This is my latest blog for The Australian Farmer. The blog has been inspired by a number of people in agriculture I have spoken to and some thoughts from Irish Crime Writer Tana French
I have seen so little of Agriculture beyond my farmgate and the industries I have been involved in let alone just how much does urban Australia get to see
“Sometimes the landscape is red sometimes its green No matter what it is its always beautiful” Emma Turner Stanhope Station via Ivanhoe
While reading about Australia’s role in international agriculture I came across this quote from Professor Andrew Campbell:
“If the world was your farm, Australia is not your best paddock,
in fact there aren’t many worse.”
Professor Campbell is the CEO of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and, rather than being derogatory, the comment was actually a backhanded compliment to the success of Australian agriculture. Professor Campbell points out Australian farmers must contend with poor soils, one of the world’s most variable climates and precious little surface water on top of our usual droughts, fires and flooding rains. Yet despite the challenges, Australian agriculture continues to thrive, all of which makes me reflect on the complexity of our landscape. Like Irish novelist Tana French, I too wish I knew more about Australia.
“I wished I knew more about Australia.
I thought of red earth and sun that hit you like a shout,
twisted plants stubborn enough to pull life out of nothing,
spaces that could dizzy you, swallow you whole.”
Tana French’s perception of the Australian landscape is very different to my reality. My family farms dairy cattle on the rolling green hills of Jamberoo, south of Sydney, where the rich volcanic soils and reliable rainfall allows us to graze six cows to the hectare, and where I can see for miles across the Pacific Ocean. I know I am biased but it probably is one of Australia’s best “paddocks”.
Another paddock is the Fitzroy Basin in central Queensland, the biggest beef growing region in Australia with 2.6 million of the 25 million national herd running on its rich brigalow-belah landscape. The clay soils of the brigalow belt are incredibly fertile and grow a large bulk of good quality cattle feed, but the rivers of the region drain to the Great Barrier Reef, meaning extra challenges for agriculture.
“The rangeland grazing system of the Fitzroy means cattle are the
biggest contributor to sediment runoff into the reef, which means
the fragile soils have to be carefully managed to maintain ground cover,”
Bronwyn Roberts, Bar H Grazing
Rivers of another type support farmers and graziers in south-west NSW where water flow has been regulated by man. South of Menindee Lakes a pipeline running along the Darling Anabranch provides water for thousands of sheep. The hardy merino has adapted well to this harsh and often dry environment to produce some of Australia’s finest wool.
“The NSW rangelands are a beautifully complex ecosystem and
this makes for very diverse methods of farming.
We should embrace and encourage that diversity,
as that is a great strength in our community,”
Gus Whyte, Wyndham Station via Wentworth NSW
When it comes to complex and challenging landscapes it’s hard to go past the wheat belt of Western Australia. Sandy soils with low organic matter, declining rainfall and one of Australia’s major environmental concerns in dryland salinity make this a hard place to earn a living. Yet Western Australia produces half of the country’s wheat crop and does so through innovation and research, such as revegetating with saltbush and producing drought tolerant crop varieties that allow more grain to be produced from less land.
“WA Wheatbelt farmers are innovative, but the challenge here is
not only to keep our farms productive, but also to keep our farmers
for they are our best land stewards.
Adaptive agriculture will be critical for the region’s farming future,”
Richard McLellan CEO Northern Agricultural Catchments Council
We do indeed live and farm in a complex landscape, and by world standards it is a hard and unforgiving paddock, but Australian agriculture adapts. We innovate and research, we manage for environmental outcomes and we adopt best practices in animal welfare. We care for our communities and for the opportunity to provide the best food in the world to the people of the world. Despite the complexity and the challenges this makes me very proud to be farming this particular paddock.
If you, too, are proud of our Australian paddock I encourage you to become involved in the inaugural AgDay to be held on November 21. I specifically encourage you to get involved in the photo competition, which aims to put consumers in touch with the real faces of Australian agriculture. See the website for details.