Today’s guest post has been written by Bronwyn Roberts an aspiring Art4Agriculture Young Beef Farming Champion. Young Farming Champions submit an EOI where we ask them to write a short paragraph on “why they believe it is important for farmers to build relationships with consumers” and we were very impressed with Bronwyn’s answer
Historically our ‘city cousins’ had a friend or family member on a farm, so had a personal experience with agriculture and the products we produce. This is no longer the case and we as an industry need to reinvigorate the personal experience for consumers, and rebuild the relationships that have been lost. The introduction of social media has seen a rise in misinformation about agriculture being presented and interpreted as fact. In these current times where agriculture is competing with other industries for land use, labour, funding and services, it is important that we have a strong network of consumers who support agriculture and accept our social license as the trusted and sustainable option.
This insightful answer made us very keen to hear more about Bronwyn and we invited her to share her story with you
Hi, my name is Bronwyn Roberts and my family have been feeding and clothing the world for more than 500 years. My agricultural ancestry traces back to England in the 1500’s. More recently, my Australian heritage goes back to settlers who came out here to farm in 1855.
My Grandfather, Joseph Comiskey, was born in 1890 and was a very well-known Queensland grazier.
I’m proud to say that Grandad prepared horses for the Light Horse brigade which were shipped off and used in World War I. Grandad Joe together with his wife Leila had 9 children and my mother is the youngest. My grandparents can still be credited for a large portion of the population of the Alpha district. Each year Grandad would head to far North West Queensland buying forward steers and droving them home to the properties at Alpha. Grandad travelled down with so many mobs that he knew all of the graziers en route personally. In 1988 Grandad was asked to purchase the first pen of fat bullocks to be sold at Auction as part of the grand opening of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach. With Queen Elizabeth herself looking on, Grandad purchased this first pen in pounds, shillings and pence for old time sake. Grandad was so well known and did so much for the grazing industry in Central Queensland, that the loading complex at the Alpha Saleyards are named in his honour, and the first pen of bullocks sold at the new Emerald Sales Complex were sold in his name. I would later go on to work at these Emerald saleyards, and remember my time there as a highlight of my working career. By the time of his death in 1993, Grandad had acquired 10 properties in total, 7 of which are still in the family. If you haven’t done the math yet, Grandad lived to the ripe old age of 103. I was only 10 years old when Grandad passed, and had he not lived so long I probably would have never had the honour of knowing him. Grandma passed in 2006. What I wouldn’t give to spend one more day with those two, learning about their old ways of the bush and sharing with them the new ways of my generation of grazier.
So by now you may be thinking that my love of agriculture comes from my long family history in the industry… well you’re wrong. While the past has shaped who I am, my continued passion for this industry doesn’t come from yesterday, but from today. I am a full time Grazing Land Management Officer with the Fitzroy Basin Association, which is the natural resource management body for this region. The area I cover is twice the size of Tasmania, and is the biggest beef producing region in the world. Our farmers are used to having a varying climate, and are on the forefront of practices and technology used for producing economically and environmentally sustainable food and fibre. When asked to describe a typical day for me, I often wonder ‘what is typical’? I leave home in the dark and I get home in the dark, that’s about the only thing I can count on.
Today I might be driving north on a dirt road for 3 hours, to spend the day with a grazier who would like to improve his pasture and land condition, to decrease the amount of soil lost off his property which ends up in the waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef. Yes, I said the Great Barrier Reef, as all creeks and rivers in my part of the world flow there. This landholder may also want to fence off his riparian areas to protect the creek banks, improve water quality, and create a nature corridor protected from stock. To do this, this landholder is going to have to spend tens of thousands of dollars for very minimal economic return. If this was an investment in shares, a financial expert would advise against it as the return on investment is poor. But for farmers, who are the custodians of our land, the decision to spend money and do right by our environment is an easy one.
Perhaps today I’m not spending it one on one with a landholder on their farm, but maybe I am running a best management practice workshop with a group of landholders.
Picture a group of graziers, most of which are middle aged men, sitting around a kitchen table and each operating a laptop connected to the internet. These graziers are assessing their farm operations against best management practice. This gives the landholders an opportunity to benchmark their operation against industry standard, and provides them with a report card of areas of excellence and possible areas of improvement. It’s my job to help them with their areas of improvement, to ensure that no one in the industry is left behind in a rapidly advancing world. This assessment takes valuable time away from running their property, and is using technology they may not be familiar with, but they do it so their industry can report to the world what an excellent job our Australian graziers are doing.
Possibly today I’m not delivering a workshop, but attending one as a student. Today I might be sitting in a shed on a property with other graziers, learning about how this one particular grazier got legumes established in his pasture to combat the sown pasture rundown epidemic that is affecting the developed grasslands of Queensland. This landholder may have conducted his own trials, at his own expense, and is now freely and openly sharing his findings with other graziers for the greater good. This landholder is not afraid to get emotional in front of his peers, because he is passionate about his industry and is sharing the culmination of years of blood, sweat, tears, money and research that he has personally put in to develop a solution to an industry problem. This landholder can tell you exactly how many legumes are established in each of his trial plots, because he has spent days on days counting them himself. This landholder will also share with you his financial position, his production capabilities, and his management plan for the future. You name another industry where a business owner will share so openly with his ‘competition’.
Maybe it’s the weekend so I get to spend my time freely. What to do? What to do? Easy… as well as being a full time Grazing Land Management Officer, I’m also a part time grazier. Did I forget to mention that? My parent’s run a 5500acre cattle property near Capella. We have a core herd of about 350 Santa Gertrudis and Brangus breeders, and run trade steers sourced from all over Central Queensland, buying in at about 350kg and turning off at feedlot weight 450-520kg.
We turn over about 1000 steers per year, and as they dribble in and dribble out, it seems we have a constant stream of cattle work to do. Every one of those animals will be weighed, vaccinated, and moved into new paddocks a number of times during their stay on ‘Barngo’, with each treatment being recorded against their electronic ear tag. Using this technology we can tell you the average weight gain of every steer, or the breeding history of every cow, and the location of every mob on the property. My parents purchased this particular property in 2002, as a working broad acre grain farm, but we are graziers not farmers, so we went to work on turning this patch of bare black soil into a working cattle property. Buying a blank canvas has awarded us an opportunity for development that not a lot of people get to experience any more.
We were able to fence the paddocks the way we wanted them, and were able to take our time in the design and layout of the property. In 10 years we have transformed a grain growing farm with 2 paddocks, 2 troughs and no yards, into a working rotational grazing system with improved pastures, including fields of the fragile QLD Blue Grass.
We now have 15 paddocks fenced to land type, 20 troughs strategically placed for maximum pasture utilisation with minimal impact on land condition, and a laneway system to the yards for easy stock movement. My father also has a job in the local mines to help subsidise the property development, so we are a collection of ‘weekend ringers’. Along with my trusty kelpie ‘Jules’ I like to spend my weekends educating weaners, rotating mobs to new paddocks, or doing land condition assessments at the paddock monitoring sites I have established. I guess you could say grazing is my life.
So it’s today’s graziers, my parents and grandparents, and the landholders I have the privilege to work with on a daily basis, that really inspire me and that have made me passionate about this industry. Agriculture is one of the leading industries in adopting advanced technology. As an industry, we are able to harvest more produce with less land and resources than ever before, because of this adoption and practice change. We are showing the world how to produce food and fibre economically and environmentally sustainably, but most importantly, not only can we feed ourselves but we can feed many people around the world.