Young Farming Champions Marlee Langfield and Keiley O’Brien share what the drought has taught them

Continuing our Lessons Learnt from the Drought Series. Today Grain Young Farming Champions Marlee Langfield and Keiley O’Brien share what the 2018 Drought has taught them.

 

 Marlee Langfield ( photo Cowra Guardian) and Keiley O’Brien ( photo Western Magazine) 

Young Farming Champions Marlee Langfield and Keiley O’Brien are two young women taking drought by the horns as they embark upon new agricultural roles with their partners in central New South Wales.

At 23 Marlee is CEO and manager of her family farm “Wallaringa” near Cowra, where she and her partner Andrew Gallagher produce grains and oilseeds. Just up the road at the Rawsonville Crossroads between Narromine and Dubbo Keiley, 23, and her partner Ross Noble run a diversified contracting business.

Drought has affected both businesses in the last two years and shows little signs of easing in 2019 so how has the season affected Marlee and Keiley and what lessons have they learnt?

“We began our 2018 sowing program planting dry into marginal moisture with our fingers crossed for follow up rain,” Marlee says. “Then we received a break half way through the program which restored our faith. The crops thrived off 5 to 13mm rain fall events throughout the majority of the growing season which is significantly less than the ‘norm’.”

However with droughts often come severe frosts, which affected the low lying areas of Marlee’s canola. “The main stem of a canola plant acts like a timeline displaying a visual of plant health by the appearance of the pods: shrivelled up and discoloured pods means it has been frosted, plump and elongated means it has enjoyed ideal conditions,” Marlee explains. Frost damaged canola has extremely low yield potential thus the decision was made to cut 12% of the Wallaringa canola crop for silage –which went as good feed to dairy cows.

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Sowing canola seed with an air seeder

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The canola plant pocks through 12 days after sowing 

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227 days from start to finish – harvesting canola windrows in December 

2018 highlighted for Marlee the difference small management decisions could make to the farming operation and also brought unexpected bonuses – with little rainfall there was low disease pressure and therefore reduced monetary inputs. “All things considered we really did grow a remarkable crop,” she says with optimism often missing in drought-related conversations.

 

Hay making comprises the bulk of Keiley and Ross’ contracting business but they learnt early on to diversify to spread their risk. In 2018 this decision proved invaluable. “In a good year such as 2016 we bale around 15,000 large square and round bales,” Keiley says, “but in poor years, like 2017 and 2018 we averaged around 5,000 large square and round bales.” To support the business they grow irrigated lucerne for the horse market and offer sowing, spraying and harvesting services to clients.

Drought exacerbates financial pressures and Keiley used the dry time to upskill. In December she graduated from the University of New England with a Bachelor of Agriculture/Bachelor of Business majoring in marketing and this year is undertaking a Certificate IV in Bookkeeping and Accounting.

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Keiley graduated from University of New England with a Bachelor of Agriculture and a Bachelor of Business Majoring in Marketing. 

She and Ross also attended a Young Farmers Business Program in Dubbo.

“We were in the middle of re-structuring our business from a partnership to a company so the YFBP really helped us get our head around what we were doing and broke those big and complicated notions into easily understood blocks,”

“Another highlight was goal setting. We have goals of what we want to do and where we want to go but going through the SMART approach and physically writing them down on paper really re-enforced to us our aspirations and future direction. Mingling with other young people who had a passion for agriculture was also great because we made some good mates and industry connections.” she says.

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Keiley and her partner Ross and daughter Ruby 

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Andrew (left) and Marlee with agronomist Baden Dickson ( centre) Source The Land

Both Marlee and Keiley recognise the support and guidance they have received as they transition into business owners and operators in their own right. From a young age Marlee worked alongside her parents on Wallaringa and absorbed the world of grains, and then later gained off-farm experience to enable her to take the reins of the family property. Keiley credits Ross’ father with giving him deep foundations in the working of land and machinery, as well as providing equity to get their joint business off the ground.

Support has also come from a range of industry advisers and local businesses and Marlee credits her agronomist, Baden Dickson, in particular for supplying much needed expertise.

Going forward Marlee and Keiley will put lessons learnt into practice and continue their educational journeys, learning from those who have gone before them.

“As young people with a relatively young business we have learnt to be open with the way we do things,” Keiley says. “You don’t always have to take on board everything everyone says, but you should always thank them for taking the time to share their knowledge and ideas with you.”

And when the drought finally relinquishes its hold, what then?

“If we can grow a remarkable crop in one of the most challenging seasons then I can’t wait to see what we can do when it DOES rain,” Marlee says.

and Marlee will be documenting every step of her farming journey with her magnificent prize winning photos

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#drought #YouthVoices19 #YouthinAg #StrongerTogether #ThisisAusAg

 

Young Farming Champions Dan Fox and Emma Ayliffe find farming in a drought is a steep learning curve

Young Farming Champions Dan Fox and Emma Ayliffe come from different ends of the farm ownership spectrum but both have learnt valuable lessons as they have embarked upon new enterprises during a drought.

Dan, the 2018 Australian Innovation Farmer of the Year is a fifth-generation farmer, whose family have been farming in the Marrar district of southern New South Wales for more than 80 years. Over the last decade Dan has been helping move the farm from a traditional mixed sheep and cropping property to a continuous cropping enterprise using regenerative agriculture, and in the last two years he has introduced even more changes.

Dan has planted cover crop brassica/legume/grass pasture mixes of lentils (left) oats,cereal ryegrass, filed peas, faba beans, turnips and tillage radish which not only enrich the soil they also provide highly nutritious feed for sheep  

Emma Ayliffe is a well-respected agronomist, private consultant and business owner who in 2018 bought her first farm with partner Craig Newham at Burgooney near Lake Cargelligo in the Central West of NSW, where they set about growing wheat, barley and lambs.

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Emma Ayliffe and Craig Newham bought a farm together in one of the worst drought years on record 

On first glance it may appear Dan and Emma have little in common; one is changing a generational farm, another is starting a farm from scratch. But like all farmers they share the inconsistencies of the weather, and they realise that it is not so much what happens to them, but how they react to it, that makes the difference.

“Our average rainfall is 500mm but in the last twelve months we only received 200mm, and we also had some of our most severe frosts on record, yet we were able to harvest wheat at the area average of 2.5tonnes/ha,” Dan says.

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Harvesting Wheat on the Fox Family Farm

This amazing result is due to changes Dan has implemented in the last two years to conserve soil moisture during the summer fallow period.

“We got 100mm of rain in the fallow period and looked after it with our stubble, fallow sprays and groundcover management. That’s the only reason we ended up with a crop, because of the stored soil moisture before the crop went in. Years like this, which is one of the driest we’ve seen, show this approach to be a very valuable tool and dry years are when you really learn. Anyone can grow a crop in a good year but it takes a bit of skill in a drought.”

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Harvesting lentils 

Emma follows the principles of moisture conservation but in her case even the early rains were missing.

“We didn’t get a good break to sow into and then we never really had any good in-crop rainfall.  This meant poor to no yields for most of our cropping area and not much stock feed resulting in us sourcing grain for our sheep and grazing off crops,” she says.

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No shortage of dust storms but very little rain 

It was a testing year to start farming but valuable lessons were learnt.

“Fortunately we both work other jobs to help keep some money rolling it and we learnt about diversification. Sheep were an amazing asset to us this year.”

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Drought puts a lot of pressure on farmers and their animals – with hand feeding a daily ritual 

Speaking from her own experiences in this challenging dry period Emma has this advice:

“Smile! We can’t make it rain. Do your budgets so you know what you’re up for. Don’t be scared to ask for help or advice from people who have been doing it longer. When you find yourself in the dust stand up, brush it off and go again. A new year means 365 days to kick goals.”

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And how does the prolonged dry effect confidence going forward?

“This is farming, This is the “gamble” that we take to grow food and fibre. It reiterates to us the importance of having a good drought management strategy in our business to support us in tough times. As a farmer it makes me want to work harder to learn how to do more with less, as an advisor it makes me admire the strength and resilience of the growers I work with even more so.”  Emma says. 

Dan, too, is optimistic.

“We’re only 2 years in and I’ve got a lot of confidence that the longer we stick with this system to build soil health and reduce our harmful insecticides and cut our fungicides right out, the better it is going to be. I think if we get a dry period such as this in ten years’ time our results will be better again – we’re pretty excited by the future.” he says. 

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