AgLife Digital – September 29, 2021 edition

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September 29, 2021

Fields of gold McKenzie Creek farmer Nathan Plush, pictured in a canola paddock with his partner Darcie Hastwell and their son Percy, 11 months, reckons this season is ‘as good as it’s been’ since he has been back on the family farm. Like many Wimmera producers, Mr Plush has his fingers crossed for good finishing rains and an absence of frosts. Story, page 27 Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

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’ve been farming for a long time, but I never cease to be amazed by the annual cycle of renewal that happens on farms all over Australia in every season.

In a cropping business we take a single seed, we add some water and nutrient. We turn that one seed into hundreds of seeds... into food. There’s no more spectacular example of this annual cycle than in the fields of yellow we see all over our region at this time of year. Two kilograms of canola seed spread over a hectare in April, turned into 2000 to 3000 kilograms of tiny, oil-filled capsules by November. How cool is that? If we think about this in terms of economic benefit, agriculture is one of the few industries that makes new money. Industries such as mining extract a resource and monetise it and manufacturing does add value by taking components and creating a saleable product. But with agriculture, it’s brand-new wealth creation year after year. Why then, have we watched a general decline in the economic health of rural communities during the past 50 years or so? Part of the answer lies in the fact Australia has largely been a commodity producer in agriculture. We grow large volumes of a product and ship it out in bulk form to let someone else do the value adding. As a nation we cannot and should not continue to do this. If we only grow enough food to feed 65-million people, we can feed those who value safe, high-quality food products. The food-manufacturing sector should be a cornerstone of the post-COVID economy.

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ON A HIGH: Nathan Plush, his partner Darcie Hastwell and their son Percy, 11 months, are enjoying a promising cropping season on their McKenzie Creek farm. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

From left field with David Matthews

Secondly, if we think about the value of agriculture at the point food and fibre is in the hands of a consumer, the number is many times the value at farm level. Farmers have first point of control in an incredibly valuable industry, yet a diminishing percentage of that value flows back to farms and regional communities. Influence and control along the supply chain no longer sits with farmers. We can do something about both of these issues, but it requires us to organise ourselves as an industry and as regional people. Individually, we have little influence, but well-organised, professionally managed groups can drive better outcomes for their business and their communities. It’s an opportunity we must embrace.

• David Matthews is a Rupanyup farmer. In the early 1990s he established Wimmera Grain Company, a pulse processing and export business. He was founding chairman of the first Community Bank in Australia, which opened in Rupanyup and Minyip in 1998 and is a non-executive director of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group and Australian Grain Technologies. He has recently established Farm Trade Australia with the intention of building a farmerowned agribusiness on the east coast of Australia. Mr Matthews will present ‘From left field’ column for The Weekly Advertiser’s AgLife feature in the last edition of every month.

Plush on track for stellar season McKenzie Creek’s Nathan Plush is among Wimmerasouthern Mallee farmers pleased with how his crops are performing amid predictions of a record-breaking year for the national agriculture sector. “It’s probably as good as it’s been as long as I’ve been back on the farm, about five years or so,” he said. “We’re set up pretty well for spring, we’re just looking for the finishing rain and the frosts to stay away.” After a dry autumn, Victoria recorded a particularly wet winter, which combined with

forecasts for good spring rain has many of the state’s producers confident of ending the year on a high note. “We didn’t get too wet down our way – we don’t have much low-lying ground, it drains off pretty well,” Mr Plush said. “We’re pretty fortunate, particularly considering how things were looking at the start of May. It turned around pretty quickly, that’s for sure.” Mr Plush also runs 750 breeding merino ewes, ‘which keeps me pretty busy in between cropping’. Life is set to become even

busier in a few months, with Mr Plush and his partner Darcie Hastwell expecting their second child in January. Mr Plush said their son, Percy, was thriving growing up on the farm. “He’s happy and healthy and nearly one,” he said. “He’s just getting to the age where he’s started taking everything in, looking out the window at the sheep and that sort of thing. He’s a dream child – he’s always happy and laughing.” – Sarah Matthews

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BY SARAH MATTHEWS

mmetts Horsham master technician Josh Carter loves the challenges his job brings and the opportunity to help farmers ‘keep doing what they do’.

His zeal for machinery and drive to continue to learn and adapt have paid off in more ways than one, with Mr Carter in the running to be named John Deere Technician of the Year. Mr Carter, 32, is one of five Australian finalists to progress to the next level of judging in the ‘ag and turf service technicians’ category of the inaugural John Deere Technician Awards. The awards recognise the hard work and expertise technicians provide to customers across Australia and New Zealand and their ‘drive to support operators and businesses to be their most efficient, productive and profitable’. The Australian finalists won selection from a pool of more than 110 nominations from across the two countries in five different categories. Mr Carter said it was great to see the role of technicians in the spotlight. “I think it’s unreal that John Deere has given us the opportunity to get out and get amongst it,” he said. “It’s great to see some recognition for the job that we’re here to do.” Mr Carter grew up at Rupanyup, with a fascination for disassembling things to understand how they work.

HARD WORK AND EXPERTISE: Emmetts Horsham master technician Josh Carter is in the running for a John Deere Technician of the Year accolade. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

Working for John Deere dealership Emmetts was a natural progression. “I finished year 12 in Murtoa and started my journey with Emmetts in Rupanyup in 2006, straight out of school,” Mr Carter said. “I worked in Rupanyup for almost 15 years and then moved over to Horsham.” Mr Carter said he loved his job. “It’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “It’s really good working with our customers and supporting their end goal and helping them to keep doing what they do.

“It’s a great company to work for – great product, great people and great support from John Deere.” Mr Carter has forged strong bonds with Wimmera producers and has watched their farming businesses – and their uptake of technology – evolve throughout his years with the dealership. “For example, when I started out, AutoTrac automated guidance systems were just beginning to take off and we were completing a lot of installs of that equipment,” he said. “Today, this is technology that’s

integrated into farmers’ day-to-day work, and is now very much relied upon by Australian producers. “This is an industry that never stops evolving, growing and progressing, and I could see the technology integrated into these machines becoming more and more prominent, so I felt it was important to continue to remain engaged, and persist in learning as much as I could.” Mr Carter is also passionate about the next generation of technicians and makes time to work with and coach apprentices and team-mates coming

through the ranks. He plans to continue rising to the challenge. “I’ll follow the product and the progress and the technology through and keep working on bringing up our next generation of techs and keeping our farmers doing what they do,” he said. Fellow finalists include Jaymee Ireland, Emmetts, Roseworthy, South Australia; Henry Finlay, Vanderfield, Dalby, Queensland; Damian Voss, Wickham Flower, Naracoorte, South Australia; Justin Solomon, Vanderfield, Inverell, New South Wales. John Deere Australia and New Zealand managing director Luke Chandler said there was an enormous pool of talent in Australia. “These finalists should feel incredibly proud of being named among the best in their field,” he said. “Technicians deliver services integral to the agriculture, construction and forestry industries, by not only providing vital back-up support and remote diagnostics, but by empowering operators to get the most out of their machinery and technology. “The role technicians play will only grow in importance as the machinery sector moves through a technological leap that will drive industry growth and efficiency, and we are delighted to be paying tribute to our best and brightest at our first ever John Deere Technician Awards.”

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TOP DAY: Far left, Sunnydale White Suffolk Stud sold two rams for a top price of $3400. Pictured with one of the top rams are, from left, Andrew Weidemann, Richard Bibby, Will Bibby, Elders’ Ross Milne, Rod Weidemann and Matt Weidemann; left, Adele and Hugh Weidemann check the stock before the sale at Rupanyup; and below, Lachie Weidemann with the day’s offerings. Pictures: PAUL CARRACHER

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Rams go under the hammer

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13th Sunnydale White Suffolk Stud sale at Rupanyup presented 100 rams, with 88 finding new homes at an average price of $1514 after going under the hammer of Ross Milne from Elders. The top two rams sold for $3400 to R. J. Bibby and J. M. Grant and Mirnee Partnership Lockington. Auction spokesman Andrew Weidemann said the auction occurred on a day ‘where farmers were smiling with a spot of rain and were able to enjoy lunch supplied by Rabobank and permitted to participate on site or online through AuctionsPlus’. Sunnydale White Suffolk Stud started in 1996

with the purchase of nine ewes and a ram from Depta Grove. The stud has continued to buy some of the best genetics available in rams and ewes from Depta Grove, Anden, Warburn, Ashmore and Ella Matta studs. Mr Weidemann said the animals had produced excellent growth rates, which supported and confirmed the breed’s qualities. “It has been very pleasuring to see clients regularly achieving excellent prices for their progeny, which enforces our aims of breeding sheep for the commercial prime lamb industry,” he said. Flock rams are still available for sale for buyers unable to attend the sale on the day.

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ast week’s earthquake has jolted me into a more reflective time.

I’ll admit, I feared for my life as my house heaved and groaned and I tried desperately to work out what was happening. I live in Benalla, just 60 kilometres from the epicentre near Mansfield, so the quake was strong and lasted quite a while. My home is just a hundred metres or so from the Melbourne-Sydney rail line and my first thought was it must be one of those freight trains with hundreds of carriages and shipping containers being derailed and thrown like deadly Lego pieces towards my house. The bookcase behind me, which is in two parts to make it easier to move, was shaking violently and threatening to topple on top of me. I decided to make a bolt to the back garden because the large pane windows in the living area shook like a flag in gale force winds, vibrating angrily, surely about to shatter into tiny pieces. I won’t repeat what I said as I stood with my dogs in the centre of the lawn, but the neighbours echoed my sentiments across the fence and we agreed it was an earthquake. The dogs didn’t give a fig! The only damage was dust and plaster falling off ceilings and a pot plant overturned. Within seconds the phone began to ring with family members checking on each other. My daughter in London had even heard and was desperately trying to call her brother in Melbourne after pictures of a collapsed building in Prahran were sent to her by a friend. We quickly started making the predictable corny jokes about the earth moving to appease how foolish we felt for fearing for our lives. But

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it was a stark reminder of powers greater than ours will inevitably take us from this life and that it could be so much sooner than we think. It was the first time for my kids to be faced with the force of nature and is only making our isolation from each other all the harder to bear. It has also caused me to pause and contemplate some of the inexplicably cruel things I have witnessed and reported. The first that I rarely talk about is the Martin Bryant Port Arthur massacres. I had small children at the time and declined a request to go to Tasmania to report on it for ABC TV. Instead, I was the main ‘man’ for transcribing the interviews as they came in. At least I got to go home to my family like so many others would never be able to do. The other was Black Saturday. This time I was back in my first love, radio, and we hit the road to broadcast from various fire-refuge centres. I’ll never forget the smell and the ash falling like snow as people posted to the notice board pictures of their missing loved ones. After more than 35 years as a journalist, I like to think of myself as being pretty hardened to the news. Then something else comes along to remind me of how fragile we all really are.

Kids galore at Sylvania Park Spring represents the arrival of new life and at Sylvania Park angora goat farm near Horsham new life is well and truly emerging. The farm has started a bumper birthing season with property owner Rowena Doyle expecting to expand her flock to 200 by November. Mrs Doyle said she had a flock full of pregnant goats and many kids had already arrived. “Breeding season is now, in the warmer weather,” she said. The Doyles farm the goats for their mohair, rated as one of the world’s most durable natural fibres, and their meat. Mrs Doyle said the goats were

shorn twice a year for their mohair and the meat side of the enterprise had become a big part of the equation. “We didn’t use to have much of an income from the meat side of it, but that’s changed. Now we’re getting about $10.20 per kilo for a carcass,” she said. Sylvania Park is an awardwinning agri-tourism business, which apart from running angora goats, also operates a function centre popular with weddings, conferences, parties and other events and four-star homestead accommodation. It is celebrating its 51st year of running goats at the Drung property and has in the past

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WE’RE JUST ‘KIDDING’: Charlotte Doyle, 10, enjoys a moment with one of the new angora juveniles that are arriving at Sylvania Park near Horsham. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

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captured the imagination of the region with its use of maremma dogs to guard the animals. “Last year we were going to have a big celebration for half a century, but unfortunately COVID got in the way,” Mrs Doyle said. She said her daughter Charlotte, 10, might eventually take over the business. “But she’s only in grade four so it’s too early to tell. It’s very much a family business. It all started with my uncle and then my parents took over, and then my husband and I. Certainly the children have all enjoyed looking after the animals and being on the farm,” she said.

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Growers urged to have say

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oolgrowers across Australia can vote for their preferred industry levy rate, with voting for WoolPoll 2021 having opened earlier this month.

Occurring every three years, WoolPoll is a voluntary vote of all wool-levy payers through which the industry decides on a levy-rate investment in the Australian Wool Innovation activities involving research, development and marketing. Anyone who has paid at least $100 in wool levies over the past three years is eligible to vote. An independent WoolPoll 2021 panel includes Wimmera grower Daniel Rogers from Telangatuk East. Panel chair Steven Bolt, a mixed farmer at Corrigin, Western Australia, is encouraging eligible levy payers to have their say on the direction of the wool industry by voting. “The poll is unique among Australia’s agricultural sectors,” he said. “Few industries have a process where producers can vote on the levy rate they believe they should be paying. “As woolgrowers, we are empowered with the ability to determine what our industry levy rate should be. It’s our wool and our industry, and now we can have our say about how much we should pay for research and development and marketing as an investment in our future.” Mr Bolt said the Australian wool industry was emerging from a challenging period – including drought, a declining national flock and the supply-demand impact of the global pandemic. “We have certainly been confronted by testing times, but we are a proud industry and I expect

the resilience of our woolgrowers and their determination to ensure their future prosperity and that of their neighbours and peers will be reflected in a strong voter turnout for WoolPoll 2021,” he said. “The voter information memorandum has been sent out to all registered levy payers and is also available on the WoolPoll website, so I encourage all woolgrowers to read through that and make an informed decision about their levy rate of choice.” Growers have up to five options of levy rate to support and can vote for one or more levy rates in order of preference. The options growers can vote on as their preferred levy rate are zero percent, one percent, 1.5 percent, two percent and 2.5 percent. This year’s WoolPoll will feature a supplementary question which will ask woolgrowers whether they want a five-year WoolPoll cycle, or if they want to remain with the current threeyear voting cycle. “This gives woolgrowers even more say in the direction of the wool industry,” Mr Bolt said. Mr Rogers said WoolPoll presented growers with a unique opportunity. “As we look to rebuild our national flock and galvanise our industry, each and every vote in WoolPoll is incredibly important,” he said. “Discuss the options with your families, farm managers, business partners and employees. Read the voter information memorandum, make an informed decision and then cast your vote.” Voting for WoolPoll 2021 closes on November 5. Information is available on 1800 990 365 and producers can vote either online at www.wool poll.com.au or via email, fax or post.

MAKE SURE YOU VOTE: Telangatuk East producer Daniel Rogers.

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Eligible Victorian organisations in sheep, goat, swine and honey-bee industries have until November 26 to apply for funding through a Livestock Biosecurity Funds – Grant Program. Grants are available to fund projects that prevent, monitor, and control diseases, thereby enhancing animal health, biosecurity and market access for the benefit of Victoria’s livestock industries. Agriculture Victoria executive director Sally Fensling said the Livestock Biosecurity Funds – Grant Program benefited livestock industries and agriculture more broadly in Victoria. “Grants are available for projects that provide innovative solutions, use emerging technologies and resolve livestock biosecurity issues, needs or gaps for these local industries,” she said. “This program shows the collaboration and shared responsibility between government and industry in biosecurity and champions projects that aim to strengthen our biosecurity in Victoria.” Ms Fensling said people seeking more information could visit website, agriculture.vic.gov.au/ livestockbiosecurityfunds or call a customer contact centre on 13 61 86.

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Mental-health support for all

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immera-Mallee and Ararat district organisations are among recipients of State Government money for projects to support the mental health of Victorian farmers.

Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas visited Elmhurst Bush Nursing Centre to see first-hand the benefits of the Resilient Farming Communities Project. Agriculture Victoria and Department of Health have joined forces for the two-year program to support farmers, farming families and communities to better manage stress and improve their health. Grampians Pyrenees Primary Care Partnership, which runs the Resourceful Farmers’ Project in partnership with community organisations such as Elmhurst Bush Nursing Centre, was among recipients. The Grampians PCP project is designed to build resilience through mental-health training, pop-up clinics and events that foster social connections. Wimmera Primary Care Partnership Farming and Rural Resilience and Buloke Shire Council Building a Better Buloke – Resilience projects were also among recipients spread across more than 25 municipalities. Eleven councils, Primary Care Partnerships and private organisations are

ELMHURST VISIT: From left, Good Chat Wine founder Georgette Baker, Perennial Pasture Systems project manager Rob Shea, Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas, Ethan, Grampians Pyrenees Primary Care Partnership interim executive officer Anna Greene, Elmhurst Bush Nursing Centre manager Kerry Cattanach and Perennial Pasture Systems facilitator Debbie Shea. sharing in $2.9-million to enable programs to increase awareness of mental-health treatment options and care and support services, and enhance social connectedness through community events and training. Projects include outreach services, on-farm health workshops, wellbeing plans for rural communities, the provision of resilience programs in

secondary schools, and mental-health first-aid training. The Resilient Farming Communities Project is part of an overarching $20-million Smarter Safer Farms program to promote safety, efficiency and resilience in Victorian agriculture. Ms Thomas said the State Government was building the agriculture sector’s reputation for workplace excel-

lence through improved health, safety and wellbeing programs. “Our farmers have faced many challenges over the years, including drought, bushfires and now the pandemic, which all take their toll on resilience,” she said. “This project ensures farmers and their communities are supported to focus on their mental health.”

Program for farm planning 95 Nelson Street, Nhill CALL 03 5391 2106

Agriculture Victoria is offering a new online program for livestock, grain and mixed-enterprise farmers to help them develop or refresh farm business plans. The Farm Business Resilience Program is part of the Federal Government’s Future Drought Fund. Project leader Kit Duncan-Jones said participants would have support from Agriculture Victoria staff and a professional farm-management consultant to help with a strategic plan for their farm business. “Agriculture Victoria is providing the opportunity for farmers to participate in the program online in coming months,’ he said. “Farmers from across Victoria will be able to participate in a series of interactive online workshops, using practical information and tools to better manage risk and make informed decisions.” Topics covered include: Identifying and managing emerging risks; business planning and financial management; succession planning and people management; AgTech and Internet of Things, IoT; and seasonal outlooks, managing soils and farm water for the future. People can register an interest in participating in the virtual program by completing a survey online at forms.office.com/r/y6UpFAe9r9.

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he State Government has opened a funding stream to support small-scale and craft agribusinesses while promoting high-quality produce and regional tourism.

Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas opened stream three of the Small-Scale and Craft Program during a tour of western Victoria and while visiting Central Highlands micro flower farm Fleurs de Lyonville. Fleurs de Lyonville and other small-scale and craft producers across Victoria – including gourmet pie producers, olive growers, saké distillers and alpaca farmers – have received grants through previous streams of the program. Stream three offers grants of between $25,000 and $100,000 for

eligible agribusinesses. The Wimmera is home to a variety of niche agricultural craft and produce enterprises that regularly have their products on sale in shops and markets across the region and beyond. The grants will support projects that showcase multiple producers and support the creation of distinct visitor experiences, creating tourist attractions ‘that put their region on the map’. Ms Thomas said the government was helping small agribusinesses grow, which would in turn boost visitation to regional towns and create jobs. She said the program was a key pillar of its agriculture strategy. “The Small-Scale and Craft Program supports the vision for an agriculture sector that is strong, innovative and sustainable,” she said.

“It is a $10.2-million program over four years that delivers on the government’s election commitment. “Victoria’s small-scale and craft sector is central to our agri-tourism appeal and reputation as a producer of high-quality, niche agricultural offerings. “From truffles to craft beer, Victoria’s small-scale producers create food and beverage offerings worth discovering. “Our small-scale and craft sector is making a name for itself on the global stage and continues to grow as more creative Victorians use their skills and passion to make the world-class produce that our state is known for.” People can find out more about the program online at agriculture.vic. gov.au/smallscaleandcraftprogram.

BENEFITS: Award-winning Great Western Granary was a previous recipient of support from the State Government’s small-scale and craft agribusiness program. Great Western Granary’s Anthony Kumnick is pictured in 2019 as his boutique sourdough was starting to gain traction. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

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Forecasts for big agricultural year

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fficial data from Australia’s agricultural science and economics arm backs up on-ground predictions of a record-breaking year in the national agriculture sector.

It also reflects a combination of strong commodity prices, adding fuel to hopes of a bumper Wimmera harvest and rising trends in farm-industry confidence. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, ABARES, has predicted an eight percent increase in the value of national production above a 2020-21 record. This would place the sector’s national earning at $73-billion, a figure that has quickly spread throughout farming and economic fraternities and far from lost on Wimmera-Mallee and Western District communities exploring socio-economic navigation routes out of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the pandemic hitting

various sectors hard, numerous financial commentators and industry leaders have long been suggesting that primary industry had the potential to provide some buffer against the full financial impact on the national economy. Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said ABARES described the forecast as ‘remarkable in unprecedented economic times’. “We’re looking at our second good year in a row, with a bumper crop harvest, international demand for our produce and a strong market for livestock,” he said. “We’ve got all our ducks in a row for a record year again underpinned by our Ag 2030 plan to help agriculture trash its $100-billion goal by 2030.” Mr Littleproud said expectations for a bumper winter crop harvest were combining with strong prices and greater demand for grain, cotton and sugar. Amid his delight in speaking

95 Nelson Street, Nhill

Award deadline approaching CALL 03 5391 2106

There is only one week left for people to apply for a 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award. Award organisers are encouraging female leaders who want to have an impact, be innovative and make a difference in rural and regional Australia to apply. AgriFutures Australia managing director John Harvey said women who wanted to contribute to enhancing the prosperity of rural and regional Australia should apply before October 8. “The award provides a life-changing opportunity for women to use and develop their skills to make a difference and benefit their industries and communities,” he said. “Over the past two decades, the Rural Women’s Award has provided close to 300 women with the opportunity to achieve positive change for rural and regional Australia and significant professional development opportunities.” AgriFutures Australia is seeking applications from women with an established project, business or program that is having a positive impact on rural industries, businesses and communities. “It is an exciting time ahead and the Rural Women’s Award is just one of many AgriFutures Australia initiatives ensuring rural and regional industries prosper now and into the future,” Mr Harvey said. “As has been the case in previous years, location is a no barrier – applicants can live in rural and regional Australia, or in the city – their applications will be measured on the impact and benefits to rural and regional Australia.” Each state and territory winner receives a $15,000 bursary provided by platinum sponsor Westpac, to further develop their project,

on the forecast, Mr Littleproud was also quick to put the figures into perspective. “It’s not all smooth sailing. COVID-19 continues to provide challenges internationally, although we are working as a government to do what we can to boost international trade,” he said. “We have listened to concerns about labour shortages and we are progressing the agricultural visa to make sure we can get fruit picked and veggies out of the ground. “We are also keeping an eye on mouse numbers through the spring. “This is a year to be proud of. It shows just how strong the agriculture sector is, despite the uncertainty of a global pandemic. “Australians backed our farmers during the tough years of drought and we are now seeing those very farmers help the Australian community and economy through and beyond the pandemic.”

DEDICATED: Kelly Barnes of Dunkeld won the 2020 Victorian AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award and is dedicated to providing ways for rural people to build resilience and connectedness in their communities. business or program, access professional development opportunities and national alumni networks. The 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award national winner and runner-up, selected from the state and territory winners and announced at a gala dinner, will receive a further $20,000 and $15,000 respectively. People can apply online at www.agrifutures. com.au/rwa. Applications for a new AgriFutures Rural Women’s acceleration grant also close on October 8. People can apply online at www.agri futures.com.au/acceleration-grant.

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