WIMMERA merino, goat and cattle studs, broadacre operations and seed cleaners are among the hundreds of farming enterprises to feature in two unique accounts of Australian agriculture.
Toowoomba-based self-published author and photographer Alice Mabin spent a year traveling the country to visit 551 properties, each producing or growing something different.
Her books, The Grower – The roots of Australia and The Grower – The heartbeat of Australia, cover everything from cropping and livestock farms to boutique businesses producing opium poppies, hemp and even crocodiles.
Birchip Cropping Group inaugural and founding member Ian McClelland, Telangatuk East’s Rogers family, Mallee Park Angora Goat Stud at Hopetoun, and Kurra-Wirra stud south of Harrow are among the Wimmera people and enterprises featured in the books.
Mabin devles into topics including the changing environment; staffing challenges; weather patterns; social pressures; succession planning; and agricultural careers, among others.
She said each farmer she visited had a great story to tell, and the dedication, resilience and vision Wimmera growers displayed was second-to-none.
“One of the standout things was that each and every property is so passionate about what they do and so driven to do the best they can in the industry,” she said.
Mabin said the books were unique, and no country in the world had such a record to encompass its entire agricultural industry, and what it meant to an economy.
“If agriculture only has a light shining on it when issues prevail such as the drought we are dealing with now, then the perception of the industry is tarnished not only to the next generation – influencing them to not get involved in the rural industry – but it also paints a picture to the rest of the world that Australia doesn’t know what its doing,” she said.
“It is important to recognise and acknowledge the heartbeat of passion, the drive of determination and the roots of resilience of the people who feed our nation, and help people have a better understanding of the commitment they have to their careers, the livestock, the environment and the nation.”
Horsham region farmer Tim Rethus, his brother Luke and father Geoff and their long-term farm hand Glenn Pietsch are featured in the book.
The family’s broadacre cropping enterprise includes land around Horsham, as well as some at Jung and Noradjuha.
In their crop rotation this year are lentils, beans, canola, wheat and barley.
Tim said the family was continually innovating and looking for new ways to do things.
“We are always out there trying to better our farm and make it more sustainable,” he said.
“We do no-till and controlled traffic farming.
“We have a few innovative controlled traffic solutions, and we’re into precision data and things like that as well, such as applications of fertiliser, and crop nutrition.
“We’re really happy with our farming system.
“We try to lower our risk in bad years and still maximise it in good years.”
Tim said the family also asked manufacturers to make products that suited their operating systems, rather than buying “off-the-shelf”.
“We go to the machinery manufacturer with a vision of what we want, and we look for companies that offer the right solutions and are willing to work with us,” he said.
“I believe a lot of farmers have a bit of a scatter-gun approach.
“But the key thing to remember is that manufacturers don't know what the market needs until someone asks them for it.
“A lot of companies will go and talk to farmers, but there's nothing stopping a farmer going to a company and saying, ‘I need something that can do this – can you help?’
“We often find that not long after we've worked out a solution, it's a factory option.”
Mabin said she hoped her books would help people not on the land realise that they too had a part to play in agriculture’s future, through things like food choices.
“Essentially the books act as a guide to Australia's agriculture industry, showing the vast diversity within it,” she said.
“The books are a snapshot of the 21st century.
“Years from now people will look back at this history and marvel at how far we have come.”
Mabin’s books are available at O’Connors Horsham, and $3 from the sale of each will go to the Buy a Bale campaign.