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Farmers of the year crowned in Canberra

A farmer who’s ‘not hands on’, another who doesn’t own any land, a yacht club operator and cattle producer who controls his farm largely from his wheelchair were among ag’s top crop announced in Canberra this week.

Complete with a rousing address by the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce – this year’s Farmer of the Year Awards in the Mural Hall of Parliament House were inspiring, entertaining and hugely relevant.

Warning: the following award winners may make you feel a tad unaccomplished and WILL make you want to take to take up farming! 

Australian Farmer of the Year

Andrew Bulmer is a lettuce farmer from Victoria, who describes himself as ‘hands-off’ when it comes to paddock work. A global search for new innovations and a dedication to continuous improvement has seen Bulmer Farms increase its washed salad business by 400 per cent in the past 18 months.

Australian Farmer of the Year Award winner, Andrew Bulmer, with the Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP

Young Farmer of the Year

Jason Smith has dairy farming in his blood. Even when the family farm was sold, the young Victorian didn’t give up on his dream. Persisting through drought, Jason leased land and set up a 500+ herd in southern Victoria. Jason, who is gay, has been in the media spotlight lately, campaigning for equality.

“My intention is……..to let other LGBTI people within the industry know that’s okay, you can stay on the farm and be who you are.” 

Case IH Brand Leader Bruce Healy with 2017 Young Farmer of the Year Award winner, Jason Smith

Farming Legend of the Year

A statesman of the dairy industry John Bennett has been farming in north-west Tasmania for the best part of his 78 years.  John grew his family’s dairy operation, Ashgrove Farms to be one of the most successful dairy operations in Australia including establishing Ashgrove Cheese – a leading premium independent dairy brand. A large part of John’s legend status was earnt though his ‘giving back’ to the nation’s dairy sector through a commitment to research and development and industry leadership. 

NFF CEO Tony Mahar with Farming Legend of the Year Award winner, John Bennett

Rural Community Leader of the Year Award winner

The establishment of a Facebook page for people to share their bush internet experiences led Kristy Sparrow to running a nation-wide campaign for #betterbushcomms.  Kristy is a co-founder of Better Internet for Regional, Rural and Remote Australia (BIRRR) which provides technical, practical and, she says, often emotional support to bush communications consumers. The Facebook page now has more than 9500 users and Kristy has personally helped more than 1000 members with their telecommunications issues. On any given day Kristy is talking with politicians, corporate heads and the media – all in the spirit of highlighting the inadequacy of bush internet connectivity. 

Market Check Founder Brett Stevenson with Rural Community Leader of the Year Award winner, Kristy Sparrow

Rural Consultant of the Year Award winner

Farm consultant Greg Mills, Western Australia, is passionate about the need for farmers to retain their social licence to operate. “That is, the privilege of operating a farming business with minimal formalised restrictions based on maintaining public trust,” Greg explained.  For decades Greg has being assisting famers in the intensive livestock industries to develop strategies to build social licence, never shying away from a challenge, including helping the egg industry navigate animal welfare issues. 

BASF team, Lauren Porter, Russell Ison and Gavin Jackson with Rural Consultant of the Year Award winner, Greg Mills

Award for Excellence in Innovation

Few people can comprehend the challenges and subsequent successes of Queensland cattle farmer Rob Cook. A helicopter accident in 2008, left the father of three, a C4 quadriplegic. Far from detracting from his farming career, the accident motivated Rob to deploy a range of innovative, cutting edge technologies.

“I knew if I wanted to keep farming, I had to investigate new ways of doing my old job,” Rob said.

Some of these news ways include operating cattle yards from a joystick on his wheelchair and telemetry systems to monitor water pumps across the family’s three properties. 

Harvest Tyres' Shannon Roberts and Russell Kennedy with Award for Excellence in Innovation winner, Rob Cook

Award for Excellence in Technology

Lachlan Seears, from Lucindale in South Australia, is always pushing the boundaries with the deployment of new technologies on-farm. If there is a better, more efficient way of doing things, Lachlan wants to know.

“Managing nearly 3000 hectares, I need to look at what is available and what the latest advances in technology are so we can remain efficient and profitable.”

Lachlan runs a value-adding, irrigation, food and food crop enterprise. The technologies he applies include controlled traffic farming, sophisticated grains storage systems, sheep electronic identification, auto weighing and drafting and a range of farm management and finance apps and software. 

Kondinin Group General Manager Ben White with Award for Excellence in Technology Award winner, Lachlan Seears

Award for Excellence in Diversification Award

When James Walker decided to de-stock his drought-stricken, newly-purchased Queensland property, he was determined not to remain idle.

“I instead focussed my attention on a number of ‘off-farm’ projects,” James said.

These projects included a farm agri-toursim venture, that welcomes tourists onto the Walker’s farm; the hosting of community idea sharing summits; the development of a farm finance literacy app; organic accreditation and the building of a solar farm. Among the most innovative of James’ ventures are the establishment of an Outback Yacht Club.

WFI's John Snowball with Award for Excellence in Diversification Award winner, James Walker

The National Farmers’ Federation was pleased to be industry sponsor of this year’s Australian Farmer of the Year Awards 

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