’s one of the Cattle Committee’s priorities to create opportunities for measuring carbon emissions that are of value to our NSW farmers,” she says. “We also encourage farmers to work with their regional LLS to prioritise information exchange, biosecurity and weed management on their farms.” l
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Every drop counts Water use can be a contentious issue, but one thing we all agree on is that we need to produce more with less, and produce enough food and fibre for our growing population.
Words SANDRA GODWIN Photography PAUL HENDERSON-KELLY
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TOOLS IRRIGATION TECHNOLOGY
eakin University irrigation researcher Dr John Hornbuckle is at the forefront of research into new approaches that make every drop of water count in an unpredictable and changing environment. John, who leads projects in viticulture, dairy and broadacre crops, such as cotton, grain and rice, says farmers have already improved productivity by adopting ways to more precisely measure what their crops need and apply water at the optimum timing. The next step is to automate those systems for even greater improvements. “No matter what irrigation industry you’re in, if you’re going to be here for the long term, you’re going to need to be very efficient and very productive around how you use your water,” John says. “That’s obviously a big driver for automation, as well as making sure that you’ve got a competitive advantage over others who may be looking to use that water.” John says automation in surface irrigation systems, particularly in cotton and rice, has really taken off in the past few years, and a significant number of farmers are on the verge of adopting it at scale. The benefits are multiple: as well as saving water and boosting yields, automation delivers equally valuable time and labour savings, more accurate measurements, and eliminates the 3am wake-up call to manually change over irrigation gates or start siphons and pumps. “They’re the big drivers for it,” he says. “You’re also starting to see the next generation of young farmers come through who are a lot more tech savvy, and more interested in the potential of automation to give them a higher quality lifestyle and attract people to the industry. If you’re using the latest technology, that’s a big drawcard.”
Since 2008, Tim Kemp (pictured above at his avocado farm in Peats Ridge) has used soil moisture monitors, feeding information back to the computer every 10 minutes, to guide decisions about irrigation scheduling.
The rice industry in particular has focused on improving how efficiently it uses water, encouraging major changes in management practices. In the past 20 years, average rice yields have more than doubled to 11-12t/ha – reaching up to 15t/ha – at the same time as cutting water consumption by about 60 per cent. LOOKING AHEAD AND BEING SMART
AgriFutures Australia, which manages the rice industry’s research, development and extension programs, has set a target of further improving water productivity by 75 per cent over the next five years. Rice Extension co-ordinator Troy Mauger says the switch from aerial sowing of ponded rice to drill sowing reduces water use by 1.5-2 megalitres per hectare, or 10-20 per cent, depending on soil type. Delaying permanent application of water can save another 1ML/ha. Plant breeders are also working on shorter season varieties that use less water, and allow double cropping with winter grain crops. One thing that hasn’t changed is the requirement for rice to be ponded, with 25cm or more of water, during the two- to three-week microspore period, to protect the panicle from cold that can reduce yield. Troy says most growers use drop boards to raise and lower the water level on each bay and marker pegs or floats to indicate water depth. “It’s all pretty manual,” he says. “If we can automate the control structures for each bay to maintain the water level, it’s a labour saving, and it helps with water use efficiency because you don’t have excess water to drain.” John says current research is now focused on linking smart sensing, forecasts and automation systems. Sensors within a field or orchard can measure variables such as soil moisture level, temperature, crop water uptake and plant growth, and feed that data > MAY - JUN 2021
TOOLS IRRIGATION TECHNOLOGY
back to a central point where it’s analysed along with satellite images to automatically control irrigation. “Within the research we’re doing at the moment, the seven-day forecast is getting very, very good,” he says. “Potentially there will be the opportunity to run things in a fully autonomous fashion. We’ve already got trials where we’re doing that on broadacre irrigation systems. But those systems will always communicate back to the farmer what decisions they’re planning to make, and if the farmer wants to intervene then they have the ability to do so.” PUTTING IT TO THE TEST IN PEATS RIDGE
Tim Kemp has introduced an automated irrigation system to his orchard at Peats Ridge, west of Gosford. Tim and his wife Elise grow avocados and citrus on almost half of the 48ha farm that has been in the family since the 1920s. Unlike some fruit growers who started with flood irrigation – using gravity to propel water along the rows – the Kemps have always piped water from their dams, which collect rainwater and runoff. “We’ve been irrigating since power came to the mountain back in the 1930s and 1940s, and got more and more efficient as time went on,” Tim says. “The irrigation here has only ever been supplemental, but the problem is if you don’t have it you’re not viable because of the soil types. It’s a sandy loam and some of it is quite sandy, so it dries out very quickly. We might get a rainfall event and then, especially in the summertime, we’ll be irrigating again two or three days later.” During the 1980s, Tim’s father Robert put mains and sub-mains underground, and went from travelling irrigators and overhead sprays to under-tree micro sprinklers. Tim has since upgraded to pressure compensated sprinklers under the avocado trees and dual drip lines under the citrus. Since 2008 Tim has used soil moisture monitors, feeding information back to the computer every 10 minutes, to guide decisions about irrigation scheduling, which he prefers to do himself.
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UP GRADING SPRINKLERS
During the 1980s, Tim’s father Robert put mains and sub-mains underground, and went from travelling irrigators and overhead sprays to under-tree micro sprinklers. Tim has since upgraded to pressure compensated sprinklers under the avocado trees and dual drip lines under the citrus.
“It took a while to learn to trust it,” he says. “Especially because we went from a fairly old system, where you had to go around and manually turn taps on and then turn the pump on and then turn the pump off and turn other blocks on. That’s one of the reasons why I still don’t use the moisture monitors to schedule the irrigation. I just like to have that control, because moisture monitors don’t take into account the weather forecast or anything like that. Also, avocados are very water sensitive, so you’ve got to be particularly careful with them.” Even so, Tim estimates the time saving has been huge. Whereas 20 per cent of his week was spent on irrigation, that’s down to about 2 per cent now. And the water savings have allowed the Kemps to expand the area planted to fruit trees without increasing the total volume of water they use. There’s also the added bonus of being able to log in through TeamViewer and control the irrigation system from anywhere in the world. “It’s all connected to the internet, so I can schedule from wherever I like,” he says. “A few years ago we were lucky enough to go to the US, and I was putting the irrigation on from San Francisco Bay. That was pretty handy.” Tim is keen to see what new technology becomes available, but says lack of access to the mobile network limits what they can use. The current AquaLink system uses line-of-sight radio telemetry to communicate between the four field stations and the base station at the house. “We have quite a lot of bush and it’s a bit up and down here, so you’ve got to be careful where you put the stations,” he says. “A lot of the new stuff is controlled by the cloud and different mobile set-ups, and if you don’t have a mobile signal, the system doesn’t run. That’s a real hindrance at the moment. I can’t use any of that stuff.” l
A remotely controlled Padman stop being tested in a rice crop. Current rice industry research is focused on linking smart sensing, forecasts and automation systems to further improve how efficiently water is used.
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SPECIAL REPORT VERTICAL FARMING
Would you like to never have to worry about weather conditions, pesticides, or transporting your produce long distances? Then you might be ready to become a ‘vertical farmer’.
Words LISA SMYTH
KEEPING CUSTOMERS CLO SE
“The biggest advantage that vertical farming offers is the ability to grow your products so close to your customers. And chefs really appreciate their farmers,” says Noah Verin, owner of Urban Green in Sydney (pictured here).
ustralia’s city-dwellers are having a change of heart. Due to the pandemic, house prices are soaring in regional and rural areas as those used to ‘concrete jungles’ look to escape to wide open plains and the freedom of country life. But this desire for a ‘tree change’ will likely be short lived, and the 89 per cent of Australians who live in urban centres will, on the whole, continue to do so – a trend accelerating around the world. It is predicted that there will be close to 10 billion people on the planet by 2050, and nearly 70 per cent of those will live in cities and urban areas. How can we expect to feed so many people nutritious, fresh food when the majority will be living so far from the source? “Globally, there is an increasing awareness of the need to find more sustainable ways of doing things, including farming; there’s a growing realisation that we need to ‘feed the world the smarter way’,” explains Paul Millett, co-founder of InvertiGro, a vertical farming business based three kilometres from Sydney’s CBD. “We will need to grow 56 per cent more food to feed the world’s population by 2050, and we will need to do this without using more land or water,” continues Paul. “Australia has always been the ‘lucky country’ when it comes to farming, but in the last few years droughts, bushfires, floods and COVID-19 supply chain disruptions have really highlighted the need to think more innovatively about the sustainability and reliability of our food production.” A DRY FUTURE
Vertical farming has exploded in recent years, especially in the US and Europe, and the global market is expected to increase from a value of US$2.23 billion in 2018 to US$12.77 billion by 2026. > MAY - JUN 2021
Rising up: a vertical farming glossary • AEROPONICS – invented by NASA in the 1990s, this is growing plants in an air/mist environment with no soil and very little water, and can use up to 90 per cent less water than the most efficient hydroponic systems. • AGRITECTURE – is the combination of agriculture and architecture. Used in reference to buildings that produce food.
• HYDROPONICS – is the main growing system used in vertical farms and involves growing plants in nutrient solutions that are free of soil. The nutrient solution is frequently monitored and circulated to ensure that the correct chemical composition is maintained. • URBAN AGRICULTURE – is the practice of cultivating crops in towns, suburbs, villages and cities to minimise transport costs, and can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, and horticulture.
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Image by InvertiGro
• CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT AGRICULTURE (CEA) – is any agricultural technology that enables the grower to manipulate a crop’s environment to the desired conditions. CEA technologies include greenhouse, hydroponics, aquaculture, and aquaponics. Controlled variables include temperature, humidity, pH, and nutrient analysis.
Image by Urban Green
• AQUAPONICS – is a food production system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising animals such as snails, fish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.
EFFICIENT USE OF WATER AND FERTILISER
Hugh McGilligan, CEO of Sprout Stack, a hydroponic vertical farm based in a warehouse on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, says vertical farming is a much more efficient use of both water and fertiliser.
However, given our low population density and abundance of arable land, the Australian vertical farming market has been slow to take off – though all signs point to that changing in the years ahead. While vertical farming is known as a great way to make use of abandoned and unwanted urban spaces, its benefits really lie in the fact that it’s a form of controlled environment agriculture (CEA), where technology enables growers to manipulate a crop’s environment, such as temperature, humidity and pH, to the desired conditions. “The reason I joined Sprout Stack was not about land, but about water. We don’t have an abundance of water in Australia, and vertical farming is a much more efficient use of both water and fertiliser,” says Hugh McGilligan, CEO of Sprout Stack, a hydroponic vertical farm based in a warehouse on Sydney’s Northern Beaches that grows 450 kilograms of produce a week (and demand keeps growing). Founded in 2016, Sprout Stack’s pre-packaged salad greens hit the store within 16 hours of harvest, and that freshness is hard to beat. Vertical farming can use up to 95 per cent less water than traditional farming methods. Australia’s leading horticulture company, Costa Group, uses only 49 litres of water to produce one kilogram of their glasshouse-grown tomatoes, compared to 216 litres needed to grow them in the field. “Vertical farming is about maximizing outputs with fewer inputs and being more resource efficient,” notes Hugh. “But we do borrow an awful lot from
Image by Sprout Stack
Image by Invertigro
SPECIAL REPORT VERTICAL FARMING
traditional farming – the more precise use of water, like drip irrigation, or the use of more intelligent and more restricted use of chemicals and fertilisers, all comes from traditional farming. I think what we could impart to traditional farmers is our response to consumer trends and customer demands.” TAKING THE COMPLEMENT
“In my opinion, the biggest advantage that vertical farming offers is the ability to grow your products so close to your customers. And chefs really appreciate their farmers,” says Noah Verin, owner of Urban Green. Tucked away in four basement levels below the Shelley Street office tower at Sydney’s Barangaroo, Urban Green produces 4,000 punnets of microgreens and herbs a week, including pink kale, spicy radish, coriander, basil and cabbage. “CEA is becoming more mainstream, but I’ve always said that vertical farming will complement traditional farming, never replace it. Why should it? It would be silly not to use the abundance of energy provided by the sun,” says Noah. “There could be partnerships between regular farmers and vertical farmers. For example, vertical farms are the perfect environment for growing seedlings, which could then be sent to the larger farm to finish growing. On a broader level, a lot of vertical farmers are new to farming, like me, and could learn a lot from traditional farmers.” In addition to seedling propagation, vertical farms are already being used to grow livestock feed quickly
GROWING LIVESTO CK FEED WITH LES S WATER
In addition to seedling propagation, vertical farms are already being used to grow livestock feed quickly and in large quantities, often using 95 per cent less water.
Fast fact In a warehouse in Beckton, UK, GrowUp’s 6,000 square feet of growing space produces more than 20,000kg of sustainable salads and herbs and 4,000kg of fish each year.
and in large quantities, often using 95 per cent less water. A 1,000 square metre vertical farm would have enough output to feed hundreds of cattle per day – a particular advantage during a long drought season. “Vertical farming will never replace traditional farming as there are some crops that are better suited to different growing methods,” confirms Paul. “It makes sense to grow short shelf-life crops, such as lettuce, herbs, microgreens and other leafy greens, closer to where they will be consumed, to ensure maximum freshness and nutrition with minimal wastage. “At InvertiGro we see ourselves as supporting traditional farming, and there are many reasons why traditional farmers may want to incorporate indoor vertical farming technologies into their own operations, such as diversifying crops and protecting income streams.” Of course, indoor vertical farming is a capitalintensive endeavour due to the high technology and energy costs, and it takes an average of five to seven years to see a return on investment. But there’s no denying change is coming. “We are a nation with a strong and proud farming identity,” says Paul. “There has, to date, been no real perceived ‘need’ to consider alternatives to traditional farming. But the technology behind vertical farming has the ability to deliver triple bottom-line wins (for people, planet and profits), and, as a result, the opportunities for indoor vertical farming in Australia are many.” l MAY - JUN 2021
Diversification and demand:
native foods The unlikely combination of MasterChef, COVID-19 and the trend for ‘superfoods’ has put Australian native foods and ingredients in record demand, and more farmers are desperately needed to help meet supply needs.
Words LISA SMYTH Photography RACHAEL LENEHAN
MAY - JUN 2021
TREND NATIVE INGREDIENTS
BLES SING IN DISGUISE
Sharon Winsor (pictured here), owner of native foods supplier Indigiearth, says COVID-19 has led to people being more interested in where their food comes from. Left: native mint; a creamy cheesecake from Indigiearth with a native green ant garnish.
hen René Redzepi, head chef of the world’s second-best restaurant Noma, launched a pop-up in Sydney in 2016, he opened the eyes of the world – and most Australians – to the incredible array of native foods in our sunburnt country. Using Kakadu plums, crocodile fat, pepperberries and dozens of other native ingredients in his cooking, the Danish chef managed to kick a burgeoning sector into hyperdrive, in the space of 10 weeks. “Chefs are always trying to find new products. When Noma came to Sydney they cooked with native ingredients and did all this crazy stuff, and chefs started to look around in Australia and go: ‘Oh my God! You can do all this stuff with these foods that have been here all along’,” says Claire Van Vuuren, head chef and co-owner of Bloodwood restaurant in Sydney’s Newtown, who has been using native ingredients in her cooking for many years. “It’s nice to use a product that is explicitly from the country you’re in, and that you can’t access in any other country,” adds Claire. “Obviously, Indigenous communities have been using these ingredients for thousands of years, but as readily accessible products, I think most have only been available in the past seven years or so. Each year it becomes more affordable and there are fewer and fewer reasons why chefs can’t have native foods on their menus.” > MAY - JUN 2021
TREND NATIVE INGREDIENTS
65,000 YEARS IN THE MAKING
AN ABUNDANCE OF
There are 6,500 types of native foods in Australia, including plants such as bush tomatoes and warrigal greens, proteins like wallaby and green ants, and grasses such as saltbush. At least 1,500 native plants are used by Indigenous communities for food, and yet not one of the world’s top 150 crop plants comes from Australia. “To bridge a gap through horticulture, a starting point would be for non-Indigenous communities to engage with Indigenous communities across the country – inclusion of Indigenous peoples should be standard,” explains Indigenous chef Mark Olive, who has been showcasing native ingredients in his cooking, and on his TV shows, for three decades. “The industry has changed massively in the past five years. Since the uptick in reality cooking shows, native ingredients have been featured heavily in challenges, and that has changed the way we engage with native produce,” continues Mark.
NATIVE FO OD S
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Top left, then clockwise: Indigiearth produce made from native ingredients; Indigenous chef Mark Olive (aka the Black Olive) has been promoting native Aussie ingredients for his entire career; examples of native ingredients at Indigiearth’s cafe.
“Once we have established an industry that is proud of our native fruits, seeds, nuts and proteins, then we can call what we have in our backyard an ‘Australian cuisine’, and that would unite a mass of people.” Despite the incredible growth of the industry in recent years, research conducted by Bushfood Sensations in 2019 found that only 1 per cent of the industry’s produce and dollar value is generated by Australia’s Indigenous people. “I’m really passionate about farmers having respectful and meaningful relationships with Aboriginal people in their communities,” says Sharon Winsor, a proud Ngemba Weilman woman, and also the founder and managing director of native foods supplier Indigiearth. “There are lots of people who have produced native brands and who are using our knowledge to promote those products, but they have no real connection to Aboriginal people or community. We want people to become growers and create partnerships and have a meaningful connection with communities to be able to use those stories and use our knowledge.” BUSH FOOD BOOM
Sharon has been running Indigiearth in Mudgee since 2012, where she sells more than 200 products (her best-selling ingredient is lemon myrtle). Last year she opened her own café as part of the retail shop,
Australia’s native caviar
where bush tomato quiches, lilly pilly cheesecakes and Kakadu plum smoothies can often be found on the menu. “COVID-19 has done the opposite for my business to what other businesses have gone through: I’ve experienced rapid growth and interest in what we’re doing. I opened up a bush tucker café in the middle of a pandemic, and that’s been going great,” reports Sharon. “Over the past 12 months people have really changed their mindset about what they’re eating, what they’re consuming, where their ingredients are coming from, and wanting to know what the health benefits of many foods are. I’ve seen the biggest shift in the past 12 months compared to the previous 10 years.” While the most recent statistics about the health of the industry are from 2010 and outdated, anecdotally nearly all those along the supply chain agree that demand for native foods is far outstripping supply. >
FROM THE SEA
Left to right: Chef Claire Van Vuuen with native seafood and ocean succulents. (Photo courtesy of Claire Van Vuuen); Fingerlimes (Photo by David Hancock Photography.)
Finger limes are one of the most popular native foods on the market, and they are originally from northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. They’re typically greenyellow in colour, but finger limes also come in vibrant crimson, purple and black varieties. The flesh of the fruit has a caviar-like appearance. An easy substitute for regular lemons or limes, finger limes are most often used as a garnish or as a citrus hit in sauces, jams, dressings and beverages. “We freeze-dry all our products and sell them to Haigh’s Chocolates, Four Pillars Distillery and Cape Byron Distillery, among other major producers,” says wholesaler Sheryl Rennie, owner of Australian Fingerlime Caviar based in Bangalow in the Northern Rivers region. For more than 20 years, Sheryl has worked with a group of nine growers with more than 11,000 trees to produce 10 varieties of finger limes for distilleries, breweries, food service, and chocolate and ice cream companies across Australia. “I’ve got a mixed orchard. Most growers in this area grow finger limes, Davidson plums and lemon aspen. All of our growers, we all do the same thing. We’ve got a regimen that we stick to and we’ve done okay for years with it. Bad quality fruit from backyard growers is a big issue right now – it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, literally and figuratively. But we’ve never had any rotten fruit or any fruit at all sent back,” says Sheryl. Named after their shape, finger limes can grow up to 12 centimetres long. Today, all finger limes traded in Australia are cultivated rather than obtained through wild harvest. Like all citrus varieties, finger limes prefer well-drained soils. Trees begin producing fruit in the third year, but quantities remain limited until the fifth or sixth year, when they can produce up to 20 kilograms. “We’ve got great opportunities now in the native food industry, but there aren’t enough good growers. Farmers need to be pretty diverse in their cropping, and these plants are native to Australia, so they’re pretty drought tolerant. So, I think, in the future, more people need to plant natives,” says Sheryl.
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When planning for the next generation, I don’t compromise.
Call 33 77 Visit www.sheds.com.au sheds.com.au 13001300 725 94 977
TREND NATIVE INGREDIENTS
OF THE 6,500 TYPES OF NATIVE FOODS IN AUSTRALIA, ONLY 13 HAVE BEEN CERTIFIED BY FOOD STANDARDS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND. FACT SHEETS ON HOW TO GROW ALL 13 CAN BE FOUND ON THE ANFAB WEBSITE ANFAB.ORG.AU
• Anise myrtle • Bush tomato • Davidson plum • Desert lime • Finger lime • Kakadu plum • Lemon aspen • Lemon myrtle • Mountain pepper • Muntries • Quandong • Riberry • Wattleseed
“I grow three tons of lilly pillys [Australian cherries] a year – I could have sold 10 tons this year,” explains Rus Glover, co-chair of the Australian Native Food and Botanicals (ANFAB) national industry body. “The demand is there because people are starting to understand that these foods are really healthy and they grow here. Expanding what people are actually eating is part of the ethos of the native foods industry; to help build its own momentum into the future.”
NATIVE FO OD FOR ALL
Australian native foods may have been in use for thousands of years by our Indigenous communities, but the moment has arrived for native foods to go mainstream.
A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Fifty per cent of ANFAB’s Board is Indigenous, and the organisation is committed to supporting growers and farmers and increasing Indigenous participation and leadership in the sector. “The first two things for farmers to think about is whether there is a market for the native they want to grow, and will it grow in their area. We then recommend that they contact their local Aboriginal corporations or Land Council to see if there are any opportunities to work in partnership with the local Aboriginal population,” advises Rus. Rebecca Barnes, director of Playing With Fire, has spent the past 22 years growing and manufacturing native foods including lemon myrtle, Davidson plums and finger limes. Based in Ballina, on Bundjalung country, Rebecca believes that many farmers can diversify their crops with natives. “We need more farmers – that’s definitely the push. Farmers should speak to their local Aboriginal Land Council, because they’re going to have some good advice on bush foods and what was traditionally eaten. They will very often support new businesses.
Fast fact According to ANFAB, there has been a
increase in demand for wattleseed products in the past five years. At up to $150 a kilogram, wattleseed flour drives a premium in the market.
“Byron Shire Council has also funded a Farmer Liaison Officer position, and he has a very strong lean towards natives. He can see that there’s nothing stopping the average cow farmer putting in a paddock of lemon myrtle. Planting a mix is a good idea, and you don’t need a lot of land to get productive trees from the natives,” adds Rebecca. Australian native foods may have been in use for thousands of years by our Indigenous communities, but the moment has arrived for native foods to go mainstream. No farmer will want to be left behind. l MAY - JUN 2021
THE FARMER MAY - JUN 2021
After a COVID-forced hiatus in 2020, Primex Field Days has returned, and it is still one of the largest and most diverse primary industry exhibitions in Australia.
Words DARREN BAGULEY
SPECIAL REPORT PRIMEX
ince humble beginnings in 1985, Primex has evolved to become one of Australia’s largest field days and expos. Set in Casino as always, this year’s event will combine extensive trade elements with industry and grower/producer affiliations. Primex Field Days 2021 will host more than 400 exhibitors and 1400 suppliers, and is expecting to receive more than 25,000 visitors across its three days. According to Primex Field Days director Bruce Wright, Primex 2021 is poised to reposition the event as the interface between farmers and consumers by showcasing sustainable options for primary production. The event is expanding coverage to better present sustainable approaches and solutions for the changing climate of Australian agriculture, its challenges, and the marketplace demands of supply chain traceability, also known as providence. PROVENANCE AND DIVERSITY
Hand in hand with the emphasis on provenance, Primex is seeking to present itself as the premier venue showcasing Australia’s diverse and fast-growing ‘paddock to plate’ food producer network. To this end, Primex 2021 is broadening the exhibitor and visitor market by targeting sustainable farmers and suppliers, informed consumers, ‘foodies’, industry bodies, food industry supply chains and international delegations. Bruce is optimistic that, COVID notwithstanding, there will be a great turnout for Primex 2021. “Since 2017, the Northern Rivers has had floods, drought, fires and then COVID-19. It has been a challenging few years for everybody but I think we are starting to come out the other side. We have a just had a great season, there are a lot of industries that are doing well and we are looking forward to getting back to the new normal.
PADD O CK TO PLATE
Placing the emphasis on provenance, Primex presents itself as the premier venue showcasing Australia’s diverse and growing ‘paddock to plate’ food producer network.
“As a field day organisation, the most important part of that will be going back to what field days are all about – and that is creating direct face-toface contact between farmers and suppliers. The feedback we are getting from exhibitors and growers is overwhelming: over the past two years everyone has missed that contact, and the building of relationships that ensues.” THE NEXT GENERATION
A major focus for Primex 2021 will be a revamped Next Generation (NextGen) program that aims to elevate the profile and importance of pathways available in agriculture and primary industries. Stakeholders supporting the NextGen program will work alongside career advisers, teachers and agriculturebased government agencies to target and assist in a coordinated approach. “We want country kids to realise they don’t have to go to the Big Smoke to have a career, there are careers available in agriculture, in regional Australia,” says Bruce. >
Primex COVID precautions Primex Field Days 2021 is a registered COVIDSafe event and will be working closely with the NSW Government and relevant authorities to ensure a safe and successful few days. No tickets will be sold at the gate due to the COVID-19 contact tracing requirements of New South Wales Health. All exhibitors will be required to have a COVID safety plan that addresses the matters in a checklist approved by the NSW Chief Health Officer.
MAY - JUN 2021
SPECIAL REPORT PRIMEX
To achieve this, Primex has partnered with Southern Cross University following the launch of its world-first ‘regenerative agriculture’ courses. Ranked number one in Australia for overall experience in agriculture and environmental sciences by the Good Universities Guide 2021, Southern Cross is a critical bridge between the education sector and industry as Australian producers grapple with issues of drought and flood resilience and the realities of a changing climate. Both the Bachelor of Science (Regenerative Agriculture) and the Graduate Certificate in Regenerative Agriculture represent a new generation of agricultural studies, part of a global movement that demands we rethink the way we produce food and how we look after the sources that provide it: our landscapes, our soils. Offered in flexible online mode with intensive on-farm workshops, the courses have attracted students from across the country. “Regenerative agriculture promotes paddock to plate, which links back to what we’re doing with NextGen,” adds Bruce. As a result, NextGen is working with some of Australia’s most visionary and committed entities to promote a premier range of campaigns resourced by these producer and grower organisations, creating opportunities for engagement all year round and highlighted during Primex Field Days. These opportunities will include workshops, skill development and support for regional-national campaigns and competitions in areas such as innovation and ag-tech activities (drones, GPS, precision ag equipment, apps, etc), as well as practical skill development activities involving elements such as fencing, livestock and agronomy. NextGen also recognises the importance of the growing regenerative agriculture movement with an introduction to its key concepts, along with risk and safety and national best practices. While skills are front and centre in the NextGen program, it does not ignore the importance of building relationships and networks through membership, industry and awarding achievement.
of Approved Business Events on Austrade’s website. To be eligible businesses are able to apply for funding grants from $10,000 to $250,000 per entity under the Business Events Grants Program to cover up to 50 per cent of the cost of attending Primex Field Days. Bruce also points out that Primex is the only event servicing the needs of the civil, construction and forestry sectors throughout the Northern Rivers region. “As they are specialist industries with specific needs, we work with each exhibiting company to support the identification, engagement and business development, with the event featuring leading national suppliers servicing these industry sectors throughout NSW and Queensland. “The latest technology, services and equipment will be presented along with machinery demonstrations and contractor, trade and operator network activities.”
PLAN, PLAY AND STAY
‘Australian made’ is another primary focus for Primex 2021. Bruce says there is a huge groundswell of support, interest and commitment by Australians to buy Australian made, whether it’s cattle yards, agricultural machinery or the products of our breweries and distilleries. A significant part of this is Primex 2021’s partnership with the Australian Made Campaign, a third-party accreditation system which ensures products that carry the logo are certified as ‘genuinely Australian’. The campaign quotes 2020 Roy Morgan research showing that 80 per cent of Australians have a preference for Australian-made agriculture and garden equipment. As a result of the emphasis on Australian made, Primex Field Days has been listed on the Schedule
With the Australian tourism and hospitality sector struggling to bounce back in the absence of overseas tourists, Primex is encouraging visitors to the event to take some extra time for a holiday under the tagline ‘Plan, play and stay’. “Farmers aren’t great at taking time off for themselves, but if they are taking the time to come to Primex, why not make time for a mental health break as well?” says Bruce. To this end, the event will heavily leverage Primex’s location on the NSW north coast next to major population areas such as the Gold Coast and Brisbane, horticultural production and processing sectors, the area’s entrepreneurial demographic, the population of informed consumers interested in food production and local and visiting ‘foodies’. l
MAY - JUN 2021
AUS SIE MADE
Primex has a partnership with the Australian Made Campaign– a third-party accreditation system which ensures products that carry the logo are certified as ‘genuinely Australian’.
Fast facts Primex Field Days have been running since 1985. Primex 2021 will host more than 400 exhibitors and 1400 suppliers, and expects to receive more than 25,000 visitors across its three days. It will be held at the Norco Primex Richmond Valley Events Centre. For information on how to get there, visit: primex.net.au/visitors/ getting-to-primex/
CASINO NORTHERN RIVERS NSW | MAY 20-22 2021
CASINO NORTHERN RIVERS NSW | MAY 20-22 2021
AUSTRALIA’S SUSTAINABLE FARMING EXPO
Where Farmers & Foodies Meet Come along and experience this iconic field day showcasing primary industries and connecting farmers and producers with chefs and food lovers from the Tweed to Clarence regions.
SPECIAL REPORT SHEEP BREEDERS ’ GUIDE
Ahead of the flock 74
MAY - JUN 2021
The latest generation of automated sheep handlers can weigh and draft sheep automatically by weight or EID while also restraining the animal so farmers can undertake a variety of other tasks such as crutching, hoof trimming, drenching, vaccination and tagging.
Sheep breeding is as challenging as ever, but new automation, nutrition and genetic technology are helping producers do a better job more efficiently.
Words DARREN BAGULEY
MAY - JUN 2021
SPECIAL REPORT SHEEP BREEDERS ’ GUIDE
espite wool prices having come off the highs of early 2019, sheep meat prices remain buoyant, and interest remains high in wool, meat and dual-purpose sheep breeds. It’s a great situation to be in and it’s a great time to be a sheep breeder, as new technology is making breeding more exact and less physical with better animal welfare outcomes. The sector is not without its challenges, however. According to TechniPharm CEO Harmen Heesen, in Australia and New Zealand on-farm labour resources are not easy to recruit and COVID travel restrictions are making it harder than ever. “Farm succession is a big issue in New Zealand and Australia and there is a lack of clear direction for the wool industry. Wool should be the dominant fibre given concern about climate change, but synthetic fabrics still rule. Whatever happens, returns need to increase so farmers can pay good salaries and the industry can thrive and grow.” Te Pari Products Australian sales manager Almanzo Blampied agrees that labour has become even more of an issue than it was pre-COVID. “A lot of breeders are finding contractors hard to get and realise they need to be more self-sufficient.
MAY - JUN 2021
Sheep handlers mean older people can keep working with sheep – they can drench sheep all day, but if they tried to do that with a traditional race they would be shattered. Also, the younger generations who want to come back to farm, they do not want to do the hard physical work, they want more automation and the latest technology.” SHEEP ID AND TRACEABILITY
Unless they are selling into the Victorian market, NSW sheep breeders are not required to put electronic ID tags into their sheep. Nevertheless, progressive producers are adopting the technology because it allows them to get the most out of the latest sheep handlers and auto drafters. “Breeders want to be able to match data so they can auto draft,” says Almanzo. “For example, tagging breeder ewes means that if they need to reduce stocking rates, they can easily draft off the underperformers and put them on the truck for the next sale.” Producers who are seeking to minimise the number of mobs they run are also finding auto drafters invaluable as they can bring sheep in as one big mob, draft them into relevant classes, then put them back into larger mobs. “Sheep handlers, scales and auto drafters network
Genetic testing is easier by orders of magnitude as new tissue sampling techniques make taking the sample as simple an operation as ear tagging.
with our drench guns, so as the sheep comes onto the scales or the handler, it measures its weight and auto calibrates the drench gun. If the drench has a withholding period, the next time that sheep is scanned, the system will flag if it is still within that period. While that helps breeders with their record keeping, the most important thing is that it puts on the right amount of drench, backline etc; too much or not enough causes resistance.” INDUSTRY AUTOMATION
Automation also saves money. According to Almanzo, customers who purchase drench and then buy an auto calibrating drench gun often find they have drums of drench left over. In addition, “The combination of EID, automated scales, drafters, handlers and drench guns really allows producers to drill into their data; everything is there, information on history, animal traits and performance, which allows them to run their business better.” While automating stock management tasks in the yards is an increasing trend, tools such as Mobble are allowing sheep breeders to extend digitisation into the paddock. Developed by engineer, farmer and entrepreneur Jock Lawrence, Mobble is a cloudbased farm and livestock management software
GOING EASY ON FARERMS AND SHEEP
Clockwise from top: For a sheep handler, crutching at waist height is easier on their back, and less stressful for sheep as well; taking handling facilities to the sheep is less stressful for the flock and avoids the build up manure in fixed yards; Apps like Mobble are taking farmers’ trusty notebook digital.
application connecting multiple users and properties to simplify the farm management system, with the aim of replacing the physical notebook that often ends up in the washing machine. Smartphone or tablet based with offline capability, Mobble gives a complete property overview. Breeders can check the status of every ram, wether and ewe mob and class mobs the way they always have, whether it’s scanned as twins or classed as AI. With NLIS tag colours preloaded, Mobble simplifies record keeping on every paddock, from pasture management to mob movements. All this adds up to easier compliance with audits, as information such as mob treatments and chemical inventory are available to all users. Despite advances in automation and digitisation, nutrition management remains an important part of the sheep breeder’s tool set. The 4 Season Company’s national sales manager Sam Stephens says that, “in many parts of the country there are definite seasons. The good operators are focused on production throughout the entire year and understand the animals’ extra requirements, versus the producer that thinks ‘when it is green there is no need for additional supplementation and when it is a drought we supplement’. > MAY - JUN 2021
SPECIAL REPORT SHEEP BREEDERS ’ GUIDE
“Livestock husbandry is like an iceberg: you only get a visual indication of a small part of the big picture. When an animal starts to look ordinary, the issue was not just yesterday. “New generation blocks such as ProLamb supply energy and key nutrients at the critical time through the later stage of pregnancy then through lactation. The lambs benefit from this through mum, along with also having access to the block. This assists in the early development of the rumen, which leads to the animal being ‘set for life’ through adequate pre- and post-birth nutrition.” DNA AND GENETICS
Automation may be a fast-growing trend for sheep breeders, but breeders at the cutting edge are embracing DNA testing to put hard data behind Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs). Allflex is a name well known when it comes to livestock identification, and one of its newest products, the Tissue Sampling Unit (TSU), provides breeders with a clean, simple way of taking a tissue sample far in advance of the blood card method. According to Allflex’s territory sales manager Jack Briscoe, the TSU takes a clean, uncontaminated sample and can be used with minimum restraint. The DNA inside the TSU is a high quality sample that gives a higher yielding lab result, while the 2-D barcode greatly reduces the possibility of human error.
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MODERNISING THE GAME
Clockwise from top left: Farm management apps such as Mobble synchronise from smartphone to PC; tissue sampling units (TSUs) are cleaner, less stressful to the animal and faster to process then bloodbased tests; with data capture, Mobble can put several generations’ knowledge in your hand.
Fast fact • In 2018-19, the average farmer was 58 years old. By automating sheep handling, breeders can stay in the industry. • Adoption of automation and digitisation technologies encourages younger generations to return to, or stay on, the farm.
“The quick, easy squeeze motion of using the TSU is easier than tagging, and when the sample goes to the lab it goes into a 96-TSU storage rack and bed scanner that scans the TSUs. It is capable of doing 96 samples in 16 minutes, so for stud breeders it means samples come back faster and it is lower cost. Genetic testing takes away the emotional attachment of what breeders think their animal is, and gives hard data they can then compare against the average.” Genetic testing using tissue sampling also offers advantages for the commercial breeder. Producers can go on to Ram Select and look for the attributes they need. “A flock profile test only requires 20 random samples of the age group being tested, so it’s not necessary to test all animals. With Dohne, Maternal, Merino and Terminal indexes available for buyers and breeders, commercial producers can take results to stud and fine tune what they need for their sheep. The Merino index for example includes 13 traits, including clean fleece weight, fibre diameter, staple strength, CV diameter, yearling weight, adult weight, maternal weight, eye muscle depth and number of lambs weaned.” In summing up Jack says, “tissue sampling takes a lot of the guesswork out of sheep breeding because you are collecting accurate data and data does not lie.” The same could be said of automation and the future of sheep breeding. l
The saleyards We’ve gone all natural for this round-up of great Aussie products that we’re sure you’ll love. Edited by MICHELLE HESPE
FROM OUR KITCHEN TO YOURS
A collection of beautifully photographed recipes from The Country Women’s Association. With short, simple instructions, you’ll whip them up in no time and have the whole town knocking on your door. Who doesn’t love a classic pumpkin soup? Fill hungry bellies with plum and rosemary lamb shanks and seal the deal with a chocolate self-saucing pudding. Murdochbooks.com.au
DO-GOOD-LABS AUSTRALIAN BOTANICALS
The team behind Australian Botanicals are taking things back to basics while keeping their focus on using pure, high quality local ingredients. These plant oil soap bars are triple milled to ensure longer lasting suds and a thick lather. The Apperley family know there is always a place for a chunky bar of soap in every Aussie bathroom. Australianbotanicalsoap.com.au
Do-Good-Labs spreads an important message with its snacks: mental health matters. Fifty per cent of profits go towards supporting mental health services, food security standards and childhood cancer R&D around the country. Dogoodlabs.com.au
WILD WOOL AUSTRALIA GOURMET DOG BARKERY
Gourmet Dog Barkery has been creating fun, flavoursome and (mostly) healthy treats for dogs and other pets since 2009. With two stores in NSW and an online shop, pet-lovers can spoil their best buds with birthday and special occasionthemed treats, or just because. Gourmetdogbarkery.com.au
“Buy less, buy better” is the motto at Wild Wool Australia. These boots are handcrafted from premium, sustainable materials right here in Australia. With 50 years of small-scale production behind them, the team at Wild Wool adhere to a strict ethics policy to ensure everyone involved in the making of these boots, from material suppliers to couriers, gets a fair go. Wildwoolaustralia.com
SANCTUS BREWING CO INDIGIEARTH
The first company in the country to make beeswax food wraps, Queen B remains a pioneer of environmentally conscious Australian beeswax products. Now specialising in handmade candles, the mindfully sourced beeswax provides a superior burn time compared to soy and palm alternatives. Queenb.com.au
The highly innovative team behind Indigiearth channel 60,000 years of Aboriginal culture into their range, offering everything from spice blends, tea and chocolate treats to skincare, candles and superfoods. Championing native ingredients, Indigiearth allows people to taste and touch the gifts of mother nature, and even more so now with the new Warakirri Dining Experience: a five-course degustation of Australian native foods, beverages and botanicals at its Mudgee cafe. Indigiearth.com.au
Hailing from Townsend near Yamba, Sanctus Brewing Co has been hydrating Clarence Valley locals since 2019. And now its beers are available at bars and bottle shops across the country. From the golden hued Pacific Coast Lager to the old faithful Triple B Stout, the current 8-flavour line-up offers something for every kind of beer drinker. Sanctusbrewingco.com.au
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MAY - JUN 2021
MAY - JUN 2021
ENVIRONMENT MOUSE PLAGUE
Of mice and men
A mouse plague like the one that ripped through North West and Central West NSW hasn’t been seen in Australia for more than 30 years.
Words LUCY KNIGHT
orth West farmer James Nalder awakes at his Coonamble property each morning to the stench of dead mice. A bumper grains harvest and near-perfect summer season has provided the ideal breeding conditions for mice. James says they’ve been relentless. “People are waking up with them on their face, or in their boots when they pull them on in the morning. They’ve chewed through cables in vehicles, they’re dying in our air conditioners, and some people wake to find hundreds in their pool, every single day. “They’re destroying haystacks before our very eyes. There are haystacks right around the district which have been turned to chaff in a matter of weeks.” Scenes where literally tens of thousands of mice can be found scrambling out of sheds, haystacks, silo bags and cropping paddocks have defined the past few months for farmers across the state’s North West region. The plague problem extends from Queensland’s Darling Downs region in southern Queensland into NSW, with major problems around Moree, Walgett, Coonamble, Warren, Trangie, Gilgandra and Dubbo. While authorities can’t put any kind of official number on it, farmers throughout the region are calling it the worst mouse plague in a generation – and it’s wreaking untold amounts of damage to grain and fodder supplies, in particular.
New and mature crops have been in the firing line, with significant damage to sorghum crops grown over the summer, and fear for what will happen to winter crops currently being planted. NSW Farmers has lobbied the State Government to provide farmers an environment where they can take actions to combat mouse populations. The Association has called on the Government to support and fast track applications with the APVMA for emergency use permits of rodent baits, for example to allow baiting with zinc phosphide on bare or fallow paddocks to assist suppress populations ahead of winter crop sowing. The Association also called on the Government to provide a grants program with meaningful subsidies and rebates for baiting, accompanied by an extension program rolled out by Local Land Services to ensure farmers are aware of best-practice control techniques. NSW Farmers says government agencies should assist and streamline approvals for industry to establish treatment stations so farmers can have their own grain professionally treated with zinc phosphide – currently the only effective mouse bait poison for use in broadacre settings. They say this would reduce a lot of the biosecurity risks posed by the use of introduced grain, and ease pressure on demand and cost for commercially treated poisoned grain.
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WINTER CROPPING NIGHTMARE
There are now big concerns about how to protect winter crops such as wheat, barley and canola, as it’s unclear how long it will be before the booming mouse population crashes. CSIRO health and biosecurity research officer Steve Henry has been working with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to understand mouse behaviour and develop management options in zero and no-till cropping systems, which he said provide ‘stellar’ conditions for breeding and feeding mice. “There’s zero disturbance and lots of shelter, lots of food. We are trying to understand ways to create an environment that’s unfriendly to mice in our cropping regions.” Steve says the research has found farmers are leaving up to one tonne per hectare of residual grain – or mouse food – on the ground during harvest. “Every farmer says their headers are set up properly, but we are finding in actual fact there is so much grain being left behind. “Farmers need to focus on correct planting and harvesting machinery set-up, which limits feed for mice and maximises the opportunities for mice to take the baits instead.” He said grain treated with zinc phosphide poison was currently the only form of control available in broadacre systems, and he urged farmers to closely comply with regulations surrounding its use as any deviation could result in the product being removed from the market. Steve said it was difficult to predict when this outbreak would end. On one hand, conditions have
Emergency use of zinc phosphide approved Following calls from NSW Farmers, in April the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) approved an emergency use permit for the use of zinc phosphide baits in a fallow situation, including bare ground. Recent rain events have reduced mouse populations in some areas, however it is anticipated that populations will recover and reach a peak in late autumn 2021, coinciding with winter crop sowing across the state. NSW Farmers is also calling for financial support to be directed either through a rebate on rodenticides or a subsidy for aerial baiting. “Mice pest control is very costly. It’s about $17 per hectare in broadacre situations and in some areas farmers are already on their third or fourth baiting run,” NSW Farmers President James Jackson said.
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IN THE WAKE OF MICE
Below: The damage done to this haystack at a farm at Wongarbon near Dubbo was sadly a common sight during and after the mouse plague; Right, top to bottom: A mouse gorging on grains; A carpet of mice in a farmer's shed west of Coonamble. Photo by James Nalder
been so favourable there is a very real chance mice will continue to breed all autumn, and cause major problems in winter crops. However, there’s also a lot of evidence from previous mouse plagues that mice eventually start to eat each other, which triggers a population crash, and they disappear literally overnight. NSW Farmers Agricultural Science Committee Chair Alan Brown said farmers were working hard to try and break the breeding cycle with this only known treatment currently on the market. He said they are hopeful the Government will enact ‘emergency-use permits’ so farmers can treat their own grain with zinc phosphide poison, which would ease pressure on supply and demand for the bait and also help farmers get access to bait sooner. “A female mouse can mature by six weeks of age and breed every three weeks, meaning the potential offspring for a pair of mice could be as high as 500 a year,” Alan explained. “The most effective treatment so far has been the zinc phosphide treated-grain product, which – when used at the recommended rate – could kill up to three mice per square metre. “An emergency permit system for this mouse plague would help dramatically cut the cost of treating affected areas, which are quickly rolling into the tens of thousands of dollars for many broadacre farmers, in addition to the unknown cost of damage which is also now extremely significant.” MONITORING AT GILGANDRA
Gilgandra farmer Max Zell has been poisoning and monitoring mice around his sheds since mid-January.
ENVIRONMENT MOUSE PLAGUE
He baits daily and tallies the fatalities each morning. Over a six-week period alone Max says he picked up more than 22,000 dead mice in and around his workshop and machinery sheds. Numbers peaked in mid-March, when he collected 4,000 dead mice in three days. Max has been baiting using zinc phosphide, which he’s been hiding under pallets in his sheds to avoid poisoning native birds. “They came in waves. We’d have a few quiet weeks and then they’d swamp us again,” Max said.“We are filling large 10-litre paint tins with dead mice, it’s hard to believe. “It’s certainly as big as the enormous plague that swept through this area in the early 1990s. That was huge and did a lot of damage, and what we’re experiencing now is definitely equivalent.” Max said the waves of mice have done immense damage to silo bags in the region and farmers were working day and night to try and offload grain before it was ruined, but it was a major logistical challenge given the record tonnages harvested at the end of last year and the large amounts of grain still not moved out of the area. He says despite the huge numbers he’s still killing each night, he believes he’s broken the back of the breeding cycle, with the population definitely in decline. “Baiting is helping to break the cycle – had we not started baiting we could easily have had 80,000100,000 mice over-running our sheds. I think we’ve averted a major crisis. “But I am still seeing waves of mice running out of grain bins and all over the road at night, so I’m not sure what it will take for it to all be over.” l
Five quick tips for mouse control: • Apply broad scale zinc phosphide bait according to the label, at the prescribed rate of 1kg/ha. • Apply bait at seeding or within 24 hours while seed is still covered by soil, increasing the likelihood of mice taking the bait prior to finding the seed. Rebait through the season as needed. • Timing is critical. Delays of four or five days in baiting after seeding can give mice time to find crop seed. High populations can cause up to 5 per cent damage each night. • Monitor paddocks regularly and update local data using the MouseAlert website www.feralscan.org.au/mousealert. • Minimise sources of food and shelter after harvest and prior to sowing. Control weeds and volunteer crops along fence lines, and clean up residual grain by grazing or rolling stubbles. Source: GRDC – February 2021
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Feral pig expert Darren Marshall fits a feral pig with a GPS tracking device
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ENVIRONMENT FERAL PIGS
By the horns: tackling feral pigs The adage that it takes a village to raise a child may also be applied to feral pig control. New data shows the more landholders work together, the more effective the efforts to control pig populations and their impacts are likely to be.
Words SHEREE YOUNG Photography DARREN MARSHALL
eral pigs have long wreaked havoc for Australian landholders, despite ongoing efforts to control them. Their environmental impact, ability to pass on disease and steep economic costs through land degradation, crop and pasture loss and livestock predation are showing no signs of abating. Each year it is estimated that feral pigs cost the $65 billion Australian agricultural sector at least $106.5 million, with the pests now inhabiting 45 per cent of Australia. Decades-long attempts to reduce their number primarily through shooting and baiting have had patchy results, despite landholders spending around $47.7 million each year trying to root them out. Feral pigs are wallowers by nature. Not having sweat glands means they like to cool off, and this regular trampling of dams and waterways is where they have a major impact. They also destroy fencing and other infrastructure and can pose significant risks to culturally significant Indigenous sites. They also carry diseases including brucellosis – which causes reproductive problems in animals – and leptospirosis – a bacteria that can be passed from animals to humans and is commonly found in warm and moist regions. > MAY - JUN 2021
ENVIRONMENT FERAL PIGS
The as-yet incurable African swine fever can also be carried by wild pigs, and as this viral disease creeps closer to Australia its biosecurity threat rises. Foot and mouth disease is another significant biosecurity threat that can be passed on by feral pigs. Feral pig expert Darren Marshall is working with NSW Farmers to study pig movements in the Paroo area north of White Cliffs in the state’s north-west. He says to make more than a dent in pig numbers, at least 70 per cent of pig populations must be taken out at the same time. And he says the best way to achieve this is by landholders working together. In other words, going it alone isn’t going to cut it. “The difficulty is that pigs breed at a rate second to rabbits, so unless everybody works together on a large scale then the impact of controlling feral pigs is very minimal,” Darren says. “There are a lot of myths and beliefs about where pigs go, where they live and what damage they do. “So, what I do is put a GPS tracking collar on the pigs to dispel those myths, and I can give landholders back that information and they can target their control efforts and hopefully have a better impact to get that 70 per cent they need.” Darren is also on the steering group for Australia’s first National Feral Pig Action Plan (NFPAP), which is a $1.4 million federal government initiative being
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WHAT A PIGSTY
Left to right: Satellite data gathered from GPS collars helps map the behaviour of feral pigs; Damage done – destroyed vegetation after regular pig wallowing is a regular occurrence throughout NSW.
managed by Australian Pork Limited to build cohesion in the way farmers, land managers and agribusinesses work together to deal with pigs. Professional culling using aerial or ground shooting, baiting, trapping and exclusion fencing are the main methods used to control pigs. But science is increasingly playing a key role in shaping these strategies. Satellite mapping data gathered from the GPS collars is used to guide control efforts for maximum impact, so less money is wasted in the process. NSW Farmers Association Wild Dog Coordinator Bruce Duncan works with farmers to help manage three main vertebrate pests: wild dogs, foxes and feral pigs. Together he and Darren have collared 30 feral pigs in the Paroo district. These pigs are tracked around the clock and the data is shown to landholders so they can see and better understand pig behaviour. “Putting a GPS collar on them helps us understand how they use the landscape, where they spend their time and what effects rain and climate have compared to other areas. We want to see what corridors and pathways they use as this all helps with management control,” Bruce says. “Pigs cause widespread impacts on the environment through the destruction of mound springs and waterways. They are very destructive.
When they are on floodplains they like to root up soil in search of food, and then nothing will grow there, and it changes the structure of the soil. “They are also destructive to livestock such as sheep, they still carry diseases like brucellosis and leptospirosis – but they have a much more visible and tangible physical impact on the environment.” Western NSW grazier Leon Zanker knows all too well the environmental, economic and health impacts of feral pigs. Leon says the drought was responsible for decimating pig populations, but with recent rain the numbers are beginning to swell. A high pig population on his farm equates to lamb losses of between 30 and 50 per cent, with vegetation loss the next most significant impact. “High pig numbers will plough up hundreds of acres of country after rainfall events, and once this is ploughed up it will not grow feed until another big rain event or flood. They are also a carrier of leptospirosis and other diseases and this presents a health risk,” Leon tells The Farmer. “The most effective strategy is aerial shooting due to the quick knockdown capability, but this is limited by cost unless it is part of a funded program. Baiting is very effective, and shooting is opportunistic. Trapping is effective but is very time consuming, so it’s the least used option. All strategies depend on circumstance.”
WALLOWERS BY NATURE
Not having sweat glands means feral pigs regularly need to cool off.
During 2020, NFPAP Coordinator Dr Heather Channon gathered input from a diverse array of stakeholders. She is now finalising the plan, which will set a best-practice approach for dealing with pig populations, sharing similar principles to those of the National Wild Dog Action Plan. Heather says GPS collaring is a significant tool in engaging landholders and assisting them with controlling feral pigs. “The GPS collars provide engaging information for landholders at the local level to understand when their pigs are moving, and where they move to at different times of the year. This all helps landholders work together to target feral pig populations and enhance the effectiveness of the control strategies being used,” Heather says. She adds that building long-term collaboration and coordination between landholders is one of the key planks of the NFPAP. “This plan will help keep people engaged over a sustained period about the best way to control pigs. The purpose of the plan and all of the actions and objectives in it are all around supporting people to work together,” Heather says. At this stage, NFPAP is expected to be finalised by October 2021. l MAY - JUN 2021
COMMUNITY NEW GENERATIONS
An outback odyssey With a cattle and sheep breeding heritage that has spanned more than 60 years – the Bartletts have lived through droughts, dealt with wild pests such as pigs, dogs and kangaroos, and stuck together through thick and thin as farming and life on the land has evolved. Words MICHELLE HESPE | Photography RACHAEL LENEHAN
MAY - JUN 2021
LEAR NING FROM THE NEXT GENE RATI ON
The Bartletts at Toonborough Stat ion in Outback NSW. They all have their own ways of doing things and the new gene ration has learnt much from the ones who work ed on the land before them. Left to right : Robert, Eveline, Ben, Paula, Kate, Jon and Malcolm.
“Rural lifestyle has taught me that you cannot afford to be idle – there is always something to be done. If you are not doing something, you are falling behind.” Ben Bartlett
MAY - JUN 2021
“There have been many changes when it comes to living in the Outback since our early childhood, but the advent of rural power in 1990 was probably the most significant. Fridges, deep freezers, TV, electric shearing gear and power tools became normal.” Rob Bartlett
THE FIRST GENERATION AT TOONBOROUGH STATION: ROB AND EV BARTLETT
Eveline (aka Ev) Bartlett was born and raised around Broken Hill and Wilcannia until the mid 1960s when her father sold his land and moved to the lower Paroo region. After schooling in Orange, Ev moved into nursing in Broken Hill. However she never really left the land as in her spare time she always returned to the family property to help her family out where she could. Ev’s future husband Robert (aka Rob) was raised on a property in the Tilpa area in Far West NSW, which had been in his family since 1927. The eldest of five boys, his early education was by correspondence and then he and his siblings were sent to boarding school in Bathurst. “After completing the HSC I came straight home to help on the property and within six months I was managing Toonborough, where we still are today,” says Rob. “My father purchased Toonborough in 1964 to take advantage of the Paroo flood-out country, as the Tilpa property had been in severe drought during the 1960s.” Ev and Rob were married in 1973 and settled on Toonborough to raise their family. “As the family grew, so did our businesses with Yamaramie, Noonamah, Tilterweira and Nebea being added to the enterprise,” explains Rob. “There have been many changes when it comes to living in the Outback since our early childhood, but the advent of rural power in 1990 was probably the most significant. Fridges, deep freezers, TV, electric shearing gear and power tools became normal. Satellite phones and computers were also big improvements.” Rob adds that property management has also greatly improved since his early days on the farm, and he’s not one to shun modern technology and embracing the online world. “Things improved again with the advent of poly tubing, poly water tanks, solar pumps and UHF radios, but Auctionsplus livestock selling is perhaps my pick for the biggest improvement for marketing in these remote areas. You can trade almost anything from your home office!” The family faced many obstacles in the early days, and there are still many challenges to tackle on the farm. “Western Division livestock management is a challenge, and droughts and feral pests have always been and will
MAY - JUN 2021
always be a part of the landscape out here,” says Rob. Kangaroo numbers and wild dogs have also presented serious problems over the past decades. “Landholders have to work together to combat these threats,” says Rob. Rob and Ev say that working with their family has been the key to what they’ve achieved on their land over six decades. “We’ve always been able to work together as a group, and as each generation matures, work ethics and livestock handling skills are passed down to the next. We all know our roles and that leads to good teamwork.” THE NEXT GENERATION: BEN AND PAULA BARTLETT
“I always knew that I wanted to work in an outdoor environment and that any sort of urban lifestyle was not for me,” says Rob’s son Ben Bartlett. “Working with dogs is something I always enjoyed and that naturally led me into livestock handling.” The couple bought their own property near Rob’s in 2013 and it was an exciting step for them – something they had long dreamt of. One of the things Ben loves the most about life on the land are big rain events. The type that end a drought. “You look at dry country, sometimes in that state for years, and think that it’s ruined. Stuffed. You think it will never recover again, and then the rains come and the response from the native fauna, flora and livestock is unbelievable,” he says. Coming from an irrigation area in Coleambally, Paula enjoys the peace and space on the station. “It was a big change, but it has always felt like home here.” And then there are the lows that any farmer knows, and while their three kids (Kate, 14, Jon, 16 and Malcolm, 18) are away at boarding school, Ben gets through them with his wife Paula and his parents by his side. “In drought times we can't be as involved in our children’s school lives because the livestock need us every day,” he says. “You can’t afford to look away for a moment because a water, feed or pest problem will no doubt rear up. Rural lifestyle has taught me that you cannot afford to be idle – there is always something to be done. If you are not doing something you are falling behind.” >
COMMUNITY NEW GENERATIONS
WORKING TO GETHER
“We’ve always been able to work together as a group, and as each generation matures, work ethics and livestock handling skills are passed down to the next. We all know our roles and that leads to good teamwork,” says Rob Bartlett.
MAY - JUN 2021
COMMUNITY NEW GENERATIONS
“You look at dry country, sometimes in that state for years, and think that it’s ruined. Stuffed. You think it will never recover again, and then the rains come and the response from the native fauna, flora and livestock is unbelievable.” Ben Bartlett Paula and Ben say that their kids have to make up their own minds as to whether they want to work on the property in the future or not. “I’ve always encouraged the kids to undertake some kind of training and work for a few years before deciding if they want to come back here,” says Paula. “The dwindling population around here concerns me but if they want to come back after working elsewhere for a while then that would be fine, as they will have seen and experienced enough to know what they really want to do.” Even after so many years of working as a team, Ben enjoys working with his parents because of their vast experience and knowledge. “I touch base with my parents every evening on the phone to finalise the next day’s plan, and generally we work together about 50 per cent of the time – either mustering, fencing, driving the tractors or doing repairs to the waterways and farm machinery,” he says. “Paula and I also do our best to instil a solid work ethic into our children, and pass on our knowledge, just as my parents gave me the solid knowledge base to build my own ideas from. They also have Paula to look up to, and keeps it all together – business, home, children. She is the force that keeps it all together.”
grandparents’ commitment to staying on the land for all of this time, through the good times and the bad.” Malcolm loves being on the property because he likes to work with animals. “Dad has taught me all the dos and don’ts when it comes to handling and working with livestock,” he says. “And I love seeing all the livestock in good condition after a good year of rainfall and watching the sun come up on clear mornings while we are out mustering.” Jon (16) says that farming is in his blood. “I love how every day on the farm is so different,” Jon says. “My parents taught me a lot of practical stuff while growing up, as well as having perseverance through life’s struggles. I’ve learnt from them that you should always have a go, and never give up.”
Like his brother and sister, Jon loves being surrounded by nature and livestock while out mustering. He also enjoys working with his family. “I admire how dad imparts his wisdom when I stuff things up, mum for attempting to feed us healthy food, grandad for his bush mechanic skills, and gran for her skills in pest management. She also makes really great rock cakes!” Kate loves being with her family in the great outdoors, with animals by her side. “You go out early each morning and see and hear new things that push you out of your comfort zone and teach you important new life skills,” she says. “I love the early mornings of mustering while keeping a close eye on my cattle, and the open spaces with no crowds. I love the freedom, but also the fact that there is something always waiting to be done. Working on the land also teaches you how to work well with animals and how to collaborate in a working team.” Like her siblings, Kate admires both her parents’ and her grandparents’ neverending resilience throughout drought and other tough times. “They always pull through and they never give up,” she says. “And they usually come in at the end of the day with a smile on their face from a small joy discovered throughout the day.” l
LESSONS FROM THE NEW GENERATION: KATE, JON AND MALCOLM BARTLETT
“One of the more important life lessons I’ve picked up from working and living on the farm is that sometimes not everything goes to plan, so it’s always a good idea to be prepared to face anything that comes your way while out on the job,” Malcolm (18) says. “It’s not always easy on the land, and I admire my parents work ethic both around the property and at the house, and my
MAY - JUN 2021
FARMING AND PERSEVERENCE IN THEIR BLO OD
Siblings (left to right) Malcolm, Jon and Kate say that their parents Ben and Paula have taught them to always give things a go, and to never give up.
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In the aftermath of the floods
The rise of native ingredients
A guide for sheep breeders
The mouse explosion
Finding a way forward after the catastrophe
Utilising what Mother Nature gave us
What's on the horizon for the sheep sector?
Behind the scenes of a shocking plague
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MAY - JUN 2021
COMMUNITY FARM DOGS
Meet Banjo Bake Banjo Bake from Bangalara Dairies in Crossmaglen is a goofy German Shephard who loves milk so much that he spent three long days with a 60-teat calf-feeder. Edited by MICHELLE HESPE
REAL NAME AND NICKNAME
Banjo Bake. Banj for short. FAVOURITE THING TO DO ON THE FARM?
Run. I run everywhere. Like, everywhere. HAVE YOU EVER DONE SOMETHING REALLY NAUGHTY?
Ummm… yes, I have. We have a 60-teat calf-feeder. I accidentally chewed 12 of them off, over three full days. What can I say? I love milk guys! WHAT IS YOUR WORST HABIT?
Chasing the two-wheel motorbike. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD?
Anything – I’m not fussy. Is it polite to mention that I’m known to eat calf poop? IF YOU BECAME FAMOUS FOR ONE THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I think the teat incident answers this question. And I survived a funnel web spider bite once. That was full-on. IS THERE SOMETHING THAT DRIVES YOUR PARENTS MAD?
I’m really good at pinching one boot or shoe, never both at the same time. My family hop around a lot and I like it. IF YOU COULD HAVE ANOTHER ANIMAL AS A FRIEND, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I have lots of calf friends. My sister is getting a kelpie puppy soon and I can’t wait. They're both fun and cute. FAVOURITE TOY OR THING TO PLAY WITH?
My humans and their many tasty shoes. WHAT DOES EVERYONE LOVE ABOUT YOU?
I’m a bit of a goofball and fun to be with. ANY LAST WORDS?
I love being a farm dog and I love my family. People think I’m scary, being a German Shepherd and all. But I am actually a really lovable kinda guy.
MAY - JUN 2021
COMMUNITY TEAM PLAYER
Fifth generation farmer and Menindee Branch chair Terry and his dogs Digger and Loader are enjoying a green reprieve at Scarsdale Station.
Greener times at Scarsdale Station For Menindee branch Members Terry and Jane Smith, 90mm is more than a third of their average annual rainfall and a heartening green reprieve is well underway at their vast grazing enterprise.
0mm of rain since the start of the year would be cause for much concern for many farmers in NSW. But not for Terry and Jane. “It’s been the best start to a year since 2016. It’s looking green and we’ve got lambs hitting the ground,” Terry says. “It’s also backing up from a reasonable finish last year – I marked more lambs in two days late last year than in the previous four years.” The Smiths normally run around 7,000 Merino ewes, a few hundred Hereford/ Angus-cross heifers and rangeland goats across three properties, spanning 125,000 hectares in total. The properties include the home base of Scarsdale Station, Waterbag Station and Harcourt Station – where Terry’s brother Wayne runs 6,000 Dorper ewes. They had been feeding and slowly de-stocking since July 2017 due to drought, reducing herd and flock numbers to 30 per cent of normal carrying capacity.
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The Farmer magazine visited the Smith family in June 2019 following the first decent rain in three years that helped curb a massive feed bill and inspired plans to begin rebuilding stock numbers. “We’re back up to about 65 per cent of our normal sheep breeding ewe numbers,” says Terry. “We bought in a couple of loads of ewes and trying to get ourselves back on our feet with the sheep. We won’t be rushing back into the cattle job at this stage, prices are just too high to get back into it. “If we get a decent lambing in the next cycle, we should be back up to full strength by this time next year.” Terry and his brother Wayne have also bought in some dorpers to kickstart the rebuilding of his flock. “It is patchy between Wentworth and Broken Hill, but most in the grazing industry around here are in better position than they were this time last year. “We have not had to bring in any feed for 12 months and thankfully we have not had the mice issue down here like many others. The strong prices for livestock was
an absolute saviour during the drought, but it has also presented a challenge to buying in stock to get the sheep numbers back up. In saying that, I’d much rather have the market where it is than back to $20 a head.” The fifth generation farmer, who is Chair of the NSW Farmers Menindee branch, says wool prices are also heading in the right direction. “We aim to produce around 400 bales of wool a year. We also harvest rangeland goats and prices are almost astronomical for them, it’s better than lambs with prices of up to $10.50 per kilo.” In addition to running a vast and diverse grazing enterprise, both Terry and Jane find time to muster an impressive social media following. Terry’s Instagram page @TheShadyFarmer and Jane’s blog and Instagram @TheShadyBaker, help educate others about their life on the land. l
Why I am a member of NSW Farmers “I started getting involved with NSW Farmers as a young farmer. You have to have a united voice representing our diverse sector and NSW Farmers does a good job of that. “As a farmer, you have to support that unified voice by being a member, because you can only fight some of the battles on your own.”
COMMUNITY MEET THE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR NSW FARMERS COMMITTEES – CONTACTS & CHAIRS AG SCIENCE
Alan Brown agvetcommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au ANIMAL WELFARE
Robert McIntosh animalwelfarecommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au BIOSECURITY
Ian McColl biosecuritycommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au BUSINESS, ECONOMICS & TRADE
Bill McDonell beatcommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au CATTLE
Deborah Willis cattlecommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au CONSERVATION & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Bronwyn Petrie crmcommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au
CONTRACT POULTRY MEAT
Peter Wojcicki poultrymeatcommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au DAIRY
Colin Thompson dairycommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au EGG
Brett Langfield eggcommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au GOATS
Felicity McLeod goatcommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au GRAINS
Matthew Madden grainscommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au HORTICULTURE
Guy Gaeta horticulturecommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au OYSTER
Todd Graham oystercommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au PORK
Ean Pollard porkcommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au RURAL AFFAIRS
Garry Grant ruralaffairscommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au SHEEPMEATS
Jenny Bradley sheepmeatscommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au WESTERN DIVISION COUNCIL
Greg Rogers email@example.com WOOL
Helen Carrigan woolcommittee@ nswfarmers.org.au YOUNG FARMERS
Rachel Nicoll firstname.lastname@example.org
From Germany to NSW Farmers Christian Staacke is NSW Farmers’ Senior Policy Advisor – Plant Industries. He is responsible for the Horticulture, Grains and Ag Science Committees, the Young Farmers Council and the Innovation and Technology Working Group.
riginally from Germany I travelled a long way, via motorbike, to find my home in Australia. I enjoyed living in the ‘bush capital’, Canberra, for one year and am now living with my wife Philippa and our baby boy in Sydney. I grew up in a small city in Saxony, Germany, surrounded by forests in the west, an openpit coal mine in the north and fruitful black-earth agricultural farmlands in the east and south. Most of my youth I spent outside strolling through forests and fields. Farmers probably weren’t our biggest fans as we built little corn huts in their corn fields and nicked some fresh peas from the fields every now and then. I loved watching the big machinery in action at harvest and during sowing season. I didn’t grow up on a farm but I spent most of my summer holidays at my granny’s brother’s farm and I loved it. Having had such a wonderful childhood in the fields, it was clear for me what I wanted to do after graduating from high school – I wanted to study agriculture. I started with a Bachelor of Science in agriculture with a major in economics and social sciences. I developed a strong interest in economics, which is why I decided to dig deeper and did a Master of Science in Agriculture Economics. I studied abroad at Kyushu University in Japan (Agricultural Economics) and now hold a M.Sc. in Agriculture Economics from Humboldt-University of Berlin. I then worked for three years as a student research assistant for several top level German research institutions such as The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) or The Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW). I have done internships on mixed farming enterprises in Germany and a coffee farm in Tanzania. Quite early in my bachelor studies I developed an interest in tropical and sub-tropical agriculture and in particular, a passion for coffee cultivation – from the farm to the cup.
My Bachelor thesis research focussed on the impact analysis of micro finance on smallholder agriculture in Laos, and my masters thesis research with CIAT – The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture – on efficiency analysis of smallholder coffee cultivation in the coffee sector of Nicaragua. After graduating from university I started my professional career with the largest member based organisation in Germany – The German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation – the national apex organisation and top-level auditing confederation of the cooperative sector in Germany. I was promoted and relocated to Vietnam, where I worked as a project manager developing consultancy and training solutions, as well as awareness raising campaigns in the agricultural sector focusing on strengthening cooperatives and cooperative support networks. After three years with DGRV in Vietnam, I grabbed my motorbike and travelled for one year from Germany to Australia. What I love about my new role at NSW Farmers is the diversity that comes with it. Every day I have the opportunity to get in contact with so many different people – members, farmers, agricultural advocates from other farming organisations, representatives from government institutions, and representatives from related industries. My motivation is to create win-win solutions, finding opportunities for improvement or reform and generating best possible outcomes to support our members. Coming from overseas and with my experience of working in South East Asia I’ve been able to see things from a different perspective, which is very helpful when identifying and analysing issues that impact agricultural production in NSW. I am passionate about agriculture and the people involved. I hope, one day, to be able to run my own little family farm enterprise. l MAY - JUN 2021 THE FARMER
THE TAIL END
When the river runs dry Three NSW Farmers members from the lower Darling River have been immortalised in a recent exhibition by French photographer, JR. Words SHEREE YOUNG
HOMILY TO COUNTRY
Alan Whyte with his daughter Kate Whyte at the NGV. Artist JR circled in on four people and his photographs and interviews with them became the base for a Homily to Country exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).
he devastation inflicted on the lower Darling in south west NSW after it was starved of fresh inflows for 18 months and the impact this had on farmers and Indigenous people has become the subject of an exhibition by acclaimed French photographer, JR. Back in January 2020, JR paid an unexpected visit to farms between Pooncarie and
MAY - JUN 2021
Wentworth on the banks of the lower Darling to capture its destruction and the plight of those living along it. At the time, the once abundant river was littered with dead fish and animals and a few pools of green mucky water. Six local farming families had also just brokered a deal with the Federal Government to remove all permanent plantings of citrus, stone fruit, table grapes and wine grapes downstream of Menindee. JR circled in on four people and his photographs and interviews with them became the base for a Homily to Country exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). As it turns out, NSW Farmers Association members Alan Whyte, Rachel Strachan and Wayne Smith were chosen, with the fourth being Aboriginal Elder and Artist, William Badger Bates. For the exhibition, their photographs were turned into seven-metre-high stained-glass windows and displayed in a chapel in the NGV gardens. They were also printed in large format and carried procession-like across a parched Lake Cawndilla, part of Menindee Lakes. The day JR arrived on Alan’s once thriving citrus farm, the now-retired farmer was undertaking the sad job of burning his permanent plantings. and his neighbour Rachel was giving him a hand. “It was such a horrible time,” Rachel says. “We were still having fish dying in holes in front of the house and we were trying to get enough stock water and water for the household, so it was a massive endurance exercise.
“I had no idea who he was or that it would evolve into what it has. It has been amazing to be a part of the process. It has allowed us to tell our story to a broader audience. It was an honour to be one of the people chosen.” Alan has since sold his farm called Jamesville to Rachel, and retired to a life of tinkering with old tractors in Mildura, as in his words he has an “affliction for old machinery”. “What JR’s work has done is take the consciousness of the water issue to a completely different audience which is probably not the normal audience that I would be talking to or the normal audience that you would be writing for,” Alan says. “It has taken this problem to another level, but does that achieve anything? Well, I think it is one more step in the process.” Alan and Rachel have long campaigned for fairer water distribution. “There is no single cause to the mess that is in the river – it is an accumulation of a lot of things,” Alan says. Last November, the Independent Commission Against Corruption found the NSW Government department responsible for water management had failed to effect legislated priorities for water sharing by being “overly favourable” to irrigators and made 15 recommendations. Thanks to plentiful rain the river is now running, but questions remain about what happens when there is another big dry. l
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The Farmer is more of a journal rather than business magazine – bridging the gap between news and lifestyle content with plenty of long-form...
Published on May 3, 2021
The Farmer is more of a journal rather than business magazine – bridging the gap between news and lifestyle content with plenty of long-form...