Advocate wears many hats

14 Sep, 2005 08:45 PM
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NARRIKUP beef and prime lamb producer Alex Campbell has been practising for years what he has preached across Australia.

His extra-curricular activities have led him to be more widely known as an advocate for more and better management of the nation's land, water and forest resources.

The list of roles he accepted and worked at across the past 15 years is impressive and perhaps, unequalled - a claim which he would hesitate to claim for himself.

Mr Campbell is perhaps best known in WA as the state president of WAFarmers from 1992-95.

Since 2001 he has been the chairman of CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity.

Its seven-year program has attracted nearly $100 million of support from its founding parties and $22 million of Commonwealth funds.

Financial support continues.

Since 1997 Mr Campbell has been the chairman of the state's assessment panel for the Natural Heritage Trust. From 1989-95 he was a board member of the National Farmers Federation and chairman of its Conservation Committee. Since 1997 he has been a member of the Joint Venture Agroforestry research and development program, a program he chaired in 1997-2001.

Across his years of off-farm involvement were numerous appointments to groups and committees - none more important than his acceptance of the chairmanship of the WA State Salinity Council in 1997.

So what of Alex Campbell the farmer?

He is the owner-operator, with his wife Jenny, of a 400ha fully developed farm at Narrikup.

"I started farming in 1963 after being allocated a 1200ha virgin block at Borden," Mr Campbell said.

"There I fully developed it to a mixed sheep-cereal cropping venture.

"I might've been one of the earlier farmers to build the fences according to the contour and soil type.

"Areas of native vegetation were fenced off."

He moved, with his wife and children Anna and Jock, to Narrikup in 1976, after selling their Borden property.

In Borden further land was taken up as the part-owner/manager of Crystal Brook, a 2000ha sheep and cattle grazing property west of Narrikup village.

"I think I can claim it was one of the very first in the area to undertake integrated farm forestry," Mr Campbell said.

"Our aim was to address issues such as erosion, rising water tables, stock shelter and protect native vegetation from grazing.

"All this while growing bluegums and radiata pine, commercially.

"Some 500ha of these were planted, to which a successful 20ha vineyard was added."

The new home farm, Tillgaree, was, in 1976, in need of redevelopment.

Fence lines were altered to match soil type.

Viable areas of native vegetation were fenced off, including a substantial area of it around the house, a priority of Mrs Campbell's wish for a natural setting.

More recently, they have planted about 15pc of their cleared land to Tasmanian bluegums.

Mr Campbell describes it as "a commercial crop which will provide shelter, control waterlogging and generally improve the environment".

A Poll Dorset stud they had formed in 1974 at Borden travelled with them to Narrikup.

They sold rams from it for 20 years. Today they buy rams in from Eric Wright's Pine Avenue Poll Dorset stud, Kojonup.

"We run 500 crossbred ewes for prime lamb production," Mr Campbell said.

"In this climate it's important to them at lambing time that we have the plantations for protection from the cold winds."

The farm also carries a herd of 150 Angus cross females, bred up over time from Hereford, Simmental and South Devon breeders.

Angus sires have come from Jim and Pam MacGregor's stud Ardcairnie, Kojonup. "We sell most of our steer vealer calves to lotfeeders," Mr Campbell said.

"Of the heifer calves we mate about 70 head to an Angus and sell the majority of them at the Elders Special Breeders Sale.

"We value the advice we get from Elders Mt Barker-based Robbie Williams." Pasture management goes hand in hand with flock and herd management.

On the last days of August, Mr Campbell was out spraying a paddock with a mixture of Roundup and 2,4D to eradicate annual weeds and grasses, to precede a sowing of kikuyu.

"I believe we've been slow in turning to perennial pasture species in the better rainfall zone, but we have now access to a wider range of perennials today than ever before," Mr Campbell said.

Drainage has been an important element within the farm plan.

About 7km of drains help control waterlogging and ponding in this 500-600mm annual rainfall area.

The many farm dams harvest as much water as possible.

More is reaped by the bluegums.

Referring to landowners' fears that the huge plantings of bluegums across the WA high rainfall zone had permanently taken the land away from agriculture, Mr Campbell said: "After two or even three harvests from the plantations, the bluegums may have lowered the level of conserved soil moisture to such a degree that growing bluegums may no longer be profitable.

"I'd expect the land will revert to traditional land usage, if not hobby farming in some instances."

This is a considered opinion of a man who retains his membership of WAFarmers, Greening Australia (WA), Timber 2020, the Royal Agricultural Society, the South Coast of WA Regional NRM Group, the WA Salinity Forum and the Saltlands Pasture Association.

He also is the convenor of the inaugural WA State Natural Resource Management Conference to be held at the Denmark College of Agriculture from October 3-6, 2005.

Its title is Sustainability Side by Side.

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