Farming culture shock for irish beef lover

27 Feb, 2012 04:00 AM
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Guest speaker at last week's Nuffield Australia Farming Scholars Association's annual sponsors luncheon, Marie Fowler (left) chats with Nuffield  Scholar Peter Rose, Perth.
Guest speaker at last week's Nuffield Australia Farming Scholars Association's annual sponsors luncheon, Marie Fowler (left) chats with Nuffield Scholar Peter Rose, Perth.

LIFE down on the farm was a game changer for Irish-born Marie Fowler, when she met her husband, Andrew Fowler, Condingup.

Andrew was on a Nuffield Scholarship study tour in 2001, when the pair met in Marie's Brussels office, where she was a policy adviser with the UK National Farmers Union.

Last week, Marie was guest speaker at the annual Nuffield luncheon at the University Club, Crawley, and provided a revealing insight into her transformation from a high-powered lobbyist to a high-powered member of the Condingup community.

Originally from a dairy farm in Northern Ireland, Marie holds a degree in agricultural science with a Masters in Environmental Science.

With a passion for beef cattle, her culture shock started on the road to Condy, east of Esperance, on a gravel road to seemingly nowhere.

"The first I remember when seeing the Fowler family farm was that our farm in Ireland could fit into one of the paddocks," she said.

"And the second thing was a sense that I had better get used to growing grain and that my love of beef would go out the window.

"But I have found Condingup is a great spot and living at the end of the road is not an excuse for not getting involved, with farm operations and the community."

Marie has seen the farm grow from 5900 hectares to 18,000ha and is a keen member of a family farm she rates highly.

"Andrew and his family are open to experimenting with things and this has included raised bed farming, which we found wasn't compatible with livestock to more profitable ventures like grazing crops and embracing precision farming."

There also are now 600 head of breeding cattle on the farm, added in 2003, along with crossbred lambs.

"Our problem was year-round feed so that has seen a management system involving silage, improved pastures and grazing crops," she said.

"The latter has been a great move as we have increased stocking rates from 10 to 18DSE in the last five years."

Marie's role on the farm is focused on office management and with 16 employees it is a busy role for a mother of four children.

"But I really enjoy it," she said.

"It is good to have your finger on the pulse of the business."

As a family farm, she was well aware of farming with in-laws and the potential for a disruption to farm business.

"But it has worked well for us with everybody having an opportunity to express feelings," Marie said.

"Andrew's folks are really great and in 2007, we held a family meeting with Andrew and his brothers Tim and Simon on a succession plan.

"It was really good to produce a document which clearly stated where everybody stood and from this developed a strategic plan which was formalised in 2011 with the key to saying where we wanted the business to go over the next 10 to 15 years.

"We came up with a vision for three equivalent business units of 6000ha to be established within the next 15 years and aim to continue as a family farm until that stage.

"What has been built up is a dynamic environment for us and our employees with a strong team relationship.

"We have identified our weaknesses such as debt loading and distance to market but these are balanced by reliable rainfall, equity in the business, available land for expansion, opportunities for share cropping and market access.

"We see our threats as market volatility, rising interest rates, rising operating costs, staffing and family disputes."

"And we have also recognised that our remote location could impact on our business with things like illness."

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