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AustralianFarmers

Farming is a complex business, says Fiona

From paddock to plate: Through the chaos and quiet of COVID-19, NSW lamb producer Fiona Aveyard has channelled her energy into growing Outback Lamb into its own entity, side by side with the family farm.

Scrolling Fiona Aveyard’s Instagram, loaded with mouth-watering culinary shots and idyllic snaps of life on the farm, it’s clear how well the lamb producer shares her story and connects with her followers.

In her bio, the entrepreneur writes she and husband Bill are, ‘aiming for a sweet spot where planet, profits and community are the winners’ – and this generosity of spirit is as abundant as the pastry on their lamb sausage rolls is light and flaky.

Emanating warmth and a can-do attitude, Fiona has built the Aveyard’s brand and side-hustle, Outback Lamb, from the ground up using social media and a simple website.

While farming 3000 hectares alongside her family around Central New South Wales’ Trundle and Tullamore, Fiona says the idea of succession – and four beautiful children to provide for – prompted Outback Lamb’s launch in 2017.

“At the time, our farming model was all about getting more acres, running more stock, increasing yield and improving productivity. While these all are great goals I just found myself asking more and more often, where that would lead us,” she says.

We all like to wax lyrical about the farm lifestyle and our quality of life, but as mixed farmers we found ourselves working harder and harder just to stay where we were. 

“The flow on effect in small regional communities where all farms expand their holdings by buying out neighbours just means less and less people around. This is compounded by increased mechanisation and the need for a smaller workforce. It simply wasn’t as much fun as it used to be.”

Watching the shrinking of bush communities, Fiona decided there had to be another way.

“Our community was – and is – at a tipping point where we are losing teachers, businesses and people. It got us to thinking about what farming might look like for the next generation and we came to the conclusion that our growth had to be vertical rather than horizontal,” she says.

“It’s about job creation; creating on farm roles for our family first and then hopefully spreading out into the wider community. It’s also about adding some sort of drought proofing to ensure we have an income not 100 per-cent reliant upon our rainfall.”

Outback Lamb served to diversify the family’s income stream by selling boxed lamb directly to consumers online. Processing their lamb through a local micro-abattoir, the business quickly grew – until Fiona decided to keep things neater by trading solely through artisanal butchers.

Showing the aptitude so deeply entrenched in regional communities, Bill and Fiona overcame their remote location’s geographical barriers by uniting with other local producers to buy a refrigerated truck.

A perfect example of the power of community and collaboration, the three businesses take it in turn to hoon the highways, dropping their products in Sydney and Wollongong on a 10-hour round trip.

In 2019, after three years entrenched in drought, feeding stock and reducing numbers significantly to lessen the strain, Fiona stumbled upon another value add to the business.

We were invited to participate in a beer festival and I had to think of a way to use our lambs. I thought, what better than a beer in one hand, and a lamb sausage roll in the other.

“I got in touch with a bakery nearby at Condobolin and started making them and we’ve gone from there.”

The gourmet sausage rolls have proved an absolute hit; a novel venture to ease the pain of a drought that dragged on and on.

“The drought was out and out horrific. It will take us a decade to recover financially from it. The physical and personal toll of being under duress like that for such an extended period of time is difficult to explain in words, but I’m sure I am not alone in feeling that way,” Fiona says.

“However, we’ve had good rain this year. Isn’t the country amazing? All we had to do was add water and we have had the most extraordinary season in 2020. Australia being the land of extremes, it could have possibly eased up over harvest but that hasn’t been the case.

We have had hail and some pretty wild weather which has downgraded quality, but we are still harvesting crops we would have been delighted to see anytime in the past three years!

Through the chaos and quiet of COVID-19, Fiona has channelled energy into growing Outback Lamb into its own entity, side by side with the farm.

“Early on in the pandemic, I genuinely thought it’s impact would be far greater than it turned out to be. I saw what was happening in the US supply chain, so we chose to move a lot of our lambs in early April through traditional channels when prices were at record highs. I was seriously concerned about supply chain disruptions through the winter,” she says.

“In hindsight it was probably an overreaction, but the upshot is it gave us time to press pause on growth, develop some new recipes and make plans to develop an on farm packaging facility. As a business, Outback Lamb has reached the point where we need to start to move large amounts of product so we can progress from being a successful side hustle into a serious standalone business.”

Fiona’s ownership of her family’s narrative, and sharing of day to day life on the farm, provides a glimpse directly into the heart of the Australian producer.

Explaining each process of life, from cropping to shearing to lambing and then the use of the product in gorgeous, quality goods, is a pure reflection of the Aveyard’s passion for what they do.

Farming is a complex and layered business and the challenge of balance is an ongoing one. I think an integral component of most farmers DNA is the desire to leave their land in a better state than the one they found it in

“Our aim is to look after the welfare of the animal as best we can because a stress free and healthy animal means better returns – and that’s how we make our living.

“As farmers, our job is to provide our livestock with their basic needs in order to create an environment where they can thrive.”

“Part of providing that care is ensuring that the balance of their environment – the soil, pastures and landscape all work harmoniously with each other.”

Georgie Robertson

Georgie Robertson

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