Young farmer builds productive property

31 Jan, 2012 02:00 AM
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Katanning farmer Tim Harris shows the benefits of planting programs on salinity-affected areas.
Katanning farmer Tim Harris shows the benefits of planting programs on salinity-affected areas.

THE ability to overcome adversity is perhaps one of rural Australia's most endearing qualities and for young Katanning farmer Tim Harris that certainly holds true.

Tim started his secondary education at high school in Katanning before leaving in year 10 to attend Narrogin Agricultural College.

After graduating in 2005 with a certificate 2 in agricultural, he went straight back to helping run the farm.

For Tim finishing high school successfully and returning to the farm wasn't without its ups and downs.

Certain unfortunate events while at high school, made the reality of taking over the farm happen a little faster than he expected.

"In 2003 dad was fixing a light in the shearing shed and slipped off a ladder," Tim said.

"He got hurt pretty badly and ended up in hospital for six months."

Tim said the fall took its toll on his father and resulted in him coming home to the farm to help out as soon as he had finished ag school.

"The help from neighbours was awesome for those first few years after dad's accident," he said.

"Everyone really came together and helped out.

"Since coming home to the farm I've just tried to keep working and moving forward.

" I knew what I had to do and I had lots of help from agronomists and friends."

The Harris property, Longview, is 3239 hectares and has been in the family for two generations.

Currently it is run with a 60 per cent cropping, 40pc sheep mix.

The Merino flock consists of 2700 breeding ewes, with larger-framed sheep thanks to help of rams from the Woolkabin and Kolindale studs.

Tim believes breeding sheep is mostly about carcase traits these days.

"Well-muscled frames are important but having the Merino wool also enables us to diversify especially if the prices drop out of either the wool or meat industry. Hopefully that doesn't happen at the same time like it did a few years ago," he said.

"In terms of cropping we basically crop whatever we can in cereals and broadleafs.

"Our rotations are normally something like canola, wheat, wheat, barley then a couple years of pasture but due to some ryegrass resistance, in the last few years things have gone a little out of whack.

"We grow predominantly wheat, but also barley, oats, a good amount of canola and lupins and peas for sheep feed and rotational benefits."

Tim said if he had his way he would just crop everything because of his love for machinery.

"The upside of it is you could make a bit more money providing the conditions are right," he said.

That said, Tim is still able to see the value of a Merino flock

"There is certainly less risk in sheep and we need them because of the amount of salty land the property sits on," he said.

Since coming home to the farm in 2005, Tim has done a number of things to combat this salty land in a bid to prevent the salt getting into the more productive areas of the property.

Planting projects are one of the changes to the farm Tim has made to combat salt, with the idea behind that to try and get that water table down, preserve the soil and make it more productive.

"We've been planting a mix of trees, seedlings and some perennials," he said.

"Things like sargentii, casuarina obesa (swamp sheoak), and eucalyptus spathulata's.

"Anything that is salt tolerant and has a decent lifespan. We don't want things that will die after 10 or 20 years."

Planting trees is something Tim's family has always done especially his mother, however Tim said he took a different approach to his parents.

"I map the planting areas out differently, fence more things off and aim at making the auto steer lines better for cropping as well as following the actual contour of the land," he said.

With parts of the farm losing nearly a seeding bar width every year and the unproductive land beginning to creep in to the good country, Tim said there was a real need to start preventing this.

Since coming home to the farm, Tim has carried out six projects with funding from a variety of different groups such as Local Action Plan in 2007, Envirofund program in 2008, Woolworths Backing our Farmers grant in 2010 and two funding programs in 2011 through a Ground Works and a Sustainable Agriculture grant.

"All the grants, except for the Local Action Plan where no fencing was required, have had funding toward fencing and seedlings," he said.

"Basically we find an issue and then talk to the local landcare group about what we want to do and how to go about doing it.

"Landcare Katanning has been fantastic and really helped out getting the paperwork sorted and also helped facilitate the funding for the trees and grants for the fencing."

Tim believes more farmers need to be getting involved in landcare projects but also said there needed to be more funding put into programs for that to happen.

"The federal government doesn't seem to be interested in salt issues even though it's a problem that affects such a large part of WA agriculture.

"All it cares about is wind erosion and mining."

The effect trees have on the land at Longview is definitely visible, and the perennials and plants like the Eyres Green saltbush benefit Tim's sheep operation, particularly when there is no green pick around in the summer.

"Even if it doesn't do anything it looks better than having that salt scald sitting there," he said.

"The trees and perennials provide summer feed and the Eyres Green saltbush gives Vitamin E to our lambs to maintain their condition through summer.

"We normally get a couple of summer grazes of the saltbush and they do come back really quickly, so we're able to graze them hard."

With the mines offering such good money, most young people in agriculture say it's the lifestyle that is attractive and what keeps them on the land rather than the money.

For Tim, it's exactly the same.

"I'll be down here forever or until the bank kicks me out!" he said.

"The lifestyle down here is amazing and there is a lot to do if you make the effort.

"I'm a member of Rural Youth in Katanning, the Katanning Motorcycle Endruo Club and I play in a band.

"I've got a heap of mates down here, and the community here is great."

It's this involvement with the community that earned Tim a Landcare WA Young Leaders award in August 2011.

This stemmed from his involvement with the Ewlyamartup Working Group Committee.

"I'm really into skiing, but there are no clean lakes within an hour of us," he said.

"The aim of the project is to clean up Lake Ewlyamartup, which would be really good for the community and shire.

"It's hard to find lakes without a heap of skiers these days and more lakes need to be opened for recreational use.

"The Young Leaders Landcare Award was for my involvement in the community with the Lake Ewlyamartup working group and because of the planting programs through Landcare I've done on our farm."

Tim said getting funding for the farm projects is easy enough to get a hold of as long as you to talk to your local Landcare office.

"Landcare will help you access a funding program providing the conditions suit what the grants are for," he said.

"If you let them know of a project you would like to do and something comes up they will definitely get you involved."

Tim believes there should be more money available for grants and projects because of their ability to help make the most out of unproductive land and maximise it.

"That's all you can do in farming, you go for the average then try and maximise that average," he said.

"In farming you have to make the most of what you've got."

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