BRINGING new and old concepts together.
That's what father and son team, Gary and Jake Ryan have been doing on their 161 hectare Manjimup farm over the past few years.
The family business, Three Ryans, was started by Jake's grandfather, John Ryan and his two brothers before it was handed down to John's sons, Ian and Gary.
After Ian and Gary parted ways about six years ago, Gary continued the Three Ryans business with his wife, Tracey, and their son Jake, who returned to the farm once he finished his agribusiness degree at Curtin University at the end of 2016.
Despite the Three Ryans operations being predominantly focused on vegetables, Jake said he found a lot of the broadacre concepts he learnt in his degree he was also able to carry over to horticulture.
Hooked on the idea of regenerative agriculture after American farming and leading regenerative agriculture advocate, Joel Salatin, visited the Manjimup region in 2013, Jake Ryan began implementing regenerative agricultural practices to their farming operations with little fuss.
"We slowly started adopting practices that have a climate positive focus," Jake Ryan said.
"For example, with our strip tillage practices, we've gone from five passes of tillage to one pass, and we only plow that one bit of ground where the seedling goes.
"We've adopted holistic grazing and planted flowers in the inter row of the veggies to attract beneficial insects.
"We've also cut right back on our nitrogen-phosphorous use, to focus more on trace minerals.
"Through our adoption of strip tillage we saved 10,000 litres of fuel in one year and through things like holistic grazing we were able to maintain the same land percentage - about 140pc - but we upped our stocking rate from 700 ewes to 1000 ewes in three years.
"In terms of our bottom line, it's definitely improved the profitability of the farm."
Nominated by AusVeg at the start of 2021 for the Cortavas International Climate Positive Leaders Program, Mr Ryan was awarded one of seven scholarships.
"You have to be nominated by a third party, so I filled the paperwork out and wrote an article about what we do on the farm in terms of our soil health and biodiversity and how it has climate positive effects," Mr Ryan said.
Also in the top three of the scholarship program, he won a trip from Frankfurt, Germany, to participate in a roundtable session about climate positive farming this month.
"I got married in March, so Sangeetha (my wife) is coming with me and we're going to kill two birds with one stone and have our honeymoon over there after," he said.
"She works as a farm consultant for Planfarm and is looking more towards the carbon farming space, so we certainly have a lot to talk about when it comes to our work."
With the Three Ryans farm including everything from canola, fruit and vegetables to livestock, Mr Ryan and his sister Kayla purchased the chicken portion of the business from their uncle in 2019.
They have since expanded the business from about 800 chooks to about 4000, and supply their eggs to Gilbert's Fresh Markets, Bunbury Farmers Markets and some of the more upmarket IGA's around Perth.
Gradually buying old caravans off Facebook and Gumtree, they now have nine in total, with four of them custom built to house their chickens, which are free to forage on the farm's fresh pastures.
"We try to keep them healthy so they are as productive as they possibly can be," Mr Ryan said.
"Foxes and eagles are always an issue and we get hit with diseases every now and then, so we try to keep our losses low by making sure there is plenty of protection for them."
With the help of both their partners, and Jake and Kayla's mum, Tracey, running the packing shed for the eggs, the chook business is going well, with the demand for eggs now through the roof due to shortages around the State.
"Going into the winter months, egg numbers tend to drop off a bit, as chooks don't lay as well, so that's always handy for us in terms of the market," he said.
However, due to labour shortages facing the horticultural industry, the siblings are now looking to downsize their chook business so Mr Ryan can dedicate more time to running the vegetable business.
Reflecting on his decision to head straight back to the family farm after his studies, Mr Ryan said he didn't want to waste the opportunity of being part of the family business.
"My original plan after university was to go away and work in industry in a consultant agronomist role, but when I was at university my dad and my uncle went through a farm split up, so dad asked if I wanted to come back to the farm and I jumped at it," he said.
"The negative of working with your family is that it can create tension when you're having discussions about different ideas and what not, but the positives are that you get to see each other every day and achieve things together.
"I've learnt a lot from dad over the years and it's been great working together to implement these regenerative practices and new ideas on the farm to keep our level or production where it is, or improve it, as there is no point trying to do the right thing and going broke."
Looking forward, Mr Ryan said farming had always been his end goal.
"Definitely, the end plan is to eventually take over the farm from mum and dad when they get older, but my goal at the moment is to try and talk as many farmers into adopting regenerative farming as possible," he said.
"Climate change is probably going to be the WA agricultural industry's biggest threat, in terms of production, so if we can get as many farmers on board to try these new practices, it will hopefully make our industry more profitable while also having less of a negative effect on our climate."
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