AFTER 63 years battling soil constraints on the Gibson sandplain Nils Blumann, 85, was named 2019 Farming Legend of the Year at the Australian Farmer of the Year Awards on Wednesday last week.
Described as a "trail blazer" for his adoption of minimum tillage techniques from the 1980s and use of claying from the mid 1990s to combat soil constraints and non-wetting issues, Mr Blumann was one of five Western Australians honoured in the 10th annual presentation of the awards at Parliament House, Canberra.
Boomer Bay, Tasmania, potato farmers Susie and Gerard Daly, who value add by making potato vodka and other alcoholic drinks and 300 tonnes of potato salad to minimise wastage from their washed potato crops, were named 2019 Australian Farmers of the Year and also won the Award for Excellence in Innovation.
The other WA winners were Jackie Jarvis, Margaret River, as 2019 Rural Community Leader of the Year, Brad and Tracey Wooldridge, Arthur River, presented with the 2019 Award for Excellence in Technology and professor Chengdao Li, Murdoch University, presented with the 2019 Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research.
The awards are presented each year by the Kondinin Group and ABC Rural.
Nils Blumann, Farming Legend of the Year
Mr Blumann and his wife Penny acquired an 800 hectare virgin block in 1956 at Gibson and built that into what is now their 3250 property, Olimarena, 20 kilometres north of Esperance where they raised three daughters.
Two neighbouring properties were added in 2014 to warrant, in Mr Blumann's view, employing three full-time workers so he could finally step back from much of the hands-on farm work.
Initially running sheep, Mr Blumann started cropping in the 1970s.
Kondinin Group general manager of research Ben White said while Mr Blumann proved a competent farmer, his greatest contribution was his commitment to the local community and wider advancement of agriculture.
"Nils was a pioneer in claying the light sandy soils of the Esperance region and growers have benefited through enhanced production efficiencies and improved land conservation - particularly through reduced wind and water erosion," Mr White said.
"He also contributed to the early research and adoption of minimal till and the development of lupins, at both local and State level and through his work with the Gibson Lupin Group, has helped Esperance lupin growers have the opportunity to increase their yields from a district average of one tonne to three tonnes per hectare."
The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) sponsored the 2019 Farming Legend of the Year and GRDC chairman John Woods said Mr Blumann's contribution to industry and community was outstanding.
"Nils' innovative work across the grains industry has taken initiative and dedication," Mr Woods said.
"He has created an impressive legacy for growers not only within his region of Western Australia, but right across agriculture."
Mr Woods said Mr Blumann was steadfast and forward thinking and enjoyed stepping out of his comfort zone to trial new and exciting opportunities in agriculture.
Mr Blumann said he had always enjoyed the challenges of farming.
"At the end of the day, it has always been about improving the system and benefitting not just my farm, but my community and the industry more broadly," Mr Blumann said.
"I love farming and all things associated with growing healthy, profitable and sustainable crops and caring for our livestock."
Jackie Jarvis, Rural Community Leader of the Year
Of Rural Community Leader of the Year Ms Jarvis, Mr White said she "is actively levelling the playing field between rural and regional Australia and our urban centres, which helps to strengthen our farming communities and that has a positive flow-on effect throughout the whole industry".
"Jackie's approach to building the skill sets and supporting rural and regionally-based small business owners and entrepreneurs is outstanding and will have a lasting influence on the communities in which she has been involved," Mr White said.
Brett Stevenson, managing director and founder of category sponsor Market Check, said Ms Jarvis, who was until recently chief executive officer of the Rural, Regional, Remote Women's Network of WA (RRR Network), demonstrated a commitment and belief in the value of rural, regional and remote Australia that was "inspirational".
"Jackie has gone above and beyond to progress the leadership of women in rural and regional WA," Mr Stevenson said.
"The significant impact of her involvement, especially through the RRR Network, will be far-reaching."
Ms Jarvis was also instrumental in hosting a schedule of Women's Regional Network Forum community forums on behalf of the WA Department of Communities for the Women's Voices project, which is focused on the development of 10-year strategic plan to achieve gender equality in the State.
"I believe women in small rural towns are often the drivers of innovative new business ideas that can add significantly to the economic and community growth of their towns," Ms Jarvis said.
"It is important that they have people willing to help volumize their voice and support their initiatives and this has always been my motivation."
Ms Jarvis said women in regional areas faced a lack of opportunity through fewer jobs available for them in the first place and often a lack of childcare services when they try to return to the workforce after starting a family.
Brad and Tracey Wooldridge, Award for Excellence in Technology
An enthusiastic tech-savvy approach to improving farm productivity and efficiency managing a flock of 1900 sheep and cropping barley, lupins, canola and oats earned Brad and Tracey Wooldridge the Award for Excellence in Technology.
Mr White said the Wooldridge's willingness to use technology to assist on-farm decision making was now paying dividends and would continue to do so into the future.
"After being introduced to the concept of measuring pasture growth and production by satellite imagery and modelling during the early 2000s, Brad and Tracey radically changed their approach to their farming system," Mr White said.
"By using satellite imagery, they could look at historical data to analyse pastures performance and commit resources only where they were required while at the same time, abandoning set stocking and moving to dairy-style rotational grazing.
"This is a unique way of farming and one the Wooldridge's are finding extremely successful."
Mr Wooldridge said changing the way he looked at his farm operation and having access to technology like satellite imagery definitely improved decision making.
"Quantifying seasonal variation allows for pasture performance predictions and varying the stocking rate to match the season's predicted potential avoids the risk of being overstocked," Mr Wooldridge said.
"We also used the technology to find and analyse another property on the south coast in order to enhance the feed security and reduce risk exposure to the whole farming system.
"Our long-term plan is to create and maintain a sustainable grazing enterprise, optimising efficiency of pasture utilisation whilst adhering to a low cost of production mantra."
National product manager Tony Peters, for award sponsor New Holland, said the Wooldridge's willingness to also share their experiences and communicate the details and data collected made them clear winners of the award.
"Brad and Tracey are using several types of technology, from satellites to simple on-farm tools, to assess past productivity and help predict what their future requirements might be," Mr Peters said.
"Collecting that data over many years, analysing it and coming up with a viable operating system truly illustrates their commitment to the ongoing sustainability of their property and the results are a major step forward for the Wooldridges."
Professor Chengdao Li, Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research
Throughout his career WA barley researcher and geneticist professor Li contributed to the breeding of several highly profitable varieties including Baudin, Hamelin, Vlamingh, Roe, Hannan, Lockyer and Litmus, delivering significant benefits back to farmers.
He also leads a group of scientists at Murdoch University who are undertaking research in improving barley yields and malt qualities.
Mr White said professor Li's inspired efforts made him a significant contributor to Australian agriculture.
"The work that professor Li has done in grain genetics has had a remarkable impact on Australian barley growers," Mr White said.
"By ensuring our growers have the best variety options available to them, to withstand our growing environment, he has helped revitalise and strengthen the Australian barley industry."
Barley is the second-largest broadacre crop grown in WA and as an export commodity, contributes more than $300 million to the Australian economy annually.
"It gives me great pleasure knowing that the work I am doing in barley research and development is having real, tangible benefits back at the farm gate, as well as elevating Australia as a premium barley exporter," professor Li said.
"For instance, Baudin has transformed the Australian barley industry, while Vlamingh has increased profitability for some farmers by $40 per hectare.
"I am also pioneering the development of the acid soil tolerant barley Litmus and it has been estimated the acid-resistant variety could contribute $30 million to the WA economy per annum."
Professor Li and his team are continuing to tackle important agricultural issues, such as pre-harvest sprouting in cereals.
"Pre-harvest sprouting has resulted in tens of million dollars in economic loss for the barley industry," he said.
"My team of researchers, within the Western Barley Genetics Alliance, has provided an effective genetic solution to eliminate the grain defect which will have a positive impact across Australia."
Dan Dixon, ANZ marketing director of award sponsor Corteva Agriscience, said the work professor Li was some of the best in the world.
"Professor Li's impact on the barley industry is undeniable and his dedication to working on new varieties to keep the Australian barley industry at the front of the game is exceptional," Mr Dixon said.
"The demands on our farmers and our resources have never been greater."