Future-proofing: Farmers innovate as drought persists
IN THE face of debilitating drought, more and more farmers are gravitating towards diversifying as a way to stay on their land.
When producer Randal Breen, of Echo Valley Farm at Goomburra, saw his farm land shrink to 10 per cent, he knew he had to innovate to remain economically viable.
Recently, it's meant the farm's pig paddock has turned into a vegetable crop while the summer season lasts.
"We have pretty much reduced our farm down to 35 acres so we can look after it more and it won't get heavily overgrazed, so there's been a definite change in that regard," Mr Breen said.
"But it's hard to sustain your income when you're working on 10 per cent of the usual scale. So I guess that's what motivated the move to vegetables."
Mr Breen has always been open to diversifying his land and projects, but he said the trend was slowly growing among other Southern Downs farmers due to drought.
"The Australian farmer has always been innovative but it's quite amazing to look at what people are now doing.
"I think we have to be willing to look at all the different avenues, from technology to exploring things we used in the past but put aside as old practices but that need to be re-explored.''
In a time when many are packing up completely, Mr Breen believes it could be the key to the region's ag future.
"A diversified system will give us resilience," he said. "I think diversifying our enterprise is the only reason we're still functioning at this point.
"The approach we have taken has ensured we're still earning 100 per cent of our income from the land. In dry times, it's the one thing I recommend."
While he is a firm supporter of diversifying, he understands why some farmers might hesitate.
"That's the challenge with an ageing farmer population. You can farm very well for a very long time and when tried and true systems fail, it can be quite confronting to see a system not work like it used to.
"I do believe in more experimentation across the board but we are lucky that we are first generation farmers and don't have our grandfathers and father looking over my shoulder, asking questions.
"It is a hard thing to be a multi-generational farmer and be the one to try something different."