Farmer’s change in di­rec­tion

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - News -

AMONG Aus­tralia’s co­hort of in­no­va­tive young farm­ers is James Barlow of Mirra­binda at Bog­gabri in New South Wales.

Mr Barlow said his best op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­no­vate have come through process change – and this part of the op­er­a­tion will con­tinue to present new op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We’ve worked to in­crease our out­put with less labour and, more im­por­tantly, less wa­ter by up­grad­ing from bor­der check ir­ri­ga­tion to pivot ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems with teleme­try,” he said.

The crop­per and cot­ton grower was just 24 years old when he took over the fam­ily busi­ness af­ter his fa­ther passed away 11 years ago.

“Af­ter a few years find­ing my feet, I started work­ing to im­prove ef­fi­ciency by re­duc­ing tillage op­er­a­tions. This in­cluded pur­chas­ing a spreader to elim­i­nate up­front fer­tiliser costs by spread­ing in-crop ahead of rain events. I later pur­chased a min­i­mum till planter to in­crease flex­i­bil­ity and al­low plant­ing into old crop residue,” he said.

He stepped up weed con­trol too, pur­chas­ing a spray coupe in con­junc­tion with his neigh­bour. He has also sig­nif­i­cantly up­graded the farm’s ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem.

Mr Barlow said the in­tro­duc­tion of au­to­mated steer­ing and guid­ance sys­tems has had a pos­i­tive im­pact on the pre­ci­sion and ef­fi­ciency of all of his farm­ing prac­tices, while also re­duc­ing op­er­a­tor fa­tigue.

“When I took over, the ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems were all bor­der check, de­vel­oped in the ’70s and ’80s when wa­ter was plen­ti­ful. It was fairly in­ef­fi­cient and labour in­ten­sive,” he said.

In 2010, he in­stalled his first tow­able pivot and this led to his first cot­ton crop. Pivot ir­ri­ga­tion not only helped save wa­ter but pro­vided flex­i­bil­ity in man­age­ment.

In 2014, Mr Barlow started a com­plete farm over­haul. He added seven more piv­ots as part of the Sus­tain­ing the Basin Ir­ri­gated Farm Mod­erni­sa­tion scheme. At the same time, he added a new river pump and 200-me­gal­itre stor­age dam and set up a new pump sta­tion to ser­vice the new piv­ots. He’s since gone on to in­stall another two piv­ots and new river pump sta­tion, as well as sink­ing a new bore.

The farm was re­designed from scratch to max­imise ir­ri­ga­tion area. The over­haul re­quired mov­ing 22 pow­er­poles. Of Mirra­binda’s 880 hectares, about 650 hectares are now un­der pivot ir­ri­ga­tion, op­er­ated from his smart­phone.

In or­der to en­able on-farm in­no­va­tion, Mr Barlow makes the most of net­work­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“The agri in­dus­try is very proac­tive in ed­u­ca­tion, in­no­va­tion and hold­ing events, and we try to par­tic­i­pate in nearby field days. We also col­lab­o­rate within the sec­tor on things like seed and chem­i­cal tri­als,” he said.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

FRESH START: James Barlow, of Mirra­binda at Bog­gabri in New South Wales, is an in­no­va­tive young farmer.

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