You need farmers and farmers need you by Michelle Barrett

Welcome to Michelle Barrett who is a farmer to the west of Esperance and (disclaimer!) also a friend. Michelle’s blog is number 32 out of 52 to help celebrate The Australian Year of the Farmer.
Michelle Barrett, Munglinup, WA

Michelle Barrett, Munglinup, WA

Summary of your family and farming enterprise

My husband Kieran and I farm 12,000 acres near Munglinup (100km West of Esperance,WA). We run a predominately broad acre cropping operation, growing canola, wheat and barley, and also run 500 head of cattle. We have two young daughters and farm in partnership with my parents-in-law, Chris and Denise.

I grew up on a farm 60km North of Esperance and two of my three brothers still farm in that vicinity. I left the farm to finish high school and then on to uni and travel, with very clear ideas of never returning to farming. Then I fell in love, and in all honesty it was more than just the boy that drew me back to the land.

For you, what is the best lifestyle factor that you enjoy as a farmer?

I always hesitate before answering this type of question because farming is not what I would call a ‘lifestyle’ choice.

Yes we enjoy the privilege of open space, to be able to watch the change of  the seasons from our kitchen window and to feel that we are helping to feed the country and the world. But there are definitely lifestyle challenges that come with this as well.

Running Free at Munglinup WA

Running Free at Munglinup WA

For us farming is a business and it just happens that it is a business that we enjoy and are passionate about. Like any business, farming is hard work. We are always at the mercy of the weather, bugs and market prices, but through planning, research and risk management we try to manage these factors as best we can. The most important thing for us (and the reason we are still farming) is that through farming we have been fortunate enough to be able to provide a good income to sustain our families. The ‘lifestyle’ factors such as great rural communities, moderately flexible working hours and the ability to be surrounded by open space are all added bonuses and ones we are grateful for.

What do you foresee as your biggest challenges in farming?

I think agriculture has a bit of an identity crisis at the moment in a sense that the image and story of agriculture for so many years has been constructed by people outside of the industry and often with little consultation with those working in agriculture. If I hear one more farming consultant who has never lived or worked on a farm tell me I need to ‘see farming as a business’ I think I will scream – I do, I have done for many years, now lets move on to how we are actually going to promote it.

Kieran Barrett, Munglinup, WA

Kieran Barrett, Munglinup, WA

Another major issue facing agriculture is the lack of young people coming into the industry. We face an aging workforce and leadership team.  Less than 10% of those working in agriculture are under the age of 35. This is extremely obvious not only in our communities and regions, but also in research and leadership roles. As someone who just sneaks into this younger age bracket, I do feel a sense of responsibility to try and promote agriculture so that we encourage new ideas and fresh passion that I believe will help our sector to flourish.

We as farmers need to take greater responsibly in writing our own ‘stories’ and promoting positive messages about our industry and the important role we play as custodians of our land and primary producers of everyones food.

Munglinup, WA

Munglinup, WA

What do you wish non-farmers / city people & the Australian Government understood about farming?

My husband and I are both farmers, but we have very different roles. In our business Kieran is very hands on managing agronomy, plant nutrition, pest control, machinery maintenance and majority of the physical aspects of the operation.  I manage the office; marketing our grain, managing finances, employing staff, researching and training. These roles can interchange and we finalise marketing plans together and I move the cattle or shifting an auger when required.  The reason I make this comment is to emphasise how diverse and interesting farming can be.

Everyday is different. There are a great deal of challenges and hurdles in our industry but to my knowledge, this is no different to any other. Agriculture is such a  rewarding and diverse industry with an often unseen sense of responsibility. It is just my nature, but I am proud and I am excited. Proud to call myself a farmer and excited by the challenges the industry faces, because as an industry I think we have a pretty bright future ahead of us.

When it all comes down to it: you need farmers and farmers need you – so hello!


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