Introducing Graham and Cathy Finlayson and their daughter Harriet who own and manage ‘Bokhara Plains’ at Brewarrina in NSW. Their story is Number 16 in our quest to feature 52 farming stories in 52 weeks.
1. Summary of your family and farming enterprise
Bokhara Plains… is 7,200 Hectares of open plains country nestled between the Bokhara and Birrie rivers, 35kms North of Brewarrina in the NSW outback.
Our cattle trading and agistment enterprises are complimented by the tourism sector with ‘Bokhara Hutz’, providing outback accommodation for various groups and businesses, becoming an integral part of the business since 2001.
We see diversification as a key to profitability and business resilience with an emphasis on complimentary enterprises that allow us to drought proof our businesses rather than try to fight against nature.
We consider drought as part of nature’s rest for the land we are stewards of, and so we continually match our stocking rate to what the land can sustainably support.
Organics & Land regeneration… As well as following organic principles, the property is involved in an innovative project called ‘Enterprise Based Conservation’ that focuses on rebuilding the perennial grass base and biodiversity on the land. Even in a region with minimal rainfall (380mm average) much can be done to nurture the land with new thinking and advanced practices.
Our diversification includes an emphasis on complimentary enterprises that allow us to drought proof our businesses rather than try to fight against nature.
I believe it is more economical to make better use of what we have, and improve what we do, than buy more land, increasing scale to lift production and make the same mistakes on a larger level. We try to manage our business and lives in line with the philosophy of Allan Savory’s Holistic Management.
During the worst of the 2001 / 2002 drought there was a significant ‘mind shift’ for us while attending an RCS (www.rcs.au.com) ‘Grazing for Profit’ course, among many lessons learned was the comment that ‘drought is natural – our decisions create the disaster’. This was a major light bulb moment and we decided right then (mentally) that the drought was over, even though it did not rain for another eight or nine months.
Being involved with that group and their ‘Executive Link’ program over the next four and a half years, learning to make decisions that address the land / livestock, people and economics for the short and long term has taken us from being ‘victims’ of drought, commodity prices, government policy etc to being positive, enthusiastic and passionate land regeneration enthusiasts!
These ‘holistic management’ principles were first developed and espoused by Zimbabwean’s Allan Savory (www.savoryinstitute.com ) and Stan Parsons over forty years ago, and they have been refining them ever since with farmers on several continents and in all sorts of environments. I used a Nuffield Scholarship in 2008 to visit many of these farmers to see firsthand just what was possible with these management principles, and returned home even more fired up to pursue their revised goals. Addressing land degradation issues such as scalded clay-pans and low carrying capacity has been a focus and the large herbiferous, cellulistic, biodigesting ruminant, otherwise known, as the ‘cow’ has been their tool of choice. Interestingly, there are many in today’s society that would deem the poor old cow to be the ecological problem confronting the modern world, and it is a great source of joy for us to convince them otherwise!
Besides the obvious benefit of improving the lands capacity from an environmental perspective, it also allows smaller areas to be profitable and could help reverse the amalgamation of farms into fewer hands chasing economies of scale, which has the adverse effect of depleting rural communities of people.
2. For you, what is the best lifestyle factor that you enjoy as a farmer?
Love what you do and you will never consider it work. Seeing a constant improvement in the landscape, even through dry times, and moving cattle from paddock to paddock while leaving plenty of grass behind and planning so far ahead that worrying about weather becomes a non-issue is a great feeling.
Building a trusting relationship with the animals in our care, and being able to ‘work’ together as a family in tune with the landscape provides a wonderful sense of satisfaction that other industries could only hope to provide.
Having tourists, business people and groups (including other farmers) come and stay has also provided another dimension to our lives with increased social interaction, and giving us new friends from all over the world. It can sometimes take plenty of effort and cooperation to maintain the lifestyle we have, but we really ‘love the journey’.
3. What do you foresee as your biggest short term and long term challenges in farming?
From a personal point of view, our desire is to increase profitability enough to allow us the choice to employ some staff and free up our own time to concentrate on improving our management returns.
Looking at the bigger picture though, I see some real threats and opportunities starting to confront agriculture, such as the divide opening up between industrial or conventional agriculture, and our pressing world needs for farming to go beyond sustainable and be truly regenerative with both livestock and the cropping industries.
The threat is that we choose to continue business as usual and get the results that will be inevitable, or we can choose to embrace the opportunity to produce nutritionally dense food and reconnect with our consumers.
There is no doubt that we can produce enough food for an increasing world population, as our ability to improve degraded rangelands is very possible and there is so much ‘real estate’ value land currently sitting idle. The challenge is to do it all without degrading soils and exacerbating environmental concerns that will create political instability in countries less fortunate than ours.
4. What do you wish non-farmers / city people & the Australian Government understood about farming. What message would you like to put on a billboard in Collins Street?
Putting some messages onto a billboard in the city may help with some issues, but we have found when people from the city actually visit us and see firsthand what we do there is a much better chance of them understanding our position. We need to encourage more of this and ditch the attitude that we know best and demand they accept this position.
With the general population, if there is a difficulty in them not understanding what we are trying to communicate, then it is our problem not theirs. Though, given the governments aptitude for being influenced by those other than family farmers and the effect of dodgy ‘free trade’ policies then maybe something to encourage some support for Aussie farmers…
Do you really want China in charge of your food supply?
– Make friends with an Aussie farmer
You can contact Graham and Cathy below.
This blog is number 16 in our series of 52 farming blogs in 52 weeks. It’s our way of celebrating the Australian Year of the Farmer.