Agriculture critical to Australia's economic future

National Farmers’ Federation surveys say 83 per cent of Australians had a non-existent or only a distant connection to farming.

The results were a key motivation behind the inaugural National Agriculture Day, held on November 21 to promote those working in ag either directly or indirectly. 

“The result highlights a big misconception: that agriculture is a thing of the past. The reality is it’s a critical piece of Australia’s economic future,” National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said.

“In fact, we’re on track to be Australia’s next $100 billion industry, having reached a record $60 billion farm gate return last financial year.”

First generation North East orchardists Charlie Showers and Jade Miles are aware of the stats and believe that disconnection has led to a lack of understanding and value of the role agriculture plays.

They are among a new breed of young farmers who see diminishing returns and resources as a catalyst for finding better ways to farm.

Mr Showers, a geologist and agricultural scientist, and Ms Miles established Black Barn Farm at Stanley on permaculture principles with a vision to have a 2000-tree orchard across four of their six hectares producing about 50 apple varieties, including many heirloom varieties, as well as pears, cherries and a variety of berries.

“We’re not adverse to mechanisation and high technology in agriculture, particularly in soil biology and how that improves efficiencies,” Mr Showers said of their approach.

“I wouldn’t be against robotics or anything like that on the farm if it meant I had to use less chemical input and it produced a better system.

“Iit is taking the best bits of the past but it is also taking appropriate technology from now and into the future to actually make it a much more genuinely sustainable food system.”

They will sell mainly direct to the customer, with their range providing a picking season from January to July while also spreading the risk often associated with cropping ventures.

“This will be a model of what an orchard system will actually look like in the future where resources are a bit more restrained and energy is a bit more restrained,” Mr Showers said.

“Stanley doesn’t have the scale in this area to compete in the commodity market anymore, most apple growing has moved elsewhere, to bigger farms.”

Stanley was home to more than 30 orchardists in the 1970s and 80s but now has just a few.

The Showers accept the Regenerative Farming Movement is time and labour intensive.

“It’s really about land stewardship and legacy and multi-generational farming and transitional farming, rather than straight commodity farming,” said Ms Miles, who has a background in marketing and business mentoring.