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It has been a tough few years for those in the Queensland sheep industry with the latest drought still gripping the majority of the state and leaving most producers either de-stocked or only partially re-stocked. However, with some rain and good commodity prices giving people the confidence to come back, the industry appears to be on the up.
Despite the drought Peter and Kimble Thomas jumped at the chance to move their four children back to Peter’s family property Beaconsfield near Ilfracombe in 2014.
Both Peter and Kimble’s lives have been entrenched in the agricultural industry and they always knew they wanted to get back on farm at some point.
Peter grew up on Beaconsfield which has been in his mother’s family since 1911. He is a fifth-generation producer and his kids are shaping up to be sixth. He jokes that this history doesn’t ensure that he will be as successful as the generations before him have been.
Peter worked on the family farm on and off over the years, mixing it up by working on merino studs in NSW before he studied a Bachelor of Business/Agribusiness at the University of Queensland. This was where he met Kimble and they lived in Toowoomba together for a while before getting married and moving to Charleville where Peter was the Agribusiness Manager of Suncorp for nearly ten years. “I wouldn’t have gone into rural finance if I didn’t have any affiliation with the industry. It helped to understand Charleville’s underlying industries and I still speak to old customers on and off.”
...we were totally de-stocked by June 2015, as was much of the district
Kimble spent much of her childhood on cattle properties in Papua New Guinea and on the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory. “My family have history in the beef industry in Africa and Argentina and I always wanted the children to have some connection to the livestock industry as Peter and myself had growing up” Kimble said.
“The eldest two are at boarding school in Armidale in NSW and the youngest two are being schooled through Longreach School of Distance Education. They love life on the land, the older girls bung on the weights to make sure that there is plenty of stock work to keep them busy on school holidays” Kimble said.
“We jumped at the chance when my parents offered us the opportunity to come home in 2014 and lease the property so they could step aside. Unfortunately, our new life coincided with the start of a fair thumper of a drought. The first thing we did when we got home was start selling stock and we were totally de-stocked by June 2015, as was much of the district. In hindsight it was the best thing to do as we didn’t get any kind of rain until February 2016. It was very surreal having the place empty, especially as we had just got back onto the land, but while I was at the bank I had seen customers de-stock before and I admired their strength, it gave me the courage to start doing it. You never know whether it’s the right or the wrong decision but at the time it was the best decision we could make.
Things are looking up for the Thomas’s business thanks to some rain and they are now partly re-stocked. “I like to joke that we have been helping to keep the market buoyant by re-stocking and we now have a mixture of agistment cattle, our own cattle and sheep. Our intention is to launch back into sheep, we will start with merino but historically we have had a dual-purpose meatier sheep.”
These plans are all possible thanks to their cluster fence with three of their neighbours which was partly funded through the Remote Area Planning and Development Board cluster fencing program. “These programs have been great for the community and the region, they have created a lot of much needed employment, not to mention what they have done to facilitate sheep coming back into the area.”
“Another positive for the industry is that more producers can turn to sheep meat thanks to organisations such as MLA growing the demand for the product and gaining market access. Meat breeds are labour saving so are a great option when getting a foothold in the industry.
“Another aspect that will bring people back to the land and something that made us look forward to coming back is how far the industry has come in technological advances.
“There have been technological advances in just about every aspect, from labour saving devices such as remote monitoring, through to electronic tags and drones. These all help you run your business as efficiently as you can and once we have adapted some on our business, will give us a better quality of life.
“This kind of technology is going to attract younger people back to the industry and more tech-heads. It also gets the kids involved and thinking about the business.”
When we spoke to Peter he had just returned from completing the Sheep Industry Leadership Program which is sponsored by the Sheep Meat Council of Australia.
“The sheep meat industry has grown from just being the lamb industry to something much bigger. It was great personal experience and will be of great benefit for taking on roles in the industry.”
Peter is on the AgForce Finance, agribusiness, drought and climate committee and says that he applied to be a committee member because “decisions are being made about your industry and decisions are being made about the direction of your industry and it needs involvement from people in all sectors so that the policy and directions are grounded.
“There are heaps of passionate people out there and the industry needs to find them and channel them so that we can promote the sheep and wool industry as a great one to be involved in.”
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