Steep learning curve at Amelup

27 Oct, 1999 09:58 AM
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WHILE five years ago Amelup farmer Julie Hancock was a raw recruit to farming, she now is comfortable and confident talking about stock, crops and chemicals. Born in Zambia and raised in England, Julie knew nothing about farming when she came to Australia on a working holiday. Her first stop on Australian soil was as a housekeeper on a farm at Amelup and romance, in more ways than one, blossomed. After marrying David and, loving Australian life, the rural pioneering spirit and the opportunities available, Julie has immersed herself in an experience with a steep learning curve. For this reason, she has welcomed the formation of the Borden women's cropping group, a informal get-together on a regular basis that provides an opportunity to discuss a range of cropping, marketing and agricultural issues at a level where women < whose background has not been solely dedicated to farming < can learn about many of the issues that are second nature to their husbands. While David says Julie has been a good student, he acknowledges learning can be difficult for many women and wives on the land. Often it has been difficult for them to contribute to their farming enterprises, especially where more than one family and one generation is involved. In their own situation, a partnership split with David's brother has changed the way he farms and makes decisions. Julie's involvement with the group has enabled her to contribute to decisions but she, in turn, acknowledges that David always has been prepared to try new ideas. They farm Cambawarra, a 1420 hectare sheep and cropping property of vastly mixed soil types, ranging from light sands and some salt-affected country to good loams and heavy red and grey clays. While David was the stockman when the family partnership was intact, they now place more emphasis on crops than stock. Julie says they still believe in a pasture rotation and, because of the crop limitations imposed by the diversity of soil types, the need to farm conservatively to prevent erosion on the lighter country and the emerging problem of resistant ryegrass, there is a need for good paddock recording. Julie's strength is in record keeping. "Many farmers don't keep good records and they tend to go along blindly not knowing what they are spending," she said, pointing out their farm ute as an example. "When I added up what we had spent on it, we bought a new one within three months." The cropping group meets at different properties and the host makes a special presentation of what they are doing. When the group met at the Cambawarra last April, water-resistant soil and the process of claying was the main topic. The group examined Julie and David's 40ha site clayed at the rate of 130tonnes/ha in a paddock that also was showing signs of chemical-resistant ryegrass. As a result of the claying, the paddock is now open to a wider new rotation, rather than just wheat and lupins. This year, they have sown it with a crop of the new malting barley Unicorn to bulk up seed for next year. The variety is a short season barley that can be sown late, giving the option of more time and, hence, different chemicals with which to control problem ryegrass. The need to swath Unicorn offers an end-of-the-season ryegrass control window. Julie said the group had been useful in learning the basics. The group is a "real mix" of experience levels, and she said even those who don't know come up with some lateral thinking. Agricultural adviser Jackie Bucquat was responsible for getting the group started, having based the idea on another such group operating in the northern wheatbelt. Topics such as the Goods and Services Tax, genetically modified crops and chemical handling have done much to provide the group with a better understanding of these, and related, subjects. Other discussions on alternative crops and grain marketing beyond the farm gate have presented options the group plans to explore later on. Presently, Julie and David's main priority has been improving soil quality and crop yields using stubble retention, minimum and no-till practices, and increasing fertility and weed control during the pasture phase by spraying out weeds and encouraging clover and medic domination. But they are keen to try summer cropping and lucerne if either can be worked into their program profitably. Up to 25 women regularly turn out to listen to guest speakers, discuss timely topics such as weed and pest control and crop monitoring, alerting them to possible crop problems and when to look for them. As a result of the group interaction, crop monitoring is one of the many practical contributions Julie now makes on the farm. But it is by no means the only hands-on job Julie does around the farm. Apart from the cropping group, Julie also has become involved in the Community Builders initiative and has developed an affinity for Australian flora and fauna, basing some of her and David's landcare efforts around fencing remnant vegetation. They have applied to have the property assessed by Western Wildlife to determine any significant plant and wildlife areas worth fencing off. ÿ

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