This article first appeared in Stock & Land.
Deniliquin farmer and agricultural entrepreneur Airlie Trescowthick says she’s hoping to marry the best of both worlds – hands-on production and technological innovation.
Ms Trescowthick and husband Hugh Landale run a mixed farming operation, involving a summer and winter cropping program and sheep production, in the Riverina.
“My drive, long term, is to farm with my husband as a partnership, and I want the farm business to be my core,” Ms Trescowthick said.
“To do that, I need to arm myself with continuous learning.”
Her ongoing university studies, and a return to the family farm, led to the development of the website the Farm Table.
She said the Farm Table was essentially a one-stop shop for farmers if they wanted to find farming related information, ag funding opportunities, agtech solutions, in a way “that is completely focused on the producer.
“It’s all about improving the information flows, from the other end of the sector to producers,” Ms Trescowthick said.
She grew up on a sheep and cattle property, in the southern Riverina, NSW.
“It was never a “don’t come back to the farm” attitude from my parents, but finishing school coincided with some very difficult and dry times so we were encouraged to pursue careers off the land. So, I headed off to the University of Melbourne.”
After her double degree, she worked in management consulting but felt the urge to go back to the farm or find a place in the industry where she could add value.
“I wanted to combine my career experience to date with agriculture. To do that, I needed to upskill so I searched the world for a course that combined Economics, Public Policy and Agribusiness. I found that in Canada.”
What followed was a Masters in Food and Resource Economics at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
“It was a fantastic experience studying with people from all over the world including a fisheries economists from the United States, a grain trader from Calgary (Canada) and a coffee trader from Mexico,” she said.
She returned home to the family farm in Holbrook in 2014, and turned to the internet to bring herself up to speed with the latest in research and production information.
“When I was back on the farm with Dad, I was committed to being a sponge and being useful, so that meant being out in the paddock, asking lots of questions, getting in and working as hard as possible. “But I also wanted to invest in my ongoing learning by looking outwards as well.”
“It was difficult to be constantly leaving the farm to attend workshops, producer forums and conferences, so I turned to a tool – at night – which we all have access to, which is the web.”
“I tried to use the web to learn and grow my farming knowledge, whether that was to assist Dad to understand the latest lamb growth results on brassicas, or find a gross margin tool, or find course and funding opportunities.”
But she found the online search was inefficient, as it often threw up outdated information.
“I was finding it hard to locate information quickly, or found it hard to find it again quickly if it was useful.”
As she gathered a long list of websites and resources, she said she felt she needed to share to centralise them in one spot for quick access.
“I just started building a database, and that turned into the Farm Table.”
She said the Farm Table contained an AgLibrary with specialised hubs on financial and risk management, business planning, sheep and beef production, financial management, farm succession, cropping, pastures and regenerative agriculture.
“Visitors can browse research papers, that are open source, which are rewritten in plain English.”
“If they set up a free membership, they can save favourite resources for later. The library is a significant component and heart and soul of why I started the Farm Table.”
“In our AgFunding Database and AgCalendar, producers can see, by state, location or production systems, if there are opportunities for further skills development, or funding to grow their farm business or support them in times of need.”
The Farm Table also contains an AgTech hub (launching soon), which will allow farmers to compare and search farm equipment and machinery, as well as software and apps.
It also contained a recently launched Farmer Exchange, which aimed to capture and share the knowledge and experience inside producers’ heads.
“There is an amazing generation of farmers, who have knowledge in their heads we will lose if we don’t start to value it and capture it in a meaningful way,” Ms Trescowthick said.
“The Farmer Exchange is all about peer to peer learning. It doesn’t replace traditional social networks, but is a dedicated and safe space for farmers to ask detailed questions and receive answers from peers from all over the country.”
“Facebook could close those groups tomorrow; you would lose all that data, so that’s why we developed a community of practice off social media.”
When asked about how there is so much excitement about the array of opportunities and role in agriculture, Ms Trescowthick stressed while there were so many opportunities in agriculture for young people, they should never lose sight of farm roles.
“We do have to remember the food producer, on the ground, day to day. With all the hype and investment throughout the sector, particularly in agtech, we have to remember and value the absolute integral role those people involved on farm in food and fibre production at the source play.”
“That’s why I am so passionate about farm production because, without farmers, we don’t have an industry.”
Farm Table membership is free for producers, farm staff and aspiring farmers.
You can access membership opportunities here.