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AustralianFarmers

Sam calls on grounded pilots to guide bumper harvest

One paddock on our property can grow enough wheat to make six million loaves of bread. And we have five more paddocks like that on this farm alone. Safe to say people don’t need to worry about flour supply here in Australia! 

A similar-sized paddock of barley can end up in 27 million stubbies of beer. So, you could definitely say we are taking care of the essentials here. 

We are a fourth-generation family farm, with a mix of mainly dry-land and irrigated cropping.

We grow wheat for bread, barley for beer and stock feed and chickpeas for your salads or hummus. We also run a small herd of beef cattle and grow cotton for clothing, stock feed and cotton seed oil.  

South Bunarba is on the road between Moree and Mungindi in far northern NSW. At the moment we employ seven people full time. These numbers are significantly down thanks to three years of drought, but we are busy recruiting and rebuilding, and when we’re back on our feet properly will employ around 12 full-timers.

We also employ loads more casuals in peak periods, and coming into this year’s wheat, barley and chickpea harvest will have 30-40 people working on the farm any one time. 

To help ease the challenges for many caused by COVID, our family and other growers in our region have enlisted the help of school leavers and out-of-work pilots to drive harvesters and chaser bins. 

Many young people are staying put this year with their international gap year plans disrupted and pilots are obviously ideally suited to the precision work needed for harvest. 

It’s the same story on all over the district. Farming is the name of the game in Mungindi and we are all in it together. Whether it’s the local service station, the farmers themselves, the chemist or any other of the shops in town; this town is all about agriculture. 

So when we have a good season, everyone benefits and likewise, when we’re in drought we all push through together.  

That’s the thing about farming, it’s a team effort and it’s hard sometimes but when everything comes together, it’s hugely rewarding. You are working outdoors, working with nature in a highly technologically advanced industry to provide a fundamentally important service; feeding and clothing people. 

Farming is the only job I’ve ever wanted to do. 

I grew up on the outskirts of Melbourne and from as early as I can remember, wanted to be a farmer. So after school I got a job as a jJackaroo, then went to university in Orange, NSW, did a degree in farm management and worked my way around the country in grain trading and farming roles. One of these took me to Wagga Wagga where I met my now wife Annette whose family own this property and have done so since the the early 1900s. 

Eight years ago we made the decision to move here and join the family business and I’m so lucky to be able to say that I still look forward to going to work every day. 

Annette and I especially love seeing how the kids want to be involved. Even if it’s just opening a gate or helping brush out a trough, Sybil (4) and Charlie (3) are participating and getting stuck in and that’s awesome to see. Our youngest Walter (9 months) is still too little but it won’t be long till we put him to work too! 

Covid-19 didn’t really affect us as a family at all. Yes their school was closed but the kids loved being home and they are still little so the home learning wasn’t too tough! Otherwise, life went on here as usual.

It’s the seasonal variabilities that have posed the biggest challenges here. Or in other words, the past three years of severe drought we’ve just been through. 

Yes it can be tough, but we stick it out and we stay optimistic. 

I think to be a farmer you need to be an optimist. You need to believe that it will rain again and one day (like yesterday!) it will. And while it doesn’t rain, you need to adapt, to be agile with your systems and plans and be smart about your resources. 

After a number of years of really tough drought, this year we’ve had a great season so far and are shaping up for a fantastic harvest! 

Another thing I love about this job is keeping up with the technology.

It’s these advances, and staying on top of them that mean we can be resilient and not only survive but work with nature to thrive. 

What we are doing on the farm today is so different to what we did three years ago which is completely different to what we did five years ago. The software, equipment and crop breeding is constantly moving forward and that’s incredibly exciting to me. 

Farmers are such early adopters of technology. Did you know for example, that the GPS (global positioning systems) in your car or on your phone were actually developed first for farmers in this area?

It was a game changer in terms of allowing us to accurately navigate to specific locations in the field, to auto steer, to track soil samples or monitor crop conditions and pests.  

As I mentioned before, we are irrigators and we grow cotton. I know that’s not all that popular with everyone. But I am quite certain that most of these concerns come from a lack of information.

We want our consumers to know just how hard cotton farmers are working to use less water, to do and be better.

Here’s just one example of this, we as a cotton farming industry have cut down on pesticide use by 97% since 1992. Imagine what improvements we can make in the next decade! 

Technology is undoubtedly making us more efficient, and not only in reducing pesticide use. We are constantly pushing the limits in terms of how much we can grow and with less and less water.

This mostly comes down to breeding/crop varieties and irrigation techniques. And the key is having good people around you to make it happen. 

So we continue to adapt, to be better farmers and grow more with less inputs. I guess for consumers that’s good news because they can relax and know that we are on the case and there’s plenty of everything to go round! 

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