1. Summary of your family and farming enterprise
The Southern Mallee district is one of the largest fresh wash potato growing districts in Australia, accounting for approximately 60% of the national market. The soils of our sandy Mallee country are ideally suited to growing a white, blemish free product. We lease land and water to the corporate growers that surround our property. Water is supplied from the great artesian basin, 50-60m below the surface.
My family’s history as farmers only goes back to 1971. My father was working with neighbour George Venning, as a sharefarmer. He also built piggeries, on the Venning property between 1969 and 1971. He bred and grew these out before sending them to market.
By 1971 Dad was ready to purchase land, 1100 acres of semi mallee scrub for $5.00 per acre. By the end of 1973 he had purchased a further 3200 acres, including the farm that became my home as a child, and where I live with my family today.
In 1976 Dad broke ties with the Venning family and began farming in his own right. A further 2500 acres was purchased in 1978 and in 1988 we purchased 2100 from a neighbour. Tiffany and I purchased our first block of land (500 acres) in 1998. In 2000 we moved into the family home and my parents moved into Pinnaroo. In 2008 my parents exited the business and we purchased the farm from them.
For you, what is the best lifestyle factor that you enjoy as a farmer?
I find it hard to use the words lifestyle and farming in the same sentence. Farming, to me, is a business. We have large amounts of capital tied up in land, machinery and inputs. The challenge of farming is working with Mother Nature and making the most of what she offers us every year. Mother Nature can make you smile and she can make you cry but working with her and succeeding can be one of the most rewarding experiences. Making decisions for yourself and taking charge of your destiny is a key motivation to remain farming. Preserving and improving the natural environment are also great rewards.
What do you foresee as your biggest short term and long term challenges in farming? (e.g. Global debt? Food Security? Water Security? National Security? Carbon Tax? Other?)
Agriculture has many challenges in front of it. None of them are insurmountable.
In the short term agriculture faces a real challenge in attracting young people into the industry, not only from the service industry perspective but for the production phase. With the potential to earn large incomes within the mining industry many young people are electing to pursue these opportunities. One of the biggest risks to our business is labour. It will restrict the expansion of our farm, and many others I am sure.
Longer term the challenges include the carbon tax, access to labour and capital and increasing supply chain costs (within the grains industry particularly).
The first challenge of the carbon tax is to understand the implications it will have on production agriculture and how we can adapt to them. My concern as a producer is the lack of ability to pass any increased supply chain costs on. In the long run this is a risk to farming businesses, and this nation’s food security as a whole.
Access to labour is not only a short term problem but will continue to be a problem into the future, and once again not only a risk to farming businesses it will be a risk the nations and the world’s food security.
In my industry (grain growing) the supply chain costs are large. Storage & handling and freight are my two biggest costs. For a single tonne of wheat these two costs amount to 30 per cent of its value. My challenge is to reduce these costs as a percentage of my productions value, either by value adding to my product, or removing several of these supply chain steps.
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?
The first point to be made about farming is we are no different to any other small business. We work long hours, we have ever increasing compliance and regulatory requirements and we do what we do by choice.
Unfortunately drought’s (in particular) and record seasons seem to make the news headlines. This can come across to the general public as farmers are either making a fortune or whingeing because they are losing money. The reality is farming is a 5 year plus cycle, where we experience the whole range of seasons, and probably commodity prices too.
Much research has been conducted by the Birchip Cropping Group. Sustainability (in farming) is not determined by money made in the average to above average years, it is determined by how little money is lost in the below average seasons. This is a key message that needs to be understood by every Australian. Please don’t judge farming by the extremes, judge it by its ability to sustain and grow.
Farmers and consumers are constantly in a state of conflict: consumers want lower prices and producers want higher prices. A commodity producer’s sustainability is based on controlling costs and maximizing production. Once the costs outweigh the returns it’s time to exit. The danger for the consumer is the potential for food shortages in the future, as Australian farmers become unviable, due to supermarket pricing wars. Low prices are great for today but they are a real threat to food production (and security) in the future. Today’s low prices may well be the catalyst for tomorrow’s high prices.
My billboard message would be “FOOD; ARE YOU PAYING FOR IT!”