By MOLLIE TRACEY
BROTHERS Chris and Paul Antonio were pleasantly surprised with the result of the 2017 harvest, especially considering their initial expectations of the season.
They run a mixed-farming operation, Brooklyn at Southern Brook, comprising cropping, prime lambs and Merino wool.
Brooklyn has been in the family for nearly 100 years and the family will celebrate its 100th anniversary on the farm next year.
The property was established by Chris and Paul’s grandparents Thomas and Rose Antonio and taken over by the brothers’ parents, David and Peg Antonio, who started with 697 hectares and over the years expanded the farm to 1821ha, all in the Southern Brook area.
When the brothers took over the farm they each adopted roles to suit their interest and knowledge – Paul is the farmer and Chris is the business manager.
“You build the business with different skills to make it a better business and there’s no use fighting to do the same thing,” Chris said.
Of the 2017 cropping program, 200ha was planted to canola, 170ha was sown to barley and 110ha was cropped to lupins, with the remaining 470ha seeded to wheat.
Paul said last year they cropped a bit more barley than usual due to better margins and they used canola and lupins as a rotational crop.
The highlight of their 2017 season was the quality of their noodle wheat with some of the barley going malt grade.
“Our yields are down from where we would like to have been but from what we thought in July they are not too bad, so you get out of jail in that sense,” Paul said.
The canola crop included two varieties – 43Y23 and Bonito, each averaging just below one tonne per hectare.
Bass was the primary barley variety, and along with some Spartacus, it had an average of 3t/ha.
Jurien was the variety of choice for lupins with an average yield of 1.75t/ha.
Their Spectre wheat averaged 2.2t/ha, while noodle wheat Zen averaged 2.4t/ha.
Paul said the biggest challenge for the season was trying to manage the effects of the lack of rain in the middle of the year which delayed the canola germination.
“We had good rain in January and February (200 millimetres or more) but bugger all rain in May and June, so germination was stagnated until the end of June/start of July,” he said.
“The crops didn’t have the growing season they needed to reach their full potential.”
The annual rainfall average for the area is about 400mm, although the Antonios found themselves shy of that amount, receiving 300-320mm across the property.
They have 2700 mated ewes – 1700 to Merinos and 1000 for prime lamb production.
Chris said the lamb and wool side of the business was a good way to add value with less risk.
“Prime lambs are not a massively expensive operation like crops and you can add value by doing simple things and it spreads your risk,” he said.
Paul said they like to keep their feet in both prime lambs and wool because lambs get a quicker return and it’s quite easy to make money from wool, especially with the current wool prices.
More barley is the plan for 2018 with the main reason being the promising yields it showed in 2017 and the financial benefits.
“We will probably do a bit more barley, we’ve got a few smaller lease blocks so we are hopefully going to put more barley on those,” Paul said.
“Lupins will be the same, maybe not as much canola – we might knock that back to 100ha.
“We’ll probably grow the same amount of noodle wheat, it seems to grow quite well and it seems to meet the protein levels pretty easily.”
Chris said they were always striving to do better and look at ways to get the biggest gross margins and emphasised the importance of looking after the land they farmed on.
“Farmers are here for the long-term so we have to look after the health of everything and that means stock, plants and soil,” he said.
“We always investigate the potential for better yields and look at the soil science.
“We will always grow wheat and barley so instead of changing the crop, we look at what we can do a bit better.”
Although times can be stressful and things that go wrong might be out of their hands, the brothers said nothing could beat the tranquillity of the country and freedom that came with being on the land.
“I enjoy the lifestyle and always being able to challenge myself,” Paul said.
“You can’t do anything about the seasonal conditions but every year we aim to do that little bit better.
“We have increased our yields, we are getting better gross margins and trying to get that balance right with inputs such as fertiliser.
“Weed control is always an issue, but it’s getting better.”
Chris said he enjoyed being able work alongside his brother in ways that complemented each other, while being back in his home town.
“We’ve got the best of both worlds because we are close to Perth and near a good regional town (Northam) but still have the peace and quiet of being out here,” he said.
CHRIS Antonio has worked in many areas of the agriculture sector around WA but has never been happier than returning to his family’s farm at Southern Brook.
He has been back on the farm for three years where he runs the farm’s finances and has recently taken on the role as Northam Shire president after being a councillor since 2015.
Naturally having an eye for numbers, Chris has been doing the farm finances since he was just 18-years-old.
During those 30 years Chris completed an agribusiness degree at the Muresk Institute (Curtin University) and worked for the Rural Adjustment Finance Corporation of WA and National Australia Bank where he worked as an agribusiness specialist for 22 years.
“When I started taking over the farm budgets I made a lot of mistakes but you learn as you go along,” he said.
“I had a bit of a knack for it and did the business degree and loved it and I found it was a good chance to help people achieve their goals.”
His finance knowledge and agribusiness expertise allowed him to move around the State with his wife Nicki and five sons Joshua, 22, Cameron, 21, Ben, 19, Zachary 18 and Samuel, 16.
The family lived in Narrogin for 11 years before returning to Northam.
In October, 2017 Chris was elected as Northam Shire president in what he said would provide even more challenges.
“Northam has a great future, it’s like agriculture in that there are always opportunities ahead,” he said.
“With Northam there’s more than $200 million in developments and that’s from all levels of government and private.
“Northam has never seen anything like that in all its history, so you’ve got to be pretty excited about what is being done now and what the future holds.”
Becoming shire president had always been at the back of his mind as something he might do, especially after seeing his father David in the role.
Chris said he always had a passion for his home town and wanted to run for council, then when he moved back to the farm, former councillor Kathy Saunders suggested that he should run.
“Councils are really good with having different aged people, experiences and backgrounds and because mine is a bit unique, I hoped I could add some value,” he said.
As shire president Chris aims to focus on keeping the town’s talent in Northam and attract new talent to keep the community moving forward.
He said that it was important for people to get involved in the community and local government.
“Everyone can add value, everyone has a story and everyone has a bit of background that others can learn from,” he said.
Prior to being involved with local government Chris has always been involved in the local community, including being part of the Southern Brook Fire Brigade, the Grass Valley Progress Association and as a member of some local boards.
“It’s humbling to be involved in the local community and to be shire president because I am serving the community so that’s what I’ve always got to remember – people put me there so I’ve got to look after the shire,” he said.
This passion was also evident before Chris returned to Northam.
When living in Narrogin he was made a life member of the All Blacks Hockey Club.
Another highlight of 2017 for Chris was attending the CBH grower study tour in Vietnam where growers learned more about CBH and the supply chain that their grain flows through.
The trip included a six-day tour through Vietnam, coinciding with the grand opening of the Intermalt facility in the southern province of Ba Ria Vung Tau.
Chris said the annual trip wasn’t on his radar because he’s “not the typical farmer”.
Not knowing what to expect, he said the best part was being able to network with different people from agriculture.
“We had growers from 18-years-old to about 80-years-old which made it a great group and we all got along well,” he said.
“It was great to meet farmers from different backgrounds, areas and experiences but it was also fantastic to see what CBH does as part of that whole value chain.”