This time of year, a drive north through the Northern Valleys region reveals one the most stunning sights on the farming calendar – a swelling sea of vibrant yellow canola as far as the eye can focus. Whilst tourists could be forgiven for thinking the sight is for their benefit, canola is one of the state’s most important agricultural crops, and the 1.8 million tonnes projected harvest this year is worth over 1.53 billion to the WA economy.
For third-generation farmer David Brown his 900 ha canola crop is just one component of the impressive stable of produce grown on the 7000 ha Dandaragan property he and wife Sue run alongside his brother Richard, who just happens to be married to Sue’s sister, Di.
Family connections certainly run deep at Bridgerabbie – the mixed broadacre cropping and sheep property was founded by David’s grandfather in 1919 then farmed by his father and uncles before being passed down the line. With three children each (including a set of twins each, born in the same year!) David and Richard hope to see a a fourth generation of farmers to til their patch of Dandaragan soil.
Mixing fat lamb trade with rotational cropping of wheat, lupins and canola has kept the family farm going from strength to to strength and with succession planning in mind the Browns have just invested in a nearby property – but David is concerned there’ll be less and less livestock on the farm in the future. “The ESCAS (Australia’s compulsory Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System) effectively stopped the live sheep export trade by stealth” he laments, “We’ve just lost the Saudi market, which is where the money is.”
Generation Y are also looking at farming in a different way. “The young blokes like sitting on a big comfortable tractor, which practically drives itself, then disappearing out to the coast for a few months rather that stuffing around with livestock – and you can’t really blame them – especially in this market.” says David, “It’s a challenge!”.
Keen to share both the highs and lows of their colourful life on the farm, last month the Brown family welcomed two high school students to stay as part of the FX program initiated by Rabobank.
In response to research undertaken by the agribusiness bank, which showed a concerning lack of knowledge and understanding of farming and rural life among Australian urban teenagers, the program was developed to offer students an opportunity to experience farm-life first hand and bridge the urban/ rural divide.
Jessica Turner and Emily Morgan from Kiara College in Perth spent a week at Bridgerabbie joining in with farm chores, learning to drive the ute and enjoying the antics
of the pet piglet. Emily, who plans to attend Muresk and follow a career in agriculture described the experience simply as ‘Awesome” and was detered neither by the
isolation nor the inherent hard work. Both students are part of an ag sector at Kiara, where they have worked with livestock and studied agricultural principles, but
they weren’t prepared to see such a big operation. “Its the scale of it all that’s been surprising more for them than anything,” comments Sue,“The cost of the big
machines and the shear size of the mobs of sheep,” These days farms like Bridgerabbie are big operators, with staff and infrastucture to rival city business.
Along with five other students taking part in the program, Jessica and Emily also visited to the Muchea Livestock Centre, Moora Citrus and the new Dandaragan
Camel Dairy as well as taking part in discussions with local agribusiness professionals at Rabobank and Elders.
“The challenge of retaining and attracting youth into agriculture is one of the four key objectives of the Rabobank client councils, and the FX Program is a
great example of how big challenges can be tackled on a small scale to make real, long-lasting differences.” said Rabobank’s head of Sustainable Business Development
The program relies on willing farmers like David and Sue to give up their time and open their homes – but the results could benefit us all. To find out more about
the program and how to get involved, go to www.farmexperienceprogram.com.au