Innovation and resilience a key crop in the future generation of farmers

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From coping with record-breaking droughts, to competing with overseas imports and ever-rising production costs, there is no doubt the future of farming looks bleak to some.

But if adaptation is the key to evolution, our next generation of farmers could be up to the challenge.

These four young regional famers are already tackling some big challenges through innovation and adaptation.

And this week, they are sharing their experience and insights at the ABC Heywire Regional Youth Summit in Canberra.

Hayden Di Bella, Ingham, Queensland

Hayden Di Bella is from Ingham in Queensland.

Hayden di Bella’s family have been cane farmers for generations.

They own 100 hectares in Ingham, North Queensland, where the sugar industry has been ploughing along for more than a century.

But when one crop is grown for a long time on the same plot, it can deplete the soil of key nutrients, resulting in lower yields and higher risk of disease.

So when Hayden realised the soil was tired, it gave him an idea.

His dad helped him plant his first small crop, to see which varieties would grow best in the tropical climate.

The trial was a success and Hayden is now getting ready to plant 10 acres of sweet potatoes, in rotation with cane.

“I’m excited to grow our family business and provide more opportunities for our farm and family,” he said.

Hayden said it was exciting to be part of a generation that could research the information needed to branch out, and diversify crops, at the touch of a button.

Raymond Binsiar, Buttah Windee, Western Australia

Raymond Binsiar is from Buttah Windee in Western Australia.

The desert landscape of Buttah Windee, in Western Australia, is probably not the first place that comes to mind when people think of fish farming.

But for Raymond Binsiar and his family, it is an exciting frontier of possibilities.

The Barramundi farm of 3,000 fish is still in its infancy, but Raymond hopes it will one day be a drawcard for the passing tourists who want to learn about fish farming and taste the delicious meat.

“When it gets successful enough, there are plans to get another shed and put more tanks in for more fish.”

Raymond said the plan is to combine fish farming and tourism would also include a cultural aspect, sharing his father’s Aboriginal artwork with the world.

“It’s a very unique type of artwork, it’s a mix of traditional dot painting and airbrush,” he said.

“He paints the red dirt that we live on and the stories of his life and our people.”

Raymond said he hopes the idea will have the flow-on effect of revitalising his community, which was home to around 50 people in the early 2000s, and has since dwindled to just 12, including his grandmother, uncle, father, four brothers, sister and 3,000 “barra”.

Kassidy Fuller, Bullfinch, Western Australia

Kassidy Fuller is from Bullfinch in Western Australia.

The last year has been tough for Kassidy Fuller and her family, who run a wheat and sheep farm at Bullfinch in the eastern wheatbelt of WA.

The wheat crop has struggled through a lack of rain and profit has been scarce, but Kassidy said she was grateful the sheep were happy, healthy and worth a lot of money.

But just as the winter rain had brought some reprieve, the farm was dealt another blow with talk of a ban on live sheep exports.

“So once the ban got put into play for a little bit, it stopped our income and we couldn’t afford to maintain the farm.”

The family was forced to sell off a large portion of its property.

But despite the downsize, Kassidy said her family’s passion for farming is as strong as ever.

She said she would like to see a future where farmers are recognised for their hard work.

Kassidy said the solution could lie in social media, and apps that would connect communities to their local farmers and produce.

“I think with social media now you can advocate more in a positive light and it’s easier to get the word out that positive things are happening and things are changing,” she said.

Kurt Richards, Dowerin, Western Australia

Kurt Richards is from Dowerin in Western Australia.

Kurt Richards is part of the next generation of sheep shearers.

His family farm in Dowerin, WA, was turned into 100 per cent crops — wheat, barely, lupin and canola — when Kurt was young, but his long-term goal is to bring sheep back into the mix.

“So if the livestock don’t do so well, the cropping will hopefully have your back and vice versa.”

Kurt said finding a balance between technology and tradition is important, but there are benefits to farming in the 21st century.

“Electronic ear tags I thought would be a pretty cool idea,” he said.

“That way you can shear the sheep, weigh the fleece and then scan it to that particular ear tag so you know how many kilos of wool that sheep is producing each year.

“That’s probably something that I would put into my practices each year.”