It’s been a dramatic summer. Devastating floods in the northwest Queensland, fires in Tasmania and northern New South Wales and the rest of the country seemingly desiccated by drought. So why would a young person want to enter life on the land? Continuing our drought series, today we talk to Young Farming Champions James Kanaley and Martin Murray, who are both agronomists with aspirations of one day owning their own farm.
James is a consulting agronomist working with AGnVET services in Griffith with clients across southern NSW and the Riverina in a range of cropping systems. His “part-time” job is on his family’s mixed farming operation at Junee where dryland crops grow alongside merino sheep.
Martin is based at Armatree and James’ family farm is at Junee
Martin is an agronomist for Amps Commercial based in the tiny village of Armatree in central NSW where winter cropping, including wheat and barley, generally dominates. Since his posting here last year there has barely been a crop grown. Though there have been neither floods nor fires around Armatree the country has been in drought for several years.
“It’s testing them,” Martin says of his clients. “It’s the worst one they ever experienced, the lowest rainfall they’ve ever had. It will end one day and so it’s about trying to manage the situation to get yourself through it so you are still here when it does break.”
Watching their clients work through the current drought both James and Martin have come to appreciate the need for good management and planning.
“Management is the key and this becomes even more prevalent and important in drier years,” James says. “Maximising the amount of crop or pasture out of every drop of rain and irrigation you receive is critical. A grower’s appetite for risk and their decision making can be the difference between getting themselves out of a tough situation or into serious debt.”
So what do agronomists do when there is little to no crop to look at?
“It’s a great time for upskilling,” Martin says. “There’s no reason to be sitting in the office twiddling your thumbs or driving around the same old bare paddocks so you might as well use your time productively and gain what skills you can while you’ve got the opportunity.”
To this end Martin has been attending workshops and conferences to increase his knowledge base.
Despite the quieter times James and Martin remain buoyant about agriculture’s future. Although they see ongoing problems, such as water usage in Murray-Darling, they have also seen high stock and land prices during this drought.
“If I had the money I’d definitely be buying in,” Martin says. “I’m confident there is a strong future in agriculture and the drought has really driven home the importance of risk management and having strategies to mitigate risk for when times like this come along.”
James’ agrees and cites new technologies and changes in farming practices as ways to move forward.
“Seeing what technology has enabled us to produce even in very low rainfall years like last year, gives me comfort,” he says. “Knowing that we can produce more off little rainfall going forward will give us confidence with the variable climate and rainfall events predicted. When it comes to attitude toward the drought you know the older farmers have weathered and endured a few, but the younger farmers bring enthusiasm to the table and that aids the ongoing evolution of agriculture in Australia.”
James and his family are looking forward to the rains and seeing the farm look like this again soon